This month’s meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) takes place on Monday 7th June, 2021, at 7:00pm on ZOOM.
A really important topic that has generated heat on both sides of the argument.
This month’s meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) takes place on Monday 7th June, 2021, at 7:00pm on ZOOM.
A really important topic that has generated heat on both sides of the argument.
This morning, CityHallWatch sponsored a 70 minute conversation between Scot Hein and I about the past and future of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan. Scot Hein is an adjunct professor in the master of urban design program at University of British Columbia. He was previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver.
The conversation can be found at CHW’s YouTube Channel (https://youtu.be/jDfr1B04WUk)
We covered a great deal of ground in our talk and I hope others will find it of value.
Further to my earlier post regarding the development of 1766 Frances, I want to point out a method by which the Planning Department in Vancouver uses doublespeak to push through developments that cannot be approved in any other way.
The Planning Department’s Recommendation for 1766 Frances claims that it “meets the intent of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan with respect to the delivery of social housing” and therefore should be approved. However, this claim was immediately challenged and the head of Planning, Gil Kelley, felt the need to issue a memo dated 5th February (but which was not made public until yesterday) clarifying that the project should be approved under the terms of section 7.1.3. of the Plan.
During the questioning of staff by Councilors, Planning was specifically asked whether this project would have been approved had it been anything other than social housing. The answer was a firm “No.” It was, they said, approved because of 7.1.3.
After the staff presentations and the applicant’s presentation and a dozen or more public speakers had concluded, the Councilors made their closing remarks before voting. Almost without exception, they praised the development and — having drunk deeply of the Planning Department’s Kool-Aid — said they were going to approve the project because it met the Grandview Woodland Community Plan guidelines.
So let us look at the infamous section 7.1.3. of the Grandview Community Plan. The relevant bullet point states:
“7.1.3: Consider modest increases in height and density for the delivery of non-market housing to assist with project viability” ( p.131)
The key word here is “modest”.
The change in zoning that was approved last night increased the allowable height from 10.7m to 29.28m — an increase of 273% — and increased the allowable density from 1.4 FSR to 4.06 FSR — an increase of 290%.
Perhaps that is an unfair comparison as the rezoning had to be taken from the pre-Plan starting point. Under the Plan, the allowable number of storeys is 6; the approval is for 9 — an increase of 50%. As for density, the Plan allows for 2.4 FSR and so the increase agreed to last night was 70%.
Only in George Orwell’s dystopian world of doublespeak could increases of 273% and 290% or even 50% and 70% be considered “modest”.
It is as if the Planning Department in Vancouver is speaking a language known only to themselves and their developer friends; a language designed to confuse the rest of us and to thwart the terms and conditions of the social contract known as the Community Plan. It is a sad business that Vancouver City Council allows themselves to be dragged by the nose by their staff.
This evening was the Public Hearing for a development at 1766 Frances Street. It is a development that places a 9-storey building in the middle of a small residential side street with a height that is 50% above the limits established by the Grandview Community Plan, and more than 100% above the average height of buildings in that block.
While some Councilors, Carr and Hardwick in particular, bemoaned the battering that the long fought-over Community Plan was sustaining (this not being the first such outrage), the vote was unanimous in supporting the development.
It has to be said that the development ticked a lot of good boxes: it is from an indigenous organization designed to serve low income indigenous families; it includes a daycare facility and other cultural attributes such as a sweat lodge; and the design of the building is quite fetching. None of that is in dispute.
The point that many of us made was that there are other parts of Grandview (some just three blocks away) where such a large building would be both welcomed and would still be in line with the Community Plan. It should not be that the social contract represented by the Community Plan can be brushed aside simply because ticking certain boxes meets others’ desires. Doing so demeans and cheapens the hundreds of thousands of hours Grandview residents put into negotiating the Plan.
The next big fight will be over the Safeway site. That development has none of the “good boxes” to tick that this one did, but you better believe that the Planners and this Vision 2.0 Council will find some excuse or many to override the Plan yet again. As I said in my remarks tonight, the only certainty a Community Plan gives us is that developers will ask for more than is in the Plan and that Vancouver City Council and City Planners will approve their demands.
This evening, for the first time in a while, I will be speaking to City Council at a Public Hearing on what many of us consider an out-of-scale building that shows no sensitivity to the neighborhood and which disrespects all the work that was put into the Community Plan just a few years ago. Preparing for the hearing triggered thoughts about the wider context in which development is taking place in Grandview.
In most cases, stately and adaptable Edwardian buildings are being replaced with cookie-cutter back-and-front duplexes. There are serious issues both with why this is occurring and the effect they will have on the long term social fabric of the neighbourhood.
