Now We Wait and Worry Some More

July 28, 2016

This afternoon, Vancouver City Council approved the Grandview Woodland Community Plan by the not-surprising vote of 10-1 with only Councillor Adriane Carr voting against.

However, not content with the Planning Department’s four years of work, Councillor Reimer had produced a long list of substantive amendments to the Plan that she had conjured together over night. Those amendments — which included allowing the full 12 stories for the Boffo Tower — were approved by majority and so it was this amended Plan that was finally bulldozed through Council.

Councillor Geoff Meggs made it clear he was disappointed in the level of density Grandview would accept under the Plan, and he suggested that we were not carrying our weight. I am certain he will be looking for spot rezoning applications he can help push through against the word and spirit of the Plan, especially around the south end of Commercial.  I am sure most of his Vision brethren will be right behind him.

So,

  • Boffo doesn’t need any genuine public hearings for a rezoning now and I expect them to move swiftly, looking for permission to start digging that big hole every tower needs;
  • how quickly will we see applications along Hastings between Clark and Nanaimo?
  • how quickly will Broadway & Commercial change?  Will tower plans await the subway decision?
  • will the renoviction rate accelerate as rapidly as tenants’ advocates fear with new height allowances?
  • What effect will all this have on the debilitating business and residential rent increases currently afflicting the Drive?
  • Are the folks managing the Britannia Renewal project as upset as they should be that the City has decreed there will be housing on Britannia? And will this Community Plan override any Renewal Plan produced in the future?

An awful lot of intelligent people put an awful lot of effort into trying to help the Community understand what the Plan might meet for them and their quality of life. Outside the strictly-limited boundaries of the Planning process there was an intense debate about height, density, social justice. A great many people got very interested and then got very frustrated by the process that was deliberately closed down, first by the faux “Citizens’ Assembly” and then the year long wait while Planning decided how to spin the Assembly’s requests, refusing to talk with or meet with the neighbourhood during that time.

That being said, I am sadly aware that most people in Grandview will leave their residences tomorrow to head to work or school or recreation and not give a moment’s thought. They might read a report on the hearing in the Metro while they commute, and then turn to the sports pages. In the months ahead they will get cranky about all the building fences blocking sidewalks and smaller streets, but it will be a generalised annoyance only.  Only when the towers are completed at both ends of the Drive will they wonder what was there before.

How do we get to those masses of people and make then understand that they should have some say in the future of their own neighbourhood; and that by having a say they can and will change plans for the better?

The NO TOWER Coalition did a wonderful job with their weekly information tables in Grandview Park. They actually talked with thousands upon thousands of residents and visitors, more than three thousand of whom agreed to sign the petition against the Boffo Tower.  They also did a really good job with getting the signs out and about throughout the community.

But that wasn’t enough to engage the active interest of the mass of the middle class, Vision’s heartland. Vision’s constant polling (they are the only full time party in Vancouver) lets them know if they are in trouble in places, like Grandview, where they need to be strong to maintain a majority in the at-large Council chamber. In this case, they felt confident enough to tear down four years of work by their Planning Department with amendments apparently rushed together overnight. While this hardly compares with the pages and pages of hastily-scribbled last-moment amendments that formed part of the DTES Plan, it shows a constant need for Vision to intrude their ideology onto the technical work of the Planners.

I have written several times before about the assymetric power relationship in which a pick-up team of unpaid untrained and unprofessional(ly qualifed) volunteers goes head to head with a well-funded developer, a plethora of expensive PR agents, compliant mainstream media, and as often as not, the power of the incumbent Council regime. This can only be solved by structural changes to the system and it must include a return to the third-party appeals process that we lost a decade or so ago. I also believe that a ward system is key to most of the needed changes.

However, that is all for the next generation of activists to figure out.


928 Commercial

June 18, 2016

We have yet another development application on Commercial. This one involves the last house existing on the Drive between Venables and Broadway. The development doesn’t come as any surprise as the building was sold a year or so ago with flipping and/or redevelopment in mind.

924 Commercial_old

 

Not only is this the last house on the Drive, it is also one of the oldest (though much changed), having been first built in 1904. In what is today the front yard that faces onto Commercial, there used to be a small storefront, first used as a florist shop, but that disappeared soon after.  The house was purchased in the 1950s by Mrs. Ann Squires and, since that time, has generally been a cheap and cheerful rooming house, and rather run-down.

 

IMG_3336

 

According to the Development Application sign, it is to be replaced by a mixed use building, with retail on the ground floor and rental apartments above. Personally I have no issue with the development especially as it states quite clearly that it will meet the current zoning requirements. I have also been pushing for a long time for more low-rise rental to be built in Grandview, and this seems to fit the bill.

Unfortunately, there is an unwelcome sloppiness about the project so far: the illustration on the notice board shows four storeys, while the text states five storeys. It would be good to have that confusion cleared up. The notice board also says that more information is available from the City of Vancouver site, but this property is not listed in the City’s current development data.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the developer/builder clearly expects to make a reasonable profit on this venture — and good for them. It gives the lie to other developers — Boffo Properties, for example — who claim they cannot make a financial go of low-rise rental properties; and it strengthens the position of many locals who feel that a low-rise alternative is possible for the ugly and intrusive Boffo Tower planned for Commercial & Venables.


Sometimes The Mayor Gets It Right

May 31, 2016

Regular readers will know that I am not a big fan of Mayor Gregor Robertson. However, once in a while, he — or rather his extensive “communications staff” — come up with something we can all agree with.

In a response in The Walrus, the Mayor takes on Kerry Gold’s piece of last week “The Highest Bidder“.  His main point is that there are a lot of reasons for Vancouver’s stratospheric housing market and we shouldn’t be blaming just the offshore Chinese investors. One would have to make up one’s own mind as to whether one believes his defence or not.

