GWAC Meeting on Britannia Housing

April 6, 2021

Changes On The Drive #116

April 1, 2021

I had hoped that this would be the turnaround month, when things started to look up for businesses on the Drive. And it is true that there are a number of new signs and canopies for businesses opening soon (see below). However, Dr. Henry’s news this week that all restaurants are banned from in-door dining until April 19 has left a lot of places suddenly closed yet again. That being said, yesterday, when I did the walk, was warm and sunny and all the patios were busy and several places (Fets, Havana, the Social, and Park Drive, for example) were rapidly expanding their patios onto the sidewalks and into the street.

Grounds for Coffee at 2088 Commercial gets a shout out for their “legendary” cinnamon buns.

The storefront at 1848 is still vacant but is soon to be a Liberty Tax outlet, giving some competition to H&R Block.

For some months now, Cannibal Cafe has been advertising the possibility of expanding next door to 1816 Commercial to open a Motherclucker’s Chicken place. But I see this month there is a new For Lease sign on the door, so perhaps they have give up on that idea.

La Grotta del Formaggio at 1791 Commercial is unsurprisingly listed as one of the seven best cheese shops in Vancouver.

What used to be a Starbucks at 1752 Commercial is still vacant, but the sign says a new Mexican Restaurant — Sol y Limon — will be opening soon.

At 1740 Commercial, the storefront is still vacant, but a new canopy suggests a furnishings doo-dads store is about to grace us with its presence.

At 1678 Commercial there is a new sign advertising the coming of Vancity Fried Chicken, though the store is still vacant right now.

The former Libra Room at 1608-12 Commercial is getting a complete make-over externally in preparation for opening as a Greek restaurant (?).

Where Ugly Dumplings is now, at 1590 Commercial, there used to be Merchant’s Workshop. Scout magazine has a fond look back at the place where chefs used to like to hang out.

Memphis Blues at 1342 Commercial is looking for all kinds of staff: supervisors, line cooks, bartenders, etc. That’s a welcome sign in these covid-depressed times.

Also receiving great reviews for their cinnamon buns is Livia’s at 1339 Commercial.

The haphazardly-occupied storefront at 1303 Commercial is now a store called Velveteen Vintage.

The large double-front at 1005 Commercial is soon to be the home of Turnabout Luxury Resale, a designer consignment store.

The team behind Kin Kao at 903 Commercial are working on opening a second location at 317 E. Broadway in Mount Pleasant. The team and the name will be the same, but the menu will be completely different. “Tang and the core kitchen crew are being given the green light to do completely new things, retooling family recipes and tweaking regional specialities. The drinks program will also be different, with cocktails and wine making playing larger roles.”

  • * * * * *

I still haven’t called Penelope’s at 1009 vacant, but it has been covid-closed now for a full year

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (4 months vacant), 2277 (21 months), 2223 (25 months), 2111 (11 months), 2057 (4 months), 1848 (2 months), 1816 (11 months), 1752 (14 months), 1748 (8 months), 1740 (20 months), 1733 (6 months), 1728 (12 months), 1678 (7 months), 1608-12 (15 months), 1503 (4 months), 1305 (12 months), 1301 (6 months), 1206 (6 months), 1003 (14 months), 935 (14 months), 931 (9 months), 902 (6 months).

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.


Want To Work at The Bookstore?

March 5, 2021

The People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial is looking for a part-time bookstore clerk. They are looking for someone to work three days a week on a continuous basis.

If you are interested, send your resume to coopbks@telus.net.


In Conversation with Scot Hein

March 4, 2021

This morning, CityHallWatch sponsored a 70 minute conversation between Scot Hein and I about the past and future of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan. Scot Hein is an adjunct professor in the master of urban design program at University of British Columbia. He was previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver.

The conversation can be found at CHW’s YouTube Channel (https://youtu.be/jDfr1B04WUk)

We covered a great deal of ground in our talk and I hope others will find it of value.


