A Councillor Listens!

February 21, 2020

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.

 


Last Night’s GWAC Meeting

February 4, 2020

Image: Stephen Bohus

 

I attended the monthly GWAC meeting last night, along with about 60 others.  Councillor Colleen Hardwick gave an excellent presentation that took us through the history of urban planning in Vancouver, and then focused on some areas where she is determined to improve the consultation process.

In her historical review, Colleen moved forward from the Bartholomew Plan of 1927-1930, noting that the sale and subsequent development of the “Expo lands” was the tipping point for the commodification of land in our city. She noted that throughout the 1980s and 1990s, numerous local community plans and vision statements (City Plan) were developed. However, this historical knowledge was essentially lost with the wholesale replacement of senior City staff when Vision Vancouver took over Council and hired Penny Ballem as City Manager. City departments that had developed a deep understanding of the neighbourhoods of Vancouver were shuffled around, broken apart or lumped together, and fresh managers out in place.

Since then, we have had a build for growth strategy rather than a build for need plan, and Colleen demonstrated quite forcefully that we have been — and continue — building more housing units that the anticipated population increase would suggest are required.

There were quite a few questions from the floor, the majority of which wondered what the point of the efforts put into the Grandview Woodland Community Plan was if Council continues to change the Plan on a spot rezoning basis without neighbourhood-wide consultation.  There was also some renewed interest in wards (rather than at-large elections), though Colleen expressed herself as not convinced of their efficacy.

Colleen as a sitting Councillor is constrained by the City’s Code of Conduct in what she can say about current senior staff; therefore, I will step into the breach.  She made the point, quite correctly, that experience and historical knowledge were shown the door when Vision came to power and replaced the staff.  I would argue that the current staff are continuing to execute Vision’s development template — regardless of the political changes that saw Vision eliminated from Council in 2018 — and it is about time Councillors took control of the agenda from the staff, replacing all those that remain recalcitrant.

It was a good meeting, I thought, and saw some interesting back-and-forth between speaker and audience.

It should be noted that this was NOT one of Colleen’s planned 50 Neighbourhood Talks. The official Grandview Talk will be on February 20th, details tba.


Changes To The GW Community Plan

February 2, 2020

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, certain changes to the Grandview Woodland Community Plan went to Council and were approved with almost no discussion.  As was often the case with the old Vision Council that we voted out of office, the present Council continues to present long and complex documents as part of the changes they make.

They are often so complicated and so little publicised that almost anything can slip by in them with no chance for the general public to appreciate the consequences.  It is only after careful reading, deep in the weeds, and usually after the approval has already been granted, that the full scope of problems can be assessed.

As Elizabeth Murphy notes in a mailing today:  “Having had only a few days to review the report before it was considered at public hearing, it was only after the council approval that a few key issues were found buried in Appendix A below, with no reference in the body of the staff report.”

Her analysis follows:

“This removes the language in the final approved GW Plan that defined the duplex zoning to have disincentives to demolition and incentives for retention of character houses, as were implemented in the new RT5 zoning. The amendments remove this language and leave it open for RT5 to be changed to eliminate these aspects of zoning and still be able to claim it is consistent with the GW Plan. This would result in more demolition of character houses with suites. This amendment was not related to subsequent rezonings or the rezoning as part of the public hearing. This is a breach of process and sets a terrible precedent.”

This is a reminder to everyone that (a) Council documents for By-Law or CP Changes need to be made available at least two weeks in advance of a hearing; and (b) those interested need to read everything the City reveals.  You never know what you might find in the deepest reaches of documents.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Murphy for her work and for allowing me to quote from it.

 


Changes to Grandview Community Plan

January 20, 2020

There is a public hearing at City Hall tomorrow evening (Tuesday at 6:00pm), item #6 of which of which concerns changes to the Grandview Community Plan.  Specifically:

“To rezone portions of the 2300-block of Charles Street and the 2300-block of Kitchener Street from RT-5 and RT-5N (Duplex and Multiple Dwelling) Districts to C-2 (Commercial) and RM-8A (Multiple Dwelling) Districts, and to rezone portions of the 2400-block of East 12th Avenue, the 2800-block of Nanaimo Street and the 2400-block of North Grandview Highway from RS-1 (One-Family Dwelling) and RT-5N Districts to RM-8A and RM-12N Districts. And to make related Referral amendments to the Grandview, BroadwayCommercial and Nanaimo sub-areas of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan.”

The Staff Referral Report notes that a certain amount of consultation has been conducted for “the immediate neighbours”.  However, a number of folks believe that any changes to the long-fought-over Plan need to involve a much wider consultation in the neighbourhood.

This is a public hearing and so if you want to have your opinion heard, you can write to Council and/or book a spot to speak at the hearing.


The Development We Need

January 16, 2020

Rendering Ryder Architecture (Canada) Inc.

Brightside Community Homes Foundation runs two small seniors’ buildings on E. 12th just east of Clark. They currently have 57 social housing units on site.  The Foundation is seeking to demolish the current buildings and erect two larger structures to house more than 150 seniors.

