Britannia Renewal — The Master Plan

April 14, 2018

Today, the Britannia Renewal Master Plan — or at least the consultants’ draft of it — was released at a Presentation and Open House display in Gym D at Britannia.  Today gave us a welcome break from days of rain, and there was a fairly good crowd of locals assembled for the presentation.

At the previous Open House, we were offered three concepts, and comments/suggestions were requested.  One of the concepts, the so-called Parker Street alignment (which I also voted for) was the clear favourite:

 

The consultants took these suggestions and preferences and have submitted a singular design for the Master Plan, based on the Parker concept:

 

In this plan, the heavy lifting for both major amenities and housing runs along the Parker Street edge of the site, and takes advantage of the slope — equivalent they said to six storeys — running east-west across the site.

The controversy for many is whether housing should be on the site at all, and if so, where should it be.  The consultants made it clear that housing on the site was a requirement received from the City, and that it should be above community amenities. This has created some design constraints, which they have tried to solve by placing the large community facilities in a block along Parker, with housing above. To get the  number of units required, they are relying on  the discretionary height in the IM zone along Venables which can go to 100 feet.

(Note that other areas of the site will be designed to match the maximum discretionary height of 6 storeys in the surrounding RM zones, and 4 storeys along Commercial).

 

The consultants were asked about the engineering required to put housing above facilities such as ice rinks, pools, and gyms that need wide clear spans without central supports.  They agreed that the engineering would be significantly more expensive. However, they believe that with the cost of land in the City, the additional engineering will still be less expensive that buying a similar size parcel of land nearby.

I am in a minority among friends and colleagues in supporting significant housing on the site.  I had three caveats: all the housing had to be public not market; no green space was to be sacrificed; and the housing units should not be too high.  The first two requirements have been met, and the third — the height — has still to be determined.  However, I assume they will go for the full 100 foot as discussed.  I would not care for that, but the need is so great that I would probably gnash my teeth while nodding in agreement.

Elizabeth Murphy  pointed out that, if the housing was not to go above the facilities, then 10 storeys would not be needed (the facilities — rink, pool, etc — will be at least two or three storeys in height by themselves).  Her preference is that the City buy enough land along the IM corridor of Venables to accomplish the same level of housing in smaller units.  That is a very reasonable position.  However, the cost of land would make that extremely expensive and, just as important to me, I would like to retain that industrial land for industries and employers to develop jobs.

We are to expect no more news until the Fall or Winter of 2018 when the rezoning discussion is set to begin. At that time, the massing and numbers of housing will be established.  I only hope that the serious debate about housing does not distract from all the other benefits we can receive from a thorough renewal of our most important public space.

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GWAC: Transportation and Britannia Renewal

April 10, 2018

There was a another very interesting meeting at GWAC yesterday evening.

GWAC Director Craig Ollenberger gave a report on various transportation issues facing Grandview-Woodland.  These included:

  • the closure of 1st Avenue for two months this summer between Nanaimo and Clark; it was noted that pedestrians and bikes will still be allowed;
  • an extension of the MOBI bike rental service east to Victoria. It has not yet been announced where bike rental stations will be positioned in the neighbourhood;
  • a discussion about the possibility of mobility/congestion pricing for road use in Metro. Craig pointed out that as more vehicles use less gas, the government needs to replace the revenue from gas taxes;
  • there has been talk about improving pedestrian crossings, but few details yet;
  • a traffic study is being undertaken at the Triangle; this led to a spirited debate about the need for a much wider traffic study throughout the eastern half of the ‘hood, and the particular issues facing 7th and 8th avenues where accidents are occurring on a regular basis due to speeding through traffic. It was noted that a study should take place in view of the increased density planned for GW.  It was agreed that GWAC will assist residents to approach the City about these problems, using its previous experience in calming Napier and Victoria;

GWAC Secretary Susan Briggs reported on correspondence with Strathcona Residents Assoc (SRA) and others regarding noise  from the railways crossing our neighbourhoods. This has to do with the expansion of the Port of Vancouver. SRA seeks to have the project subject to the Provincial Environmental; Assessment process which is more stringent than the Federal process.  So far, the Provincial government’s position is that this is Federal jurisdiction and they have no power to intervene. GWAC will continue to monitor this issue.

