Broadway & Commercial, Again

August 4, 2017

For the last two months I have written quite a bit about plans to develop the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.  There are any number of issues with the proposed series of high rise towers and they will be dealt with in due course.  However, what has particularly engaged the local residents is the placement of the large public plaza that the City-approved Grandview Community Plan includes at the site.

The site owners and developers want to remove the public plaza from their land south of Broadway and position it north of Broadway across the Grandview Cut.  You can follow the discussion here, here, and here. Residents’ statements and survey results from the meetings showed a wide majority of opinion against changing the location of the plaza.  It was a surprise, therefore, for a local activist recently to see developer’s drawings still showing the plaza over the Cut, and she wrote to the City wondering whether there is “any point at all to these ‘public consultations’ if the plans are already in the works and going to go ahead no matter what the feedback is from residents?”

Kent Munro of City Planning replied as follows, noting that the developers have not yet made a formal proposal:

“Based on what we heard, and consistent with some of your perspective, city staff have a number of concerns with what this landowner is contemplating for this important site.  Further, City staff have made these concerns known to the landowners and we have informed them that we will not be accepting any application for redevelopment of the site until a proposal that is more consistent with what the Community Plan policies outlined is put forward. If and when an application for development or rezoning is formally received by the city, the typical review process which includes comprehensive notification and consultation with the neighbours would be initiated. [emphasis added]”

That sounds good but, as the activist points out, Munro’s use of the term “more consistent with” is not necessarily the same as “consistent with” the approved Plan. We still need to keep a watchful eye as this progresses.

 


More on the Plaza at Commercial & Broadway

July 2, 2017

At the beginning of last month, City of Vancouver Planning held a “community event” to discuss an idea to move the public plaza promised in the GW Community Plan from a re-developed Safeway site to public land over the Grandview Cut.  It was, as I have discussed, a disappointing affair.

Planners have now released their report on the meeting, along with an analysis of survey results. In the email summary of the report sent to those on the GWPlan list, they note that 51% of all survey respondents voted against moving the plaza. A commentary in the email suggests that

“Generally, responses received from people who indicated they lived within the Grandview-Woodland area were opposed to the alternative plaza location. Responses received from people living outside of the neighbourhood area tended to support of the alternative plaza location.”

But the actual level of residents’ opposition is not detailed in the email.  It is not until page 21 of the detailed report that one discovers residents voted 61% against the move, while only 23% were in favour (the balance were “neutral”).  Neither age nor gender seem to have been statistically relevant in the numbers, although 84% of the 37 respondents who did not give their age were opposed.

It is good to have these numbers available — and Planning should be commended for releasing them. However, given the near certainty of moving the plaza as expressed in the developers’ meeting, combined with Vision Vancouver’s historic reluctance to take residents’ concerns into account where big development is concerned, one has to wonder whether the local opposition will once again count for anything.

 


Commercial & Broadway: A First Review

June 28, 2017

Last night was the major unveiling of plans for the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway, a signature piece of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan over which we have sweated for four years or more.  We knew there would be towers — and boy, are there towers!

[Note that selecting any image will display a larger version]

First, let me say that the event was very well presented, taking over the large hall at the Croatian Cultural Centre, with several dozen display boards around the room explaining various aspects of the project and good-sized models in the centre. The event was generously catered.

The evening began with a 20-minute presentation by a member of the Bing Thom Architects  team who rattled through some interesting design choices and did not ignore the glaring problem of moving a 20,000 sq.ft public plaza from the developers’ site to public land over the Grandview Cut (see earlier discussions here and here).  The presentation made it clear that, because of Safeway’s requirements (see more below), it was impossible to include the plaza on site.

The presenter discussed the problems Bing Thom had with “Vancouverism” — the podium-mounted single point towers so beloved by Brent Toderian and his ilk that now dominate the downtown and are encroaching on the rest of our fair city. He compared a map of population densities extrapolated from the 2016 census in which the highest densities are downtown with a similarly sourced map showing the population density of children which are significantly higher away from downtown. Their idea is to make the Safeway towers more “family friendly.” There was talk of widening corridors in the towers, allowing more windows, terracing the levels, allowing more personalization of front doors etc., and substantial use of greenery throughout the towers. Conceptually, they said, they wanted to take Grandview’s well used residential streets and lanes and simply tip them up on end to create “a vertical village”.

They propose four residential towers ranging in height from 17 to 24 stories “above the retail plinth” which, I guess makes them in reality 20 to 27 stories in height. The proposed FSR is a high 5.7. They will surround a “courtyard” shown in the illustration above as a soccer field. The height was not mentioned during the presentation — I can’t imagine why not — but one of the boards contained the details.