The houses being demolished generally started life as single family properties. But they were large and spacious and their interior structure allowed them to be configured to suit multiple uses. The single family house often developed into a multi-generational home, then perhaps into a rooming house or complex of individual suites, and many saw further use as a renovated SFH with a basement suite helping the mortgage. Families and neighbour community were encouraged by this kind of architecture.
The replacement duplexes, with their lack of basements and attics and their fixed regular patterns discouraging or inhibiting family growth, are designed for the modern two-person tech couple isolated within their own cells and digital networks. Families and community groups are being replaced by “household units.” This is a fundamental and unwelcome change in the social fabric for a family-friendly residential neighbourhood such as Grandview.
Why is this happening? A generally accepted view is that the planning and development process has been so damaged in Vancouver (we have all heard of relatively trivial projects taking years to complete through the bureaucracy and with tens of thousands in fees attached) that developers are deciding against innovation and are sticking to templated duplex designs they can get through the process with a minimum of fuss and delay. There still seems to be a market for these at around $1.4 million per half-duplex and a slightly lower profit margin is preferred to the risks of serious delay with any other kind of development proposals.
But should we really be changing the nature of our communities just to suit a failure of competence in the planning process?
The immediate consequences of the trend to demolish old Edwardians and replace them with duplexes are to reduce density and increase housing costs — absolutely contrary to the shrill claims of the build-build-build brigade.
On a block on Venables that was recently ravaged, we have firm knowledge that two of the houses demolished housed twelve people. They have all been displaced. The four duplex units that have taken their place will generally have no more than two people living in each, for a total of, say, 8 people. That is a 33% reduction in density. The affordable rentals were replaced by $1 million+plus price tags. If they are put out for rent, I would be surprised if they were offered at less than $3,000 a month — that’s a 100% increase in the cost for someone used to paying $1,400 or $1,500 a month to live in that space.
An earlier example of this same issue happened when townhouses came to Adanac. We see this happening all over Grandview.
We would do a let better by allowing and incentivizing current owners to increase the number of units on their lots, adding internal suites, laneways, etc. This will increase density while retaining the current neighbourhood look, feel, and scale. It will reduce costs both by eliminating the need for land acquisition and reducing the bureaucratic burden (especially for heritage homes) that makes such renos and improvements almost impossible these days. It will increase affordability by creating incentives for rents to remain at income-suitable levels. A further benefit would be an increase in work opportunities for smaller local builders who could handle projects of this size.
Whether you agree with these specific ideas or not, it should be clear we cannot keep doing what we are doing.
Since my post about the new group opposing the appallingly large towers at the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial, the usual YIMBY crowd has suggested that community groups don’t know what they’re talking about, and that developers/planners know what’s best for us.
For their edification, here is Scot Hein who was head of the design group for CoV Planning and is currently professor in the Masters of Urban Design program at UBC talking about this site:
“We imagined, he wrote, a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid-rise buildings in this scenario … Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form.
We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”. We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day.
We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood.”
Source: “Battleground: Grandview” (p.67-68), quoting comment by Scott Hein at Price Tags, Vision: The end of the residential highrise? 2014 Nov 10
Update: Scot has asked me to clarify that he was supporting two modestly scaled towers for the Safeway site, with lower tower buildings for nearby transitional sites on 10th, which I am happy to do.
The City of Vancouver Planning Department have been keen to put a tower on the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway since the late 1980s, and community opposition to such a project has been fierce for the same length of time. For those interested in the history of the struggle over that site for the last decade can read the whole sorry business in these columns. It is also covered in detail in my book “Battleground: Grandview“.
The latest version of the developers’ pipedream is even worse than previous incarnations, rising 39 storeys above our human scale low- and mid-rise neighbourhood.
And it has attracted a great deal of neighbourhood criticism. This opposition has now begun to coalesce into an active group that has launched a website.
I urge you to read what they have to say, and to sign up to get involved and/or just to keep yourself informed on this development which will affect our wonderful neighbourhood for generations.
This month’s ZOOM meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) will feature a discussion of community influence on development plans via charettes given by urbanist Lewis Villegas. As he writes in the GWAC call to meeting:
“On January 11th, I will make a pitch at GWAC—a ‘Call to Action’—to fight for human-scale, west coast urbanism in Grandview Woodland. And to fight against Hong Kong-style tower building on the Safeway site.
There are two reasons we are building towers in Vancouver today: (1) So the 1% can pile up towering profits; and (2) So that City Hall can continue to build the Vision agenda as if nothing happened 2 years ago.