Grandview Launches the Slow Zone

March 3, 2021

As of today, roads in the section of Grandview bounded by Clark Drive, Grandview Highway, Commercial Drive, and First Avenue have a new speed limit of just 30 km/h, down from the city default on local streets of 50 km/h. This is a trial for what many hope will become a more widespread change in traffic habits in Vancouver.

As the City’s press release states: “Slower motor vehicle speeds dramatically improve safety for people walking and cycling. According to studies completed by the World Health Organization, higher speeds equal higher probability of fatality. For example, when a vehicle hits a pedestrian at 30 km/h the probability of fatality is 15%. The probability of a fatality increases to 50% when the speed is 50 km/h.”

In July 2020, Council approved the creation of the slow zone pilot within the Grandview Woodland neighbourhood. The area was identified by staff as the top-ranked neighbourhood based on: speed, collisions, vulnerable populations, and community amenities (we have so few of these last listed, I’m guessing).

I am all for this. I hope the trial is deemed a success and the slow zone is extended throughout the non-arterial streets in our neighbourhood.


GWAC AGM

March 2, 2021

Last night there was an excellent attendance at the ZOOMed Grandview Woodland Area Council AGM.

I gave a presentation on the GW Community Plan, which seemed to be well received, and there was a good level of discussion about what GWAC should be doing over the coming twelve months.

Nine Directors were acclaimed for the 2021/22 year, including three who were not on the Board last year. The turnout for the meeting, and the level of debate that went on, augurs well for the organization.

I urge all residents of Grandview Woodland who are interested in the future of our neighbourhood to at least get yourself on the GWAC mailing list and, if possible, to attend — online — their monthly meetings. You will learn much and I am sure many of you have valuable experience to contribute.


Changes On The Drive #115

February 27, 2021

I did the walk on Saturday, the last of the sunny Spring days for a while I suspect. I am glad to say the Drive was really busy, with most of the patios full for lunch. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make up for no new openings and two new large closures.

The biggest new closure of the month (by size at least) is the closing of the BCC Ethical Financing company in the storefront at 1848 Commercial. It seems that the upstairs offices of Terra Housing are also closed.

The Bench Bakehouse at 1641 Commercial (inside the mall) has been advertizing for an experienced operations manager.

The former Libra Room at 1608 Commercial is still but a distant memory, but I understand the double-front is being renovated for a new place; perhaps a Greek restaurant? During the work, the new owners uncovered a sign for the Windows Bakery that closed at that site in 1950. I hope they find some way to use that sign in their new display.

The Ugly Dumpling at 1590 Commercial is featured in a spread about take out foods. They recommend the omakase.

Image: Scout magazine

The storefront at 1507 Commercial is still vacant but the new canopy suggests it is going to be yet another cell phone shop.

Livia at 1399 Commercial is good at drawing crowds and attracting media. The bread baker there is Sabine Thorson, and she gets a good feature in Scout magazine this month.

The other big upcoming closure is of the Arcane Tattoo and Piercing shop at 1115 Commercial. They have been on the Drive for about eight years but their sign says they are moving to Gastown.

I still haven’t called Penelope’s at 1009 vacant, but it has been closed now for a very long time.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (3 months vacant), 2277 (20 months), 2223 (24 months), 2111 (10 months), 2057 (3 months), 1848 (1 month), 1816 (10 months), 1752 (13 months), 1748 (7 months), 1740 (19 months), 1733 (5 months), 1728 (11 months), 1678 (6 months), 1608 (14 months), 1503 (3 months), 1305 (11 months), 1303 (5 months), 1301 (4 months), 1206 (5 months), 1003 (12 months), 935 (13 months), 931 (8 months), 902 (5 months).

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.


Emergency Warming Centres

February 12, 2021


CoV Planning and Orwellian Doublespeak

February 12, 2021

Further to my earlier post regarding the development of 1766 Frances, I want to point out a method by which the Planning Department in Vancouver uses doublespeak to push through developments that cannot be approved in any other way.