The retail plinth, three or more stories of it, includes Safeway, of course, but in a new and vastly expanded version, along with smaller retail stores at grade along Broadway and the all-important Skytrain connection. It includes, they claim, a huge amount of public space. However, much of that space is a grand concrete staircase (bizarrely compared to Rome’s Spanish Steps!) and a children’s playground that will only be available when the proposed childcare facility (for tower residents) is closed.

 

While I thought the architects’ presentation was interesting, the ending of it threw up one of the issues many of us have with this kind of open house.  They decided that no questions would be asked or answered from the seated audience. Instead, it was noted that there were dozens of project staff in attendance who would be happy to discuss issues. This provoked an outburst from one of our veteran activists who wondered, loudly and quite rightly, why answers could not be shared with the entire audience.  As has become the norm in so many development/planning events, people are required to break up into isolated small groups, thus dramatically (and deliberately) restricting the flow of potentially negative information. I strongly suspect the hand of the expensive PR companies — Brook Pooni and Pottinger Bird — (“devils incarnate” as many now think of them) in this now-standard procedure.

I did take advantage of the attending “experts” to button hole an architect on a couple of matters that concern me. It was said in the presentation and on the boards that Safeway required (demanded?) 55,000 sq.ft on a single level, and that parking be no more than one level away from the store. It is these requirements that have driven much of the design and, in particular, have made it necessary to move the public plaza (a requirement of the Community Plan) away from the site. I asked whether the demands from Safeway were legal contractual requirements in their current lease or were simply what they wanted. After some hesitation, the architect agreed that their lease (which has another forty years to run) was only for the current 38,000 sq.ft. However, if they didn’t get what they wanted there could be no development and Vancouver wouldn’t get the density or the CAC’s they expected. He smiled when I suggested that might suit some residents quite well.

He and I also discussed the Plaza issue. We both agreed (he reluctantly) that, if Safeway stayed at 38,000 sq.ft, or if Safeway could accept a two-level store, than there was plenty enough space on the Safeway site to include the Plaza as written in the Community Plan. We also both agreed that there was no possible noise mitigation possible for the trains going overhead every 45 seconds or so (he suggested we would all “get used” to the noise).  He — in line with the presentation previously given — suggested it would be a great meeting space and useful for events and concerts (perhaps he forgot about the train noise); I suggested it would become a vast concrete empty desert of little value to anyone.

I suspect that, if one is a fan of this kind of huge development, then Bing Thom’s concepts will be welcomed and appreciated; there certainly seems to have been some imagination included in the project, and some serious thought given to moving away from Vancouverism.  However, leaving aside any other problems, 27 storeys is very close to the 30-storey proposal that the neighbourhood wholeheartedly rejected three years ago, a rejection which brought the entire Community Plan process to its knees for a while.

 

And then, as always, there is the process.  While I am pleased that the developers have brought their ideas to the table as early as they have (though the cynic in me wonders how such carefully crafted concepts as those presented last night could simply be abandoned at this point) but the failure to have genuine community dialog last night with everyone listening to the debate foreshadows typical problems ahead.  More specifically, there has been no attempt whatsoever to understand that — regardless of what Vision buffaloed through as a so-called Community Plan — much of the community is opposed to large scale development in our neighbour, and that our viewpoint has to count for as much as Safeway’s.

We vote, they don’t.

 

 


Reminder: Broadway & Commercial Peep Show Tonight

June 27, 2017

This is a reminder that the owners and developers of the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial will be showing off their design concepts for tower(s) at that important intersection tonight.  The Open House is at Croatian Cultural Centre and kicks off with a “brief presentation” at 6:00pm. The event goes on until 8:30pm.

There is much to be potentially concerned about with these plans, and it will be interesting to see their take on the question of a public plaza — a design feature included in the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan but which the City has said the owners don’t want on their site.


Broadway & Commercial: Another Open House

June 14, 2017

I have tonight received an email about another Open House on the Broadway & Commercial proposed development.  This one is NOT a City of Vancouver event but, rather, is being put on by the developers’ “project team”.

Bing Thom Architects, Westbank the developer, and Crombie REIT (owner of the Safeway site) are “excited to share our initial concept” including “a new form of family oriented housing.” They say they have developed ideas from the Ideas Fair they held at Federico’s Club last year.

Oddly enough, they have put flyers into the mailboxes of the most immediate neighbours (a block or two only I understand) but I can find no other posting about this event and there seems no way to register. However, this is less odd when one notices that the PR company involved is Brook Pooni Associates — famous in our neighbourhood for working with the developer to obfuscate the facts about the Boffo tower project at Commercial & Venables.

The Broadway & Commercial meeting is on Tuesday 27th June at the Croatian Culture Centre.  There will be a brief 15 minute presentation at 6:00pm and the open house formally runs from 6:15pm to 8:30pm. There will not be an official Q&A session, but who knows what questions might be asked?

Hope to see many of you there!