Charrettes deliver a recipe for sustainable neighborhood buildout over the next 50 years. Neighbors come together and participate in delivering both social and affordable housing, and building public places for supporting higher levels of social mixing. All following in the long established and cherished west coast vernacular tradition. Products don’t exceed human-scale, building 3 to 5 stories high.
Like I did for RAMP in Mount Pleasant, in 2012 when we were fighting the Rize Tower, should GWAC choose to host the charrette, I will lead the process pro-bono.
Let’s “Fight the Broadway Corridor Plan” at the Safeway Site. And at EVERY site. Let’s get something better. Much better. Tell staff, and government, “Go back to the Neighborhood.”
The fact is that we just don’t need the density. Colleen Hardwick has shown how Vancouver has been growing by 1% for the past 40 years—towers and all!
At 1% annual rate of population growth, doubling the amount of living space in the neighborhood will provide housing for 70 years to come. It’s an old investment rule of thumb: invest at 1% per annum and double the principal in 72 years.
In the Mount Pleasant charrette we already showed how to double the density building nothing more than the human-scale vernacular, 3 to 5 storeys high.
We will do the same here.”
The Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: GWAC January Meeting
Time: Jan 11, 2021 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85275757682
Meeting ID: 852 7575 7682
.. to let the City know your opinion on the proposal to build massive towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.
Read about the proposal and fill out the survey here. The more views they hear, the more they will listen. At this point, this is the only contact we have with the developer and their friends at City Hall.
The regular monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) took place on ZOOM last night and the topic of discussion was the current proposal for huge towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial. I was able to stay just for the first hour and so my report is on that section.
There was a good turnout for the meeting which began with a detailed presentation by GWAC Director Barbara Cameron. She noted that the current proposal is for a series of three towers, up to 30 storeys tall on top of a 6-storey retail and public space platform. This compares with the maximum of 12 storeys recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly and the 24 storeys that were eventually forced by Vision into the Grandview Community Plan. The developer has offered just 20 social housing units in exchange for the zoning adjustment. Ms. Cameron announced that the heights suggested are unacceptable to GWAC.
Note that the entire sorry history of the development proposals for this site can be followed in various articles on this blog, and the political and process background is covered in detail in Battleground: Grandview.
There was a good amount of spirited debate over various aspects of the proposal. Significant opposition was expressed to the height and massing, to the “faux” plaza that is being offered, and to the effects on local land values (and therefore affordability) of a project of this size. Some speakers wanted to see no towers on the site at all, but most seemed to recognize that some degree of “tower” is going to be there. Ned Jacobs — an experienced veteran in these matters — described the proposed building as “an insult … a hideous ugly barracks” and the worse he has ever seen. More than one speaker reminded the group that a similar development at Cambie & Marine Drive has become a desolate enclave for big box stores.
Many speakers spoke of the need to organize opposition to the proposal, an organization that needs to be outside GWAC. It was agreed that as many people as possible should write to Council with their comments, to get them on the record. It was suggested that individual Councilors should be approached, that GoFundMe could help with payment for FaceBook ads to counter the City’s propaganda. Gayle Gavin reminded everyone that the city process is broken and is designed against local viewpoints with little time for organization once the proposals are published. (where have I heard all this before?)
As I was leaving, there were discussions beginning about swapping email addresses and getting an organization moving ahead. I wish them well and I offer this blog as a propaganda agency for their ideas and proposals.
The next Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting is on 7th December at 7:00pm, to be held on ZOOM. The discussion this month will be about the latest proposals for a huge set of towers at Broadway & Commercial on the Safeway site.
If you are interested in the LONG history of the development proposals on this site, please see this thread.
Last night I attended a WEBEX forum on social and co-op housing in Grandview Woodland put on by City of Vancouver Planning. The purpose was to “update residents on proposed actions to create and encourage social and co-op housing development.” This meeting was one of a series of such forums they have been having in various neighbourhoods where they wish to encourage this development.
The proposal they discussed follows on from the 2017 Vancouver Housing Strategy and, for us, includes the recommendations in the Grandview Woodland Community Plan. Definitions given by CoV Planning were that the proposal was for housing singles earning $50,000 or less, and households earning $80,000 or less.
The proposal is that for developments that are 100% social or co-op in the areas currently zoned as RM-4 or RM-3A (currently zoned for 3-4 storey apartments) will be allowed to build up to 6 storeys without having to go through a re-zoning process at City Hall. CoV Planning estimates that this will reduce project times by about 12-18 months.
Each project would still have to complete a development permit application and thus some community consultation will be enabled.
Interestingly, they appear to be encouraging building in wood. They said that 6 storeys is about the upper limit for wood construction. Building in wood is environmentally superior to concrete, for example, and probably cheaper to construct.