The Planning Department’s Recommendation for 1766 Frances claims that it “meets the intent of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan with respect to the delivery of social housing” and therefore should be approved. However, this claim was immediately challenged and the head of Planning, Gil Kelley, felt the need to issue a memo dated 5th February (but which was not made public until yesterday) clarifying that the project should be approved under the terms of section 7.1.3. of the Plan.

During the questioning of staff by Councilors, Planning was specifically asked whether this project would have been approved had it been anything other than social housing. The answer was a firm “No.” It was, they said, approved because of 7.1.3.

After the staff presentations and the applicant’s presentation and a dozen or more public speakers had concluded, the Councilors made their closing remarks before voting. Almost without exception, they praised the development and — having drunk deeply of the Planning Department’s Kool-Aid — said they were going to approve the project because it met the Grandview Woodland Community Plan guidelines.

So let us look at the infamous section 7.1.3. of the Grandview Community Plan. The relevant bullet point states:

“7.1.3: Consider modest increases in height and density for the delivery of non-market housing to assist with project viability” ( p.131)

The key word here is “modest”.

The change in zoning that was approved last night increased the allowable height from 10.7m to 29.28m — an increase of 273% — and increased the allowable density from 1.4 FSR to 4.06 FSR — an increase of 290%.

Perhaps that is an unfair comparison as the rezoning had to be taken from the pre-Plan starting point. Under the Plan, the allowable number of storeys is 6; the approval is for 9 — an increase of 50%. As for density, the Plan allows for 2.4 FSR and so the increase agreed to last night was 70%.

Only in George Orwell’s dystopian world of doublespeak could increases of 273% and 290% or even 50% and 70% be considered “modest”.

It is as if the Planning Department in Vancouver is speaking a language known only to themselves and their developer friends; a language designed to confuse the rest of us and to thwart the terms and conditions of the social contract known as the Community Plan. It is a sad business that Vancouver City Council allows themselves to be dragged by the nose by their staff.


Council Shoots GW Plan In Head — Again

February 11, 2021

This evening was the Public Hearing for a development at 1766 Frances Street. It is a development that places a 9-storey building in the middle of a small residential side street with a height that is 50% above the limits established by the Grandview Community Plan, and more than 100% above the average height of buildings in that block.

While some Councilors, Carr and Hardwick in particular, bemoaned the battering that the long fought-over Community Plan was sustaining (this not being the first such outrage), the vote was unanimous in supporting the development.

It has to be said that the development ticked a lot of good boxes: it is from an indigenous organization designed to serve low income indigenous families; it includes a daycare facility and other cultural attributes such as a sweat lodge; and the design of the building is quite fetching. None of that is in dispute.

The point that many of us made was that there are other parts of Grandview (some just three blocks away) where such a large building would be both welcomed and would still be in line with the Community Plan. It should not be that the social contract represented by the Community Plan can be brushed aside simply because ticking certain boxes meets others’ desires. Doing so demeans and cheapens the hundreds of thousands of hours Grandview residents put into negotiating the Plan.

The next big fight will be over the Safeway site. That development has none of the “good boxes” to tick that this one did, but you better believe that the Planners and this Vision 2.0 Council will find some excuse or many to override the Plan yet again. As I said in my remarks tonight, the only certainty a Community Plan gives us is that developers will ask for more than is in the Plan and that Vancouver City Council and City Planners will approve their demands.


What Bad Planning Does To A Neighbourhood

February 11, 2021

This evening, for the first time in a while, I will be speaking to City Council at a Public Hearing on what many of us consider an out-of-scale building that shows no sensitivity to the neighborhood and which disrespects all the work that was put into the Community Plan just a few years ago. Preparing for the hearing triggered thoughts about the wider context in which development is taking place in Grandview.