In a section on how we got to this state of affairs, Mayor Robertson makes a serious point:

“Planning decisions … that prioritized condo towers over townhomes and row houses have resulted in a lack of choice available to today’s buyers.”

I guess it is too much to hope that Boffo Properties will take that warning to heart and decide on pursuing a community-friendly alternative to their ghastly tower proposal for Commercial & Venables.


How Totalitarianism Works

May 30, 2016

In a well-argued piece on his blog yesterday, COPE’s Tim Louis writes about the public hearing so disastrously chaired by Clr. Raymond Louie about the Cresswell development on Commercial & 18th in Cedar Cottage. This was always going to be a divisive hearing about an important issue concerning development on arterial roads.  Activists from Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours and from across the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods network had been discussing the hearing for some time before the event.

At the hearing, most resident speakers spoke against the development, and Louie made decisions as chair that clearly breached common sense and the City’s Procedure By-Law. In the end, the three NPA Councillors along with Green Clr. Adrianne Carr stormed out of the hearing, bringing it to a close due to lack of quorum. Joseph Jones has reported some of the goings on. Oddly, this was the first hearing in living memory when Vision Vancouver had failed to show up with a majority (the Mayor and three others were missing). There was something fishy going on from the off.

Tim Louis’s point in his post today is the Vision regime’s handling of public participation in public hearings has deteriorated over the years, and this anti-democratic behaviour is now institutionalized in the rules of Procedure passed by that same Vision majority.

It is these same anti-community rules that will constrain the way Grandview residents will be able to formally challenge the Boffo Tower proposal and, even more importantly, the redrafted Grandview Community Plan later this year.

It is from a series of such seemingly innocuous (by themselves) administrative changes that totalitarianism is made to work. They beat you down not with the barrel of the gun but with the letter of the law.


Theft Of The Community’s Voice

May 29, 2016

One of the most noticeable successes of the campaign to halt the development of an intrusive and massive tower at Commercial & Venables has been the large number of lawn signs that are festooned across the neighbourhood — a clear indication of the community’s support.

lawn signs

Unfortunately, another continuing feature of the campaign has been the number of lawn signs that get stolen. Who knows who by? Though presumably it is someone who doesn’t want to see the campaign succeed.  Over the last year we have lost about a hundred signs;  the sign outside my own place has been stolen or damaged three times.

We had hoped that this juvenile behaviour — anti-democratic and anti-free speech at its heart — would pass like a phase in an adolescent’s growth.  But it seems the perpetrators are still determined to expose their childish sides. I received an email this morning from a correspondent just one block east of the Drive:

“for the 7th time, all the signs on our block were stolen last night sometime between 7pm and 11pm.  Perhaps it is a reflection of the Tower Proponents  way of operating –  repeated THEFT OF SIGNS, THEFT OF THE COMMUNITY’S VOICE, then finally THEFT OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.”

It is hard to disagree with those sentiments.


Yeah, I’m A YIMBY!

May 23, 2016

I am tired of certain people making up stuff about what it is I am against. Blinded by their own personal agendas they cannot see — or perhaps choose not to see — the positive message that I pursue.

Yes, in my backyard (specifically that part of my backyard on Commercial between Venables and Adanac), I want to see a fine four-storey permanent home for the Kettle Friendship Society; a home that will include 30 supportive housing units and 12,000 square feet of admin and Drop-In space. I want to see this home built on what is now the publicly owned parking lot (shown on map as (5).

Map

I want to see the buildings along Venables (1, 2, and 3) replaced by a four-storey block with retail on the bottom floor and three floors of apartments. There are several of these already completed successfully in close proximity, including City View Terraces, right across the street from the proposed building), the block at Venables & Salsbury (just one block away), and the apartments on the Drive opposite Grandview Park (just four blocks away). The Casa and the Marquee would be examples a little further south along Commercial. I would see these as rental apartments.

small-piazza-in-bardolinoI want the old and little-used Commercial Drive section between Adanac and Venables (6) to be closed off to traffic and turned into an Italian-heritage style piazza. This I see as a lively community space where, for example, Uprising Bakery (7 on the map), could have tables and chairs out on the piazza, adding to the street life, recalling the public squares of Italy. This would be a significant addition to the public realm.

That’s what I want to see in my backyard, and I am certainly not alone. A design along these lines would give the Kettle exactly what it is asking for, would increase density while maintaining neighbourhood building forms, would provide Grandview with much-needed rental accommodation, and would provide the Drive with another lively public space where they can meet their neighbours and have fun.

But that’s just the YIMBY in me talking.


Sunday In The Park

May 15, 2016

The No Tower Coalition had their community outreach table at Grandview Park today. They are usually there on Saturdays, and the Sunday afternoon schedule was an experiment. I worked the middle hour, from one until two, and it went pretty well.

The Drive is definitely less busy on a Sunday, although the fact that this was a non-sunny and cooler temperature day may have had an effect too,  However, the people who stopped by seemed even more interested in the campaign than usual. There were a lot of good debates while I was there, and the number of signatures collected was impressive to say the least.

The team has put together a useful collection of table materials to explain both the campaign’s opposition to a tower and the pro-Kettle pro-community alternatives that the coalition has developed. These include pamphlets, lawn and window signs, comment postcards, before-and-after photo galleries showing what a tower will do to the look and feel of the Drive, and of course the petition.  Visiting the website adds access to a great 8-minute video.

The coalition has now collected well over 4,100 signatures in support of the campaign, and there is no sign that the increase in numbers is slowing down. Even more important than the signature collection, the weekly table continues the campaign’s tradition of open dialogue with the community. The personal interactions are worth every moment of volunteer time.