 


More On the Broadway Plaza

June 9, 2017

It seems I wasn’t the only one disappointed with the Planning meeting last night regarding Broadway and Commercial. Local resident and GWAC director Dave Carman who attended the meeting has sent the following letter to the Mayor, City Council, and Planners. He has kindly allowed me to republish the letter here:

My name is David Carman and I attended the Grandview-Woodland Plaza Exploration on June 7th. In addition to learning about the new plaza proposal I wanted to get information about the rationale behind the significant change being proposed. Other than a desire to “Heal the Divide”, no other information was provided in this regard on the display boards.

During the controlled question period it was revealed that the impetus for the proposed switch in location was unsurprisingly driven by the fact that the main tenant (Safeway) and main developer (Westbank) were not on board with having the public plaza built on their site. They apparently wish to see the plaza moved from their private property and placed elsewhere – in this case onto city owned land.

Considering the amount of time, preparation and planning I can imagine would have gone into the original plaza proposal I was very surprised to learn of this suggested change. Surely to have proceeded with a plaza plan of such magnitude – a plaza considered by some to be the anchor point of the entire Grandview-Woodland Plan – in-depth consultation and buy-in from the tenant and developer would have been required. I discussed this matter after the presentation with a member of the city planning staff, Yardley McNeill. Ms. McNeill was either unaware of or not forthcoming about any previous consultation planning staff may or may not have had with the tenant/developer and said the proposed change came “totally out of the blue”.

The aforementioned response can only leave me three possible conclusions:

  1. City planners formulated the original plaza plan with the blessing of the tenant/developer who have since back-pedaled on their commitment;
  1. City planners formulated the original plaza plan with no consultation or commitment from the on-site tenant/developer;
  1. City planners consulted with the tenant/developer, were aware of their concerns and knew that ultimately the original plaza proposal could possibly fail – yet put the plaza plan forth regardless to help to sell the GW plan.

The first scenario would suggest incompetence on the part of the tenant/developer, the latter two on the part of city planning staff.

Much of the feedback from the general public regarding the GW plan was ignored, but as this new plaza proposal demonstrates, city planning staff appear to be much more accommodating to corporate and development interests. In fact, based on the results I’ve seen from previous “public consultations” this suggested plaza relocation is not simply a proposal, but more likely a done deal.”

I also heard from another attendee that the City’s meeting last Wednesday on the North East False Creek project was run in a very similar manner to the one I described. Is this the new “open house” style for the future? Yet more bread and circuses peddling smoke and mirrors for the masses while the important decisions continue to get made behind closed doors?

 


The Plaza at Commercial & Broadway

June 8, 2017

Another two hours of my life I won’t get back, and I learned almost nothing useful. The two hours were spent — in delightful activist company — at the City of Vancouver’s “Broadway Plaza Exploration” open house at the Croatian Cultural Centre tonight.

The idea — or so many of us thought at least — was to examine a proposal to move a projected large public plaza from the site recommended in the Grandview Community Plan (“the Safeway site”) to an alternative location preferred by the owner/developer of the original site. The suggested alternative site is over the Grandview Cut on the east side of Commercial just north of Broadway. Instead, we got a rendering of a map of where the plaza might be; and absolutely no discussion of why the developer didn’t want to simply follow the guidelines in the Community Plan which was the result of three years’ consultation.

Then we got three speakers discussing at some length about sometimes highly technical aspects of designing “good” plazas — edges, acoustics, accessibility, safety, etc etc.  I think it is probably a good idea to have “master classes” in aspects of urban planning available to the public; but this seemed the wrong audience.  I know I was’t the only one disappointed when the panellists made no connection with the original site, but used their time to propagandise ways to ameliorate the undoubted problems of the alternative site, not the least of which are multiple Skytrain tracks running immediately over the proposed plaza. When asked directly how the design principles for good plazas they had discussed were reflected in the two sites, the only answer was “It depends on the final design”.

And then came a general question period. Of course, we were not allowed to stand and ask our questions. We had to write out the question, hand it to a staff member and they then decided which questions would be asked and answered. MCed by City Planner Andrew Pask We could see scores of questions being passed to staff, but we only got through four or five before Andrew closed the meeting about 20 minutes early.

This was another attempt at consultation, I guess, that failed unfortunately. I applaud Planning for trying different formats but this was really pointless.  If we could have had a genuine discussion about plaza design, with experts with competing visions, perhaps, and open questioning, that might have had good value, but this was overly structured and distant.

It was a heavily engineered meeting too: ticketing through Eventbrite, 200 neatly organised chairs, each with a Response form, three index cards for questions, and a pen. There were plenty of staff there, presumably on overtime, lots of coffee, lots of cookies. This was an expensive outing, and all because a developer sneezed. This needs to be weighed against residents with 5,000 signatures on a petition getting just 5 minutes at a public hearing.

The ugly asymmetry of power in this city was rarely more obvious.