Tonight at the WISE Hall there was an “open house” about the proposed Boffo Development condo tower at Commercial & Venables. It was a perfect example of how Vancouver City Planning has failed to learn from their failures in Grandview Woodland over the last three years.
There was a pretty good turnout of residents, but that’s about the only positive thing I can say about the evening. Where to start?
Well first, most everyone I spoke to thought, like me, that this was supposed to be a presentation Open House by Boffo Developments and the Kettle. We were wrong, as it turned out to be an official COV Planning event. You can say that we should have known but, when 70%+ of the attendees have the same wrong idea (and I’m certainly not exaggerating about that percentage), you have to wonder how such a mistake could have been so widespread if the advertising and notices had been clear.
Next, the Planners do seem to have learned that yellow sticky notes are a bad idea. However, when the main “consultation” is filling out a short questionnaire, the effect is much the same. It might not be so bad if the Planners would now publish ALL the responses so we can see what people thought; but I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.
Of much more serious concern was the lack of contextual information on the 15 or 16 display boards that circled the room. There was NO mention that the improvements for the Kettle were tied directly to a for-profit condo tower, more massive than anything currently in the neighbourhood. There was NO mention of how many market-priced housing units were to be built (about 150) compared to the 30 or less Kettle units. In fact, unless you already knew, you could have spent the whole session not knowing that a for-profit developer was behind the project.
Where were the massing diagrams that show the immense bulk of this proposal? We know they exist because they were revealed at a Citizens’ Assembly meeting a few weeks back. Why did the Planners think they were not relevant to this presentation? Was it because it shows this to be an outrageously out of scale edifice that will ruin this corner of Grandview?
This Google Earth image of one form of the proposal gives some idea of the scale but, taken from above it fails to indicate the dominating bulk of the building at street level; a bulk that will create enormous shadows and interupt any number of important views.
Moreover, there was no attempt to discuss why we are now relying on a private for-profit developer to provide the city with much-needed social/mental health living units. Surely this is something that we as a civilized and liberal society should provide — perhaps using the already-collected CACs that, we are told so often by the City, are to be used for social and supportive housing. This issue was simply ignored as if it didn’t exist.
The folks from the Kettle Society were at the meeting, but I didn’t see any Boffo people. Perhaps they were there, but they sure didn’t make themselves known or volunteer to chat. It was a perfect example, as I have written previously, of a for-profit developer hiding behind the skirts of a well-respected local group in an attempt to get the kind of zoning they would never be allowed in any other context.
Finally, this whole evening showed that COV Planning thinks the Citizens’ Assembly process is worthless. The CA has discussed this project at length and will be coming out with their recommendations for the site in the next few weeks. Given that is the case, what was the purpose of tonight’s exercise, except to be able to say that they had a meeting with a couple of hundred residents, served x slices of pizza and received back x number of questionnaires. Numbers without value.
We can see the political/community benefit of Boffo/Kettle putting on such a show — which is why the majority of us attended tonight thinking this was their event. But for COV Planning to put this on now, just days before the CA makes decisions, simply shows they have no faith in the CA process — and that is one of the very few things I agree with them about.