They hope to bring the full set of proposals to a Public Hearing in Q2 2021.
One interesting statistic emerged. CoV Planning say that 15% of Grandview housing units are currently social or co-op housing, compared to 2% across the city.
I have no real problems with the proposal; I have pushed for a long time for a serious increase in affordable housing, and the shortage is well known:
However, this was not a particularly deep meeting and, cynic that I am, it seemed like they were simply ticking the box that said “community engagement”. I was also surprised that there were only a dozen participants (including 4 from Planning). My surprise comes because I was told on social media earlier in the week that some folks had applied to be part of the forum only to be told that it was “sold out.”
Anyone who reads here on a regular basis will know that there is growing concern with the design decisions being made at the important Broadway & Commercial intersection — most particularly on what is known as the Safeway site.
Most of these proposals do not comply with the approved Grandview Community Plan, the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, the final recommendations of City of Vancouver Planning department in the Plan (prior to Council-driven amendments), nor the many views expressed at several community-rich meetings and workshops that have preceded this current proposal.
There are rumblings of a group organizing to protest and debate these decisions, I am glad to hear. One of the potential organizers of such a group has circulated an email reminding us to make sure City Council has YOUR views on what should happen at Commercial & Broadway.
You can do that by completing the very quick survey at: https://shapeyourcity.ca/1780-e-broadway
I would encourage you to write today!
The October meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) will be a ZOOM meeting on Monday 5th October at 7:00pm.
It will be a form of open mic affair for the GWAC Directors to listen to residents’ opinions. According to an email from a Director:
“[W]e’re approaching this meeting as an opportunity to hear from our members about the issue of housing and development in Grandview, in particular as it intersects with the current homelessness situation in the neighbourhood.
We’ll start with a bit of summary discussion about the current pressures on the neighbourhood, providing some background regarding the tent encampment situation as well as some of the current housing proposals in the works: the non-profit rental project at 1766 Frances, the fully market development project at 2300 Charles and the proposal for social housing on the Britannia site; then we’ll offer the members a chance to share their views regarding when and if the community plan should be relaxed for a project providing community benefit and what housing is the right fit.
The goal of the meeting is to hear from our membership to inform the direction GWAC should follow on these issues.”
I’m sure some divergent voices will be heard on these issues. I wonder if any of the Vancouver-Hastings candidates will join us?
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 842 4151 8316
Thanks to the ever-watchful CityHallWatch, we know that tomorrow’s City Council session (Tuesday 29th) includes a Motion supporting a new Kettle development at Commercial & Adanac. There are few details about the design of the proposed development, but I am sure that if it is a 3- or 4-storey residential/drop in centre on the current parking lot, it will be welcomed by the neighbourhood.
However, the whole agenda may be thrown off-schedule by an attempt by the Mayor to piggyback his “Making Homes” 6-plex on a lot idea as an amendment to Councillor Dominato’s Motion expanding the failing and misnamed Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Project citywide. The arguments can be complicated by arcane procedural requirements and once again CityHallWatch has done the hard work of deconstructing what this is all about. They start with Dominato’s Motion:
- “If the idea is approved, it would mean that out-of-scale apartment buildings with multiple dwelling units, without onsite parking, could be built anywhere in Vancouver.
- Housing options should be determined through neighbourhood-based planning through the comprehensive Vancouver Plan. Not through random spot rezonings, which would create major precedents everywhere.
- Spot rezoning do the opposite of creating order and certainty. They create uncertainty for the community and developers, and undermine local area community plans or visions.
- Options for strata ownership will inflate land values and undermine rental incentives.
- Increased development pressures cause more displacement, demolition of character houses, and loss of existing affordable housing and suites.
- The MIRHPP program already sets major precedents with applications for developments that are too large for their surroundings. The MIRHPP program should be cancelled. Not expanded for even larger buildings.
- Former CityPlan demonstration projects (referred to in the motion) were only for housing types and locations approved in each Community Vision and only for one project per neighbourhood. The text of the motion actually gets that wrong.”
Mayor Stewart’s amendment to allow multi-plex lots citywide:
“would undermine character retention and rental incentives while increasing development pressures leading to demolition of existing homes and displacement of current residents … his proposal risks inflating land values, therefore making things less affordable overall.”
The Dominato Motion and the Stewart Amendment are opposed by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods.
At the end of August, the developers of the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial put their heads above the parapet for a moment and offered some sort of tour to engage the community. I applied for tickets as did several of my friends here and none of us ever heard back. Perhaps they were just doing an email scrape for their database.
