Community Plan Update

November 9, 2017

On Monday evening I attended the GWAC meeting at which planner Andrew Pask gave a form of update on where we are with the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan implementation.  It was a well-attended meeting and not at all raucous as some may have expected.

It is worth pointing first that Pask introduced himself as “the former planner for Grandview”.  It was left unclear as to whether he has gone on to bigger and better things, and whether or not GW now no longer has a specific planner to talk to.

It was clear that Pask wanted to concentrate on how Planning is “saving” affordable rentals in the district. This is happening through the Pace of Change program under which only five applications for demolishing existing rentals will be accepted by Planning in the first three years after the Plan’s introduction (summer 2016 to summer 2019).. It was assumed that most of these would come from the RM zoned areas west of the Drive where the low-rise apartment buildings are concentrated.

Applications for this program to date include the assembly at 11th and Victoria (10 storeys, mixed condos/rentals), an assembly on Broadway just west of Commercial (10-storeys, mixed condos/rentals, public hearing spring 2018, and 825 Commercial (6 storeys with a pre-application open house tonight). Another possible contender for the Pace of Change program is a development assembly at 1535 Grant  where developers are seeking 6-storeys (an early open house is scheduled for 15th November at Lord Nelson School, I believe).

Pask had no idea what would happen to this program at the end of the three years. He said Planning would make recommendations to Council who would then make a decision. It was noted this would be after the next municipal election.

Pask also touched on the Safeway site, the Boffo Tower, St Francis school, and the Britannia Renewal:

As for the Safeway site, he reviewed the arguments for and against the plaza on site, including Safeway’s strong reluctance. No application has yet been made, so we await further developments.

On the Boffo Tower, he agreed that Boffo threatened to shut down the project this spring, and made sure we remembered Planning had approved only 9 storeys but they had been over-ruled by Vision’s Council majority who agreed 12. However, he did not mention the now well-known internal tension between Boffo and the Kettle. He did say they were anticipating a formal application — at last! — within the next couple of months. It is worth noting that I didn’t see (or recognize) a single Boffo or Kettle person at the meeting.

With regard to St. Francis, he noted that Planners had agreed with many residents’ concerns over the redevelopment on Semlin, and it seems the Church is now going back to re-study a redevelopment of the current school site on Victoria.

On the question of housing on the proposed redeveloped Britannia site, Pask made it clear that Planning had little to do with this project at this stage, as most of the land was held by School Board and Parks Board. He did make a case for putting housing on the site but noted any decision is still a long way off, and that no specific number of housing units was being targeted. There was also discussion about “air parcels” (i.e. building on top pf other buildings) and Pask agreed that Council had left “air parcels” undefined. There was also a question of whether the Renewal Committee was using up-to-date demographics as they seemed to be ignoring the growing seniors’ population.

Questions from the audience covered much of the same ground but also included additional concerns:

One resident asked why, if the viaducts were coming down and Venables was being closed, why the Boffo Tower was even considered given the tower residents would be adding traffic. Pask said there was no question of Venables being closed, merely “calmed”.

It was noted by several people that GW remains green-space deficient when compared to other districts in the City and that the Plan didn’t seem to help. Pask claimed the Plan included “extensions” and “improvements” to existing facilities but there were no details, He also made a case for “hard surface” public areas (plazas, closed roads, etc), but the audience clearly didn’t buy that.

The issue of developing the industrial lands was discussed briefly. Pask notes that Vancouver needed to protect the small existing industrial base and that the Plan called for gradual densification of those areas with taller buildings rather than change of use.

The move of St Paul’s hospital to Strathcona, and its effects on our neighbourhood, was raised as was the problem of AirBnB‘s effect on rental availability, but Pask didn’t have specific information to bring on those topics. The issue of planning permissions and how long they took and the massive expense was discussed. Pask said they were aware of the problems and hoped to do better in the future.

All in all it is good to have a planner come and talk about these issues but did we really learn much? I’m not sure we did and, in the end, it just feels like another faux attempt at “consultation and public awareness”.