In most cases, stately and adaptable Edwardian buildings are being replaced with cookie-cutter back-and-front duplexes. There are serious issues both with why this is occurring and the effect they will have on the long term social fabric of the neighbourhood.

The houses being demolished generally started life as single family properties. But they were large and spacious and their interior structure allowed them to be configured to suit multiple uses. The single family house often developed into a multi-generational home, then perhaps into a rooming house or complex of individual suites, and many saw further use as a renovated SFH with a basement suite helping the mortgage.  Families and neighbour community were encouraged by this kind of architecture.

The replacement duplexes, with their lack of basements and attics and their fixed regular patterns discouraging or inhibiting family growth, are designed for the modern two-person tech couple isolated within their own cells and digital networks. Families and community groups are being replaced by “household units.” This is a fundamental and unwelcome change in the social fabric for a family-friendly residential neighbourhood such as Grandview.

Why is this happening? A generally accepted view is that the planning and development process has been so damaged in Vancouver (we have all heard of relatively trivial projects taking years to complete through the bureaucracy and with tens of thousands in fees attached) that developers are deciding against innovation and are sticking to templated duplex designs they can get through the process with a minimum of fuss and delay.  There still seems to be a market for these at around $1.4 million per half-duplex and a slightly lower profit margin is preferred to the risks of serious delay with any other kind of development proposals.

But should we really be changing the nature of our communities just to suit a failure of competence in the planning process?

The immediate consequences of the trend to demolish old Edwardians and replace them with duplexes are to reduce density and increase  housing costs — absolutely contrary to the shrill claims of the build-build-build brigade.

On a block on Venables that was recently ravaged, we have firm knowledge that two of the houses demolished housed twelve people. They have all been displaced.   The four duplex units that have taken their place will generally have no more than two people living in each, for a total of, say, 8 people.  That is a 33% reduction in density. The affordable rentals were replaced by $1 million+plus price tags. If they are put out for rent, I would be surprised if they were offered at less than $3,000 a month — that’s a 100% increase in the cost for someone used to paying $1,400 or $1,500 a month to live in that space.

An earlier example of this same issue happened when townhouses came to Adanac. We see this happening all over Grandview.

We would do a let better by allowing and incentivizing current owners to increase the number of units on their lots, adding internal suites, laneways, etc. This will increase density while retaining the current neighbourhood look, feel, and scale.  It will reduce costs both by eliminating the need for land acquisition and reducing the bureaucratic burden (especially for heritage homes) that makes such renos and improvements almost impossible these days. It will increase affordability by creating incentives for rents to remain at income-suitable levels. A further benefit would be an increase in work opportunities for smaller local builders who could handle projects of this size.

Whether you agree with these specific ideas or not, it should be clear we cannot keep doing what we are doing.


First Saturday Is Back

February 4, 2021

Local artists open their studios on the first Saturday of each month for you to visit and, hopefully, to buy some of the wonderful art works and crafts that they make available.

This month, on 6th February a wide range of Grandview and eastside artists are involved. For details check out the First Saturday website.


Changes On The Drive #114

February 3, 2021

This month’s report has been delayed for a few days due to the inclement weather and the frailty of your correspondent. But here we are! I did the walk this morning and it was the most gorgeous sunny winter’s day: I’m glad I waited. Unfortunately, the state of the Drive is not as bright as the day, with no new openings but no further closings either.

The Benchhouse Bakery, inside Il Mercato Mall at 1641 Commercial, gets a great review for its caramelized onion sourdough bread.

La Mezcaleria at 1622 Commercial gets a shout out from Scout Magazine for its flight of margarita miniatures.

Image: La Mezcaleria

The former Libra Room at 1608 Commercial is still vacant and boarded up. However, I saw some work going on there on the weekend so maybe there is some hope for a new place?

What used to be the Euro Café at 1468 Commercial has morphed into a Vietnamese café called Mercie Beaucoup. (My apologies for the quality of this image).

