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.

 


Urgent: Potential Commercial & Broadway Sellout!

May 30, 2017

As part of City Planning’s “lipstick on a pig” policy to allow huge towers at Commercial & Broadway, the approved Grandview-Woodland Community Plan required a large and attractive public plaza as part of a redeveloped Safeway site. This was supposed to assuage the aesthetic and social dissonance the massive towers would bring to the area.

Safeway doesn’t like that idea, never has. It doesn’t fit in with what one critic calls their “archaic retail requirement” for a “large suburban store footprint”. In other words, an attractive public plaza would somehow get in the way of their profit-making potential. They are suggesting that any public plaza should be someplace else.  It is not clear to me at this point where the alternative plaza is supposed to be, but I suspect it is north of Broadway, toward the Cut, rather than south.

City Planning has decided to have a meeting about this new proposal on Thursday 8th June at 7:00pm at the Croatian Cultural Centre. The meeting is free, but you need to register via Eventbrite.

Even though this meeting is now only nine days away there is no mention of it on the GW Plan website and no notification has been sent to those of us signed up to the GWPlan email list. I know about it merely by chance.

Grandview-Woodland is already famously deficient in public space such as parks and plazas compared to the rest of Vancouver, and the Community Plan as approved does almost nothing to improve the situation. What little we do gain — such as a public plaza at Commercial & Broadway — needs to be protected and indeed enhanced not thrown over for the benefit of a developer.

Register to come to the meeting and let’s make our voices heard!

Update:  Some three hours after I posted this, I received an email notification from GWPlan about the meeting.

 


Is The Boffo Tower A Dead Duck?

May 18, 2017

There were some strange goings on at the Grandview -Woodland Community Plan Open House at the WISE Hall last night. This was the second iteration of the duplex rezoning display presentation I wrote about on the weekend.

Several members of the public were advised by a City planner that Boffo had withdrawn from its Boffo-Kettle Tower project at Commercial & Venables/Adanac.  Andrew Pask the CoV planner directly in charge of the GW Community Plan seemed quite upset that his colleagues had “let the cat out of the bag” and claimed he knew nothing about it.

The Boffo-Kettle Tower is the massive for-profit tower project the neighbourhood has been actively opposing for almost five years, but which City Council — no surprise there — pushed through against the residents’ desires last summer (see here and here for the long battle fought).

The residents wanted a height of no more than 4 stories on the site, to match the neighbourhood and the current zoning along Commercial Drive, but the developers claimed they needed 12 stories to make sure they received an unhealthy level of profit. In the final months of discussion, City Planning suggested 9 stories but, at the Council meeting to approve the project, Boffo’s allies in Vision pushed through an amendment re-establishing the 12-stories. The opposition to the tower, using the developer’s own words from public meetings, suggested the final building would be 15 to 20 stories high. No, said the developer; the opposition is just lying.

Now, we presume, the developers tried a bait and switch, pushing for 15 to 20 stories once again, and City Planning pushed right back, well aware of the local fury this would create in Grandview in the run up to the 2018 municipal elections.

Maybe it is all rumour and conjecture; but it will certainly please thousands of residents if it turns out to be true.


The GW Community Plan Drones On

May 13, 2017

This afternoon, I went to the CoV Planning Open House regarding a proposed change to zoning in the core of Grandview; a change that is designed to increase density while maintaining the look and feel and livability of the central area of our neighbourhood.

I was there about 1:00pm and there were perhaps three dozen residents milling around, looking at the display boards that were set around the WISE Hall. Others kept arriving in the time I was there.  The display boards seemed to be better at communicating than some we have seen, and there seemed to be sufficient City staff available to answer questions.

The purpose of the Open House was to explain the changes being proposed for the central area of Grandview. These are changes that differ from those in the Community Plan and also differ from the proposals suggested last November.  One of the major changes is that this proposed rezoning now takes into account the City’s Character Homes Review protocol.   The following two images are, I believe, the key to the changes (select the images for a larger view).

 

I was pleased to see very detailed boards discussing the various procedures to be followed depending if a house is character or non-character, and whether or not the owner wants to demolish or expand the current property.  All of the boards are available to view at http://vancouver.ca/gw.

I’ll need some time to think about the new proposals, but I was pleased with the comprehensive nature of the displays today.