An Interview With The Courier

February 7, 2012

As a consequence of the publication of my “Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive” this week, I was contacted yesterday to do a brief interview with The Courier newspaper — and here it is already!

The Future of Commercial & Venables

February 7, 2012

Last night was the monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC), and much of the meeting was concerned with the potential development of the northwest corner of Commercial & Venables. The site is currently occupied by Astorino’s, the Kettle Friendship Society’s drop-in and lunch centre, the Ace of Suedes cleaning establishment and a triangle-shaped car park behind the building that is owned by the city.

Two representatives of the Kettle came to talk with GWAC in view of an article in the Courier a few weeks ago that led concerned neighbours to believe a 7-8 storey building was likely on that corner.  Angela Davies and Chris Keough explained that the Kettle had needed more space almost since they purchased their building many years ago. They had made an offer on the Astorino’s building when Leo Astorino and his brother decided to sell up and retire, but were unable to meet the price required

So, they turned to local developer Boffo Properties who apparently have been financial supporters of the Kettle for many years. Boffo has now purchased the Astorino’s site, have an agreement in principle with the Kettle about their property, and are in active negotiations with the Ace of Suedes about their property and with the City about the car park. Their overall plan is to build retail on the ground floor with market-priced condos above. The Kettle would get a space about 50% larger than their current building plus perhaps a dozen non-market residences for Kettle clients.

The Kettle notes that they are not seeking to expand the numbers using their services; they simply need more space to do what they already do more efficiently. They also noted that Boffo has agreed to find them equivalent temporary space for use while the proposed construction goes on.  They noted that they probably wouldn’t have a great deal of input into the design of the building but they assured the meeting that neither the Kettle nor, in their opinion, Boffo would want to build something that did not “fit” with the neighbourhood.

The real question for residents, of course, concerns the size and look of any new development on that important corner. The current zoning is C-2 (standard for Commercial Drive) and the developers would probably seek a change to CD-1 which allows the community voice to be heard. But we may have to wait a while because the developers are aware of the Grandview Community Plan that is about to kick off and it seems they are willing to wait to see what comes out of that exercise. It may well be that the Astorino’s site will be used for community arts’ or similar uses for the next couple of years.

The discussion was broadened to the wider community and it was interesting to hear the views of the Executive Director of REACH. She noted that REACH is in “another dying building” (referring to their offices in the 1100-block of Commercial) but that the costs of building in Vancouver make it impossible for small community-oriented NGOs such as REACH and the Kettle to contemplate their own four storey re-developments without bringing in market-oriented partners.

This was a useful information session by the Kettle folks and I for one want to thank them for being willing to come out and discuss these issues with the community.