 

 

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Britannia: Housing, Imagination & Purpose

September 30, 2017

Yet again, another Elizabeth Murphy opinion piece in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun has brought me to the keyboard. Yet again, she uses an attack on the revamping of Vancouver’s Community Association management agreements (an attack with which I agree in general terms) to push her negative and unimaginative opinions about the future of Britannia, a site that is irrelevant to, and outside the boundaries of, the power-grabbing centralising dispute disturbing other parks and recreational facilities in the City.

She writes as if allowing certain housing options on Britannia will guarantee a loss of some of the precious little green space that Grandview currently enjoys. Quoting Darlene Mazari, she claims that adding housing to Britannia will make the management structure too “complex.”  She declares that Britannia “is a fabulous model of combined services.”  I take issue with each of these points.

When it was constructed in the 1970s, there is is little argument that Britannia CCS was a progressive move forward in the delivery of services to Grandview. However, designed and constructed using the then-chic Pattern Language style it has long been recognised that Britannia is no longer fit for purpose; its buildings, working spaces, and interior connections form a barrier to the type of programming that Britannia wants to deliver to its 21st century clientele. I am certain that this failure was what drove the original impetus for a Britannia renewal in the first place; because it was no longer “a fabulous model.”

Created outside the standard model of Vancouver Community Associations, the management of the Britannia space has always been complex. It is governed by agreements between the Vancouver School Board, Vancouver Parks Board, and the Vancouver Library Board, and has a Board elected from the community.  Although this governance structure has presented challenges over the Brit’s existence, the form has proven to be both durable and workable. Adding a housing component will certainly expand the complexity but to believe this will collapse the governance model is an insult to the professionals (and residents) who will make it work.

The housing options I have discussed in previous posts assume that spaces/buildings can be multi-functional: Housing options can be developed above other required Brit facilities; above gyms, above the library, above programming spaces. In fact, I am a strong believer that the future of a land-poor Vancouver will not look well on us if we restrict ourselves to single-use properties in such developments. Given the number of buildings required at Britannia, I am certain we can place all the housing we want on site without the loss of any green space. Imagination and creativity can allow us to have our cake and eat it, too.

As regular readers will have noticed, I have now come to the conclusion that housing on the Brit site is both required and desired. However, I need to stress once again the three inviolable principles for this:  all housing on site must be government run for low income residents; all present green space is to be retailed; and a maximum height of four storeys must be maintained.

I know that even with these caveats, there will be lots of opposition from my heritage and development-activism colleagues, and I am sure I have already discouraged a number of them with my earlier ideas for densifying Grandview.   However, I am equally aware that the affordable housing crisis is genuine and needs to be faced directly with urgency and imagination.  I also know that a large number of individuals and groups within Grandview support the idea of on-site housing, including perhaps a majority of the Brit Planning & Development committee, I hope my ideas can be used as an input to a final conclusion.

Under doctor’s orders, I was unable to make either of last week’s Britannia meetings and I apologise if this post has fallen behind the times.


Housing at Britannia?

September 11, 2017

Elizabeth Murphy has written another of her pieces in the Vancouver Sun. On this occasion, she is noting with horror the possibility of using public spaces, such as parks, to build housing in Vancouver.

I agree with many of the points she is making, including her thesis that the driving dynamic behind this movement is the desire to centralize, taking control from the locally based community centre associations, that was pushed forward so aggressively when Penny Ballem was City Manager. I also agree with her praise for new amenities that have been developed to include housing, such as the Strathcona and Mount Pleasant libraries.

However, when it comes to the redevelopment of Britannia, she has the history wrong and draws inaccurate conclusions from that faulty reading.  She blithely records that, during the development of the Britannia site in the 1970s that “housing was moved off the site.”  In fact, 77 houses were expropriated and demolished for the Community Center, many with barely grudging assent from the owners as recorded in Clare Shepansky’s definitive history of the removals. To this must be added 40 or 50 more that were torn down in the original building of Britannia School and the subsequent expansions in the 1950s primarily for playing fields.

It is entirely wrong to suggest, therefore, that the Britannia site has historically been a public asset. It was for many decades a thriving residential neighbourhood. The community could make a good and valid argument that we deserve to recover some of the housing that was lost to us in the 1970s, especially today when the need for affordable housing in Grandview is becoming acute.