At Livia, 1399 Commercial, the buckwheat and oat sourdough is said to be delicious.

The former Andy’s Bakery at 935 Commercial is still vacant, but there is now a sign on the door for a new bakery. No work seems to have been done on the interior though, so far as I could see.

What was the last remaining house on the Drive at 928 Commercial is now in the process of being re-developed. The entire front of the building (Commercial Drive side) has been removed, but the rear (backs onto the lane) is still standing.

I still haven’t called Penelope’s at 1009 vacant, but it has been closed now for a very long time.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (2 months), 2277 (vacant 19 months), 2223 (23 months), 2111 (9 months), 2057 (2 months), 1814 (9 months), 1752 (12 months), 1748 (6 months), 1740 (18 months), 1733 (4 months), 1728 (10 months), 1678 (5 months), 1608 (13 months), 1503 (2 months), 1305 (10 months), 1303 (4 months), 1301 (3 months), 1206 (4 months), 1003 (11 months), 935 (12 months), 931 (7 months), 902 (4 months).

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.


GWAC on Strathcona Park

January 30, 2021

This month’s meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is on Monday 1st February starting at 7:00pm. It is, as usual these days, a ZOOM meeting.

The main topic this month is the tent encampment on Strathcona Park, its impacts and possible solutions. The discussion will be led by Katie Lewis, secretary of the Strathcona Residents Association.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84620957804?pwd=bGs3WEVVYWV1Qy9xRlB3REdjcHZ4UT09

Meeting ID: 846 2095 7804 Passcode: 669540


Petition Against Safeway Tower

January 27, 2021
Image: artists against the towers

Further to my note of a couple of weeks ago regarding the growing opposition to a series of huge towers at Broadway and Commercial, the group now has a petition that I urge everyone to sign.

The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/NomegatowersatSafeway


More On The Safeway Site

January 17, 2021

Since my post about the new group opposing the appallingly large towers at the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial, the usual YIMBY crowd has suggested that community groups don’t know what they’re talking about, and that developers/planners know what’s best for us.

For their edification, here is Scot Hein who was head of the design group for CoV Planning and is currently professor in the Masters of Urban Design program at UBC talking about this site:

“We imagined, he wrote, a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid-rise buildings in this scenario …  Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form. 

We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”.  We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day.

We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood.”

Source: “Battleground: Grandview” (p.67-68), quoting comment by Scott Hein at Price Tags, Vision: The end of the residential highrise? 2014 Nov 10

Update: Scot has asked me to clarify that he was supporting two modestly scaled towers for the Safeway site, with lower tower buildings for nearby transitional sites on 10th, which I am happy to do.


Opposition to Safeway Site Hardens

January 16, 2021

The City of Vancouver Planning Department have been keen to put a tower on the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway since the late 1980s, and community opposition to such a project has been fierce for the same length of time. For those interested in the history of the struggle over that site for the last decade can read the whole sorry business in these columns. It is also covered in detail in my book “Battleground: Grandview“.

The latest version of the developers’ pipedream is even worse than previous incarnations, rising 39 storeys above our human scale low- and mid-rise neighbourhood.

And it has attracted a great deal of neighbourhood criticism. This opposition has now begun to coalesce into an active group that has launched a website.

I urge you to read what they have to say, and to sign up to get involved and/or just to keep yourself informed on this development which will affect our wonderful neighbourhood for generations.


Lewis Villegas, Charettes & GWAC

January 5, 2021

This month’s ZOOM meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) will feature a discussion of community influence on development plans via charettes given by urbanist Lewis Villegas. As he writes in the GWAC call to meeting:

“On January 11th, I will make a pitch at GWAC—a ‘Call to Action’—to fight for human-scale, west coast urbanism in Grandview Woodland. And to fight against Hong Kong-style tower building on the Safeway site.

There are two reasons we are building towers in Vancouver today: (1) So the 1% can pile up towering profits; and (2) So that City Hall can continue to build the Vision agenda as if nothing happened 2 years ago.