Now, according to the report in the Georgia Straight, they have made an amended application to the City that pushes the number and size of the towers ever upward. Now there will be three towers of 25-, 29-, and 30-storeys.
In 2013, our opposition to a 36-storey tower brought the Grandview Community Plan to a stand-still for a year. In 2016, when the Community Plan was finally approved, the Vision majority pushed through approval of two towers, of 12- and 24-storeys; a total of 36 storeys. The current proposal calls for 84-storeys of towers on the same site.
Talk about ignoring all the work that went into the Community Plan!
This is a development fight that the younger generation of activists needs to take over, and they need to show themselves now.
After a month’s delay due to sickness in August, I am glad to report that my new book is now completed.
It is called Battleground: Grandview: An Activist’s Memoir of the Grandview Community Plan, and describes in detail the methods City of Vancouver Planning and the Vision majority on City Council used to deceive, overcome, and eventually ignore organized community opinion in our neighbourhood from 2011 to 2016.
Now I just have to figure out how to get it printed.
We were told that the value of a Community Plan is that it would give everyone certainty. However, what we have seen in Grandview since the Plan was approved is that the only certainty is that developers will ask for more than the Plan allows — and CoV Planning will encourage them to do so.
The Grandview Plan turned out to be nothing more than a typically duplicitous Vision Vancouver PR exercise. The development at Charles & Nanaimo, and the proposed 9-storey tower in a 6-storey zone on Frances, are merely the latest examples where developers are being encouraged to defeat the purpose of a Plan that took so many years and so many dollars to construct.
Anyway, I hope that you will soon be able to read this sad tale of a community thwarted.
The latest proposed development that seeks to break free of the few restraints imposed on developers by the Grandview Community Plan is for a 6-storey apartment building at Charles & Nanaimo in a zone that is supposed to have a maximum of four storeys.
In addition, as the local Friends of Nanaimo Group notes:
“The Plan required that Nanaimo redevelopment occur only where it backed onto north-south alleys to limit intrusion into the neighbourhood. The new 6-storey proposal for Charles and Nanaimo does not back onto a north-south alley. The entrance/exit for vehicles in the square block spot rezoning is the east-west alley. On the west side, this alley ends at Lord Nelson School’s front door.”
The Friends report that the Urban Design Panel reviewed the Charles Street proposal and expressed “sufficient concern” that the developers had to revise their proposal. However, even after the revision, the proposal kept its relative mass and height, and City Planning appears to be encouraging this enterprise.
Now, the Friends suddenly learn, the final decision by City Council will be made after a public hearing on September 15th, 2020.
Here is what you can do to help prevent this new attack on what we reluctantly agreed to in the Community Plan. Register either online or by phone (604-829-4238) to speak at the Public Hearing. You may speak either on the phone or in person. The registration deadline is 5:30 p.m., the same day as the hearing, September 15th, 2020.
Or you can send a comment directly to the Mayor and Councillors at https://vancouver.ca/your-government/contact-council.aspx.
After a long period of quiet, the developers of the massive Broadway & Commercial site (which will tower over the rest of us) are back to bother us. Now, they want people to take a tour of their proposal “to engage the community.”
If you are interested, please visit their website and sign up.
Here is a lot of background on all the previous meetings and proposals.
An interesting group of Grandview residents and business people met today with Councillor Colleen Hardwick. This was one of her 50 Neighbourhood Talks to ensure that every neighbourhood in Vancouver is aware of, and become involved in, the City Plan process. It was very much a working group meeting, expanding from the historical review of planning that Colleen had presented at GWAC earlier in the month.
I am sure an official reporting out of the meeting will be available soon but in the meanwhile I can say that a lot of ground was covered — both in presentations by Colleen and Lewis Villegas, and from the active back-and-forth discussion that included everyone present. The flaws in the recent Grandview Woodland Community Plan process were aired, the business owners in attendance repeated their oft-said but no less valid issues with the slowness and cost of City permitting and the zoning-taxation regime, and almost all the attendees complained that the Community Plan was not being followed, with too many spot rezonings, additional heights, etc.
The accuracy (or otherwise) of the population estimates used by City staff to sell more development was discussed in detail, as was the City’s over-reliance on CAC funding. Specific local issues such as the Broadway/Commercial area and the Venables/Commercial intersection were discussed as outstanding issues of local concern, and there was a lively discussion about the housing types needed to meet the reasonable needs of local population increase.
It has been an age since we had such an adult conversation with anyone from City Hall.
My clearest takeaway from the meeting is the need for the neighbourhood to once again actively organize itself in preparation for the City Plan, more changes to the GW Plan, and the next civic election.