Susan also reported on the growing number of GW lots being swept up in real estate/development assemblies, and complaints that GWAC has received from residents across the district.

This led to a vigorous discussion about the City’s Rate of Change policy and its failure to protect the vast pool of affordable rental suites in GW’s so-called “single family housing”.

There was also a discussion about the proposed housing project at 1st and Clark. It was agreed that the project should at the very least reflect the scale of surrounding buildings.

The second half of the meeting was a presentation by Executive Director Cynthia Low of the Britannia Community Services Centre.  She announced the public unveiling of the outside consultants’ Britannia Renewal Master Plan at an Open House this coming Saturday.   Two of the major issues still not determined are the type and number — if any — of housing on the Britannia site (something on which the City is insistent), and whether there should be one or two ice rinks.

The previous Open House had presented three concepts for renewing the site. The consultants have taken the public comments on each concept and will present a single idea this weekend, including massing and phasing plans.

Cynthia also announced that the Britannia Board will present its own response to the Master Plan, noting that the Board is just one of the partners in the project — along with the City, the School Board, the Library Board, and the Parks Board — each of whim has their own agendas and priorities. The Board wants to make sure that whatever changes come to Britannia, the site’s historic and highly successful inclusive and welcoming atmosphere is not damaged by new additions.

This was a very useful meeting, full of interesting and usable information. It showed how well GWAC can be a forum for neighbourhood discussion, and a dispersal point for information.  It was particularly good to see new members coming to their first meeting and participating actively.

 


The Future of Britannia: Open House

April 10, 2018

The next in a long series of Open Houses regarding the future of the Britannia Community site takes places this Saturday, 14th April, between noon and 4pm in Gym D.

This is an important meeting as it will coincide with the public release of the draft Master Plan for this most vital part of our community, which currently includes two schools, a library, several gyms, a swimming pool, an ice rink, a seniors’ centre, offices, and green space.

If you attended the last Open House about a month or so ago, you may recall that three different concepts were presented for the future of the site. The consultants have apparently taken the public comments from that display and will be presenting a single concept design.

Withe the publication of the Master Plan we are moving quickly to the end of this phase of the re-development. Several major issues — what kind, if any, of housing should be on the site, whether there should be one or two ice rinks, for example — still have to be ironed out, but these will be settled soon, and the project will move on next to rezoning and final consultations with the City, the School Board, Parks Board, and Library Board.

It is hard to express just how important Britannia is to the Grandview Woodland neighbourhood and I urge you to take a few minutes on Saturday afternoon to review these plans and make sure your views are known.


Britannia Renewal Update: GWAC

April 4, 2018

This month’s Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting will take the form of a presentation on Britannia Renewal and a report on transportation in Grandview.

“Ms. Cynthia Low, Britannia Community Centre Executive Director, will be addressing the meeting, providing an update on the plans and taking questions from the audience.

You might also be wondering what is going on with transportation planning for the Grandview Woodland neighbourhood. Craig Ollenberger will be reporting out on that subject at the upcoming public meeting, too.”

The meeting is on Monday 9th April at 7:00pm in the Learning Resource Centre, under the Britannia Library. Everyone is welcome.

GWAC’s email newsletter also provides a useful response to: “What does GWAC do?”

“Quite simply, GWAC identifies issues which herald change for our community. We educate members about these issues, share our collective point of view with Mayor and Council, and encourage and assist members to take action. The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, an umbrella organization of which GWAC is a member, will assist with matters which affect all residents of Vancouver, such as blanket changes to zoning regulations.”


Britannia Renewal: Open House

January 31, 2018


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”.

 

 


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.