Charrettes deliver a recipe for sustainable neighborhood buildout over the next 50 years. Neighbors come together and participate in delivering both social and affordable housing, and building public places for supporting higher levels of social mixing. All following in the long established and cherished west coast vernacular tradition. Products don’t exceed human-scale, building 3 to 5 stories high.

Like I did for RAMP in Mount Pleasant, in 2012 when we were fighting the Rize Tower, should GWAC choose to host the charrette, I will lead the process pro-bono.

Let’s “Fight the Broadway Corridor Plan” at the Safeway Site. And at EVERY site. Let’s get something better. Much better. Tell staff, and government, “Go back to the Neighborhood.”

The fact is that we just don’t need the density. Colleen Hardwick has shown how Vancouver has been growing by 1% for the past 40 years—towers and all!

At 1% annual rate of population growth, doubling the amount of living space in the neighborhood will provide housing for 70 years to come. It’s an old investment rule of thumb: invest at 1% per annum and double the principal in 72 years.

In the Mount Pleasant charrette we already showed how to double the density building nothing more than the human-scale vernacular, 3 to 5 storeys high.

We will do the same here.”

The Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: GWAC January Meeting
Time: Jan 11, 2021 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85275757682

pwd=QXhNZnJkclRlVlZIMUZCOUVGbGVYdz09

Meeting ID: 852 7575 7682

Passcode: 863410


Changes On The Drive #113

January 1, 2021

Between rainstorms, much of yesterday was perfect weather for walking and it was good to get out and stretch my legs. Unfortunately, much of the walk was a depressing stroll between vacant storefronts — an imperfect end to an imperfect year.

At the far south end, I noticed that the Currency Exchange business at 2283 Commercial seems to have closed, and the space in front of their store has been taken over by the grocery store next door by what looks like a semi-permanent display.

The denturist office at 2057 Commercial which has been operating on the Drive since the 1950s has now closed. They have moved to a space on Renfrew Street.

Cowboys has now opened at 1875 Commercial, but the Columbus Travel Agency at 1503 Commercial has closed.

The recently-opened Cell Doctor store at 1433 Commercial now has a new canopy.

The former Beckwomans at 1314 has now opened as a fashion boutique.

There is an interesting article in Monetcristo magazine that is mainly about the new branch of Sula restaurant in Mount Pleasant, but it has a welcome amount of information about the owners and chefs who maintain their first Sula at 1128 Commercial Drive.

The Lunch Lady at 1046 Commercial is the only restaurant on the Drive to make the Daily Hive’s best new restaurants of 2020 list.

The storefront at 931 Commercial is still not open, but the anticipated Covid Cafe looks like it should be ready early in the new year.

I notice that the Drive’s last house at 928 Commercial now has a new security fence and the nearby trees have protective coverings. That probably means that, after a couple of years of vacancy, the building is about to be demolished.

.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (1 month), 2277 (vacant 18 months), 2223 (22 months), 2111 (8 months), 2057 (1 month), 1814 (8 months), 1752 (11 months), 1748 (5 months), 1740 (17 months), 1733 (3 months), 1728 (9 months), 1678 (4 months), 1608 (12 months), 1503 (1 month), 1305 (9 months), 1303 (3 months), 1301 (2 months), 1206 (3 months), 1003 (10 months), 935 (11 months), 931 (6 months), 902 (3 months).

These are depressing graphs but we live in hope that in the new year we will start re-filling these empty spaces and bring back the glory days of 2019. We also have to recognize that this is a city-wide issue and CityHallWatch has a good piece on the situation today on West Broadway and on Granville.

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.


There’s Still Time …

December 9, 2020

.. to let the City know your opinion on the proposal to build massive towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.

Read about the proposal and fill out the survey here. The more views they hear, the more they will listen. At this point, this is the only contact we have with the developer and their friends at City Hall.