It would seem to me that at this early stage where plans are not yet drawn up that we could take cues from the developments cited earlier in Strathcona and Mount Pleasant and possibly have the best of both worlds. The current green space could be preserved while a new library, gyms, pool, and schools could be designed with housing above (keeping, of course, to a maximum four-storey height). Let’s get creative!

I have not yet made up my mind whether I support the notion of housing as part of Britannia’s necessary and welcome redevelopment, but an inaccurate and revisionist history does a disservice to the people of Grandview and adds nothing to the debate.


Important Dates for the Calendar

May 21, 2017

The Britannia Renewal project is moving ahead rapidly with a regular schedule of meetings and workshops. The next three are the following:

  • May 23, 7:00pm to 8:30pm:  Designing Safe Spaces.  Meeting in the Britannia Ice Rink Mezzanine. Speakers will discuss the design of spaces with two spirit, trans and gender variant, and women’s safety in mind.
  • May 27th, noon to 3:00pm: Public Outdoor Spaces Workshop.  Meeting in Gym D. Help imagine the kinds of public outdoor spaces the new Britannia could include.
  • May 29th, 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Housing on the Britannia Site. Meeting in B-Lab, Info Centre, Napier Street. There is a suggestion (perhaps even a requirement) that housing be included on the renewed site. What do you think about that?  Come along and debate the issues.

 


The Next Speaker …

April 24, 2017

…in the Britannia Renewal Speakers’ Series will be Ouri Scott, architect, and David Ramslie, sustainability planner. Their topic will be Learning and Community Growth and will take place on

Thursday May 4th, 7:00pm at Britannia High School Auditorium

I think it’s really about an approach to the environment. Not talking about the technical sense of the environment, but the sense of place. Honouring the past of that place, thinking about who and what came before, from people, trees and animals. And making references to the past and to cultural heritage.” – Ouri Scott

Everyone is welcome!


Library as Community

April 21, 2017

Last night I attended the latest in the Britannia Renewal Speakers’ Series. This was a presentation on the unique role of the public library in building community given by Asa Kachan, CEO of the Halifax Library system. There were perhaps just three dozen in the audience. She was an excellent speaker and deserved more.

Halifax has recently opened a new Central Library. It was this space — and the process by which it was designed — that was the central feature of the presentation.  The previous building, a 1950s slab, was no longer relevant or attractive to the current generation; the new building is entirely different. The concepts and design ideas were developed during an active and extended community engagement phase, primarily using World Cafe methods.

As a meaningful symbol of the engagement of the local community, the library handed out 400 pairs of scissors to residents to cut the ribbon in opening day.

Ms. Kachan repeated often that a modern library needs to be both “purposeful and surprising;” that the purpose of libraries and other public spaces is to “change the quality of people’s lives.”  The Halifax Library has been designed to be open and participatory, with flexible spaces that many groups and individuals can self-curate.  As she stressed, if you build good spaces, people will use them imaginatively.

The speaker also emphasised that the community engagement process does not end with the construction project. The same importance of public input continues into ongoing operations and programming.

It was an inspiring presentation in which she stressed that the library is for the people not the librarians, giving examples of how a library can make a significant difference to an individual. She noted that Halifax is a welcoming open library for the homeless and others without other access to technology. There is a new encouragement to include food with library activities and to make the library part of a food security network.

Throughout Ms. Kachan’s presentation — and especially in the Q&A within which a wide range of library-use topics were discussed — I got the sense that she would like to add even more of the social services and community components that already form part of the Britannia continuum. In turn, Halifax’s experience is one we should keep closely in mind as we develop the Britannia library as part of the renewed Centre.

 


Dates for Calendar

April 15, 2017

There are two meetings of interest at Britannia this coming week.

On Tuesday 18th April at 7:00pm in the Info Centre Boardroom, there is the regular monthly meeting of the team planning the Britannia Renewal Project. the agenda this month includes a discussion on housing, a report on the lease negotiations, an update on the speakers’ series, and other items of interest.  All are welcome.

On Thursday 20th April, at 7:00pm in the Britannia Library, there will be a discussion with Asa Kachan, Chief Librarian of Halifax Public Library. The topic will be “Learning and Community Growth” and again, everyone is welcome.

This Thursday would also have been the regular monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group, but we believe the Library discussion to be of such interest that GHG has canceled this month’s meeting and will meet again in May.