According to an article in the Courier:

“Loyal Orange Manor and Edward Byers House cater to people over 55 years of age. Rents are geared to income. The buildings, which were built in 1962 and 1971, are showing their age and don’t have accessibility features such as elevators, according to Brightside CEO William Azaroff. He said features such as elevators are critical for buildings where people want to age in place.  “Anything added to code over the last 40 years [like a sprinkler system] will be in the [redevelopment],” he added. “So there will be a lot of modern amenities but also universal design standards for accessibility.”

The issue with many developments such as this is what happens to the current residents while the new building is constructed. However, that seems to be taken care of in this instance:

“Azaroff said Brightside is exceeding the City of Vancouver’s tenant relocation requirements. Staff are meeting with current tenants individually to assess their needs and determine where they can be relocated in Brightside’s portfolio of buildings based on considerations such as location and size of unit.  “We’ll pay their costs and an honorarium for them to move. Their rent stays the same in the sense that it’s geared to income,” he said. “As long as their income stays the same, the rent stays the same. When the project is done, they will have the option to move back into that building or they can stay put if they like the unit they relocated to. We want to give them maximum options.”

I believe this is exactly the kind of supported housing development that we need in Grandview.  I hope that the entire community will get behind and support it.  An open house about the project runs from 5 to 8 p.m., Feb. 4, at the Lakeview Multicultural United Church.


Next GWAC Meeting: Discuss Broadway & Commercial

November 2, 2019

The next Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC) Meeting is on Monday, 4th November, and the topic will be the current proposal to build huge towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.

 

The proposed towers are significantly taller than allowed under the hard-fought GW Community Plan, and one of the questions has to be — did we waste four years on the Plan if it is simply to be ignored by every developer that comes along seeking greater profit?  Do the views of the residents of GW actually matter?

A brief history of the site’s development can be found here.

There will be a number of interesting speakers.  But most importantly GWAC needs to hear from YOU.  As usual, the meeting begins at 7:00pm and takes place in the Learning Resources Centre under Britannia Library.

 

 


Broadway & Commercial: The Saga Continues

October 2, 2019

 

Now that the developers, led by Westbank, have published their new proposals for the redevelopment of Commercial & Broadway with towers vastly in excess of the Community Plan height guidelines, I thought it might be useful to remind ourselves of the sorry history of this project from 2012 to today.

We begin in 2012 with the awful GW Plan Emerging Directions document. As some of you will recall, the GW Community Plan process began well enough in 2011, with a number of workshops on various aspects of the issues facing Grandview.  When the planners’ first draft of Emerging Directions was published in June 2012, it covered many of those issues and discussions well.  Unfortunately, they formed just a small part of the document. The bulk of the paper comprised CoV Planning’s ideas for rezoning right across the neighbourhood — zonings which had never formed part of any of the consultations to that date. They came to us as a complete surprise. In particular, this was the first time anyone had ever mentioned to us the possibility of a dozen high rise buildings at Commercial & Broadway.

The furore caused by this sleight of hand attempt to slip in zonings that had never been discussed caused an immediate uproar. By early July, the Planners recognized they had gone too far at Commercial & Broadway and so threw together a workshop on that particular area.  This was the first time they publicly recognized the process had failed.  Looking back, we were too confident this workshop meant something; as people who attended talked with each other, we finally realised how stacked the meeting had been with developers.

Much later we would discover that the extraordinary height of the proposed towers at Commercial & Broadway were not the idea of the planners themselves but had emerged after political interference from the City Manager and others in the Vision hierarchy.

For about a year, there was a pause in overt actions by Planning. All four of the Community Plans (GW, Marpole, West End, and DTES) were in serious trouble and Planner Brian Jackson needed time to decided what to do.  On September 25th, 2013, City Council received the Jackson Report on the four Community Plans.  Many of us got to speak for our allotted five minutes.  As a result of the Jackson Report, Grandview received a 12-month extension to the Plan’s schedule, and something called a Citizens’ Assembly that was not defined.

(I won’t go into the travesty that was the Citizens’ Assembly. A great many posts on that subject can be found here.  A significantly more detailed history of the period from the beginning of the Community Plan to the formation of the Assembly can be found here).

Finally, in the early summer of 2016, CoV Planning produced the Grandview Woodland Community Plan. In general, I approved of the Plan though many of the details were problematic and opposed by the community, and many of us continued to be aggrieved by the process. Included in the Plan, bludgeoned through City Council by the Vision majority later that summer, was approval for three towers at Commercial & Broadway to a maximum of 24 stories and a carefully positioned Public Plaza.

We then had a series of BS PR sessions that really gave us few answers. The first was arranged by Brooks Pooni so this was no great surprise.  There was another sponsored by CoV Planning which was equally problematic.  The first was specifically about the promised public Plaza which the developer wanted to move.  We did learn that Safeway, which holds a 50-year lease on the property, has refused to accept the idea of a two-storey store with a smaller ground-level footprint, and that has complicated designs for the developer.

However, it was a heavily engineered meeting: ticketing through Eventbrite, 200 neatly organised chairs, each with a Response form, three index cards for questions, and a pen – we were not allowed to speak our questions.  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. The ugly asymmetry of power in this city was rarely more obvious. That being said, a month later Planning admitted that 61% of respondents opposed moving the Plaza.

Then there was the detailed Bing Thom presentation.

 

It was a detailed presentation (though we were still not allowed to ask questions and get public answers) but both the height of the proposed towers (17 to 24 stories) and the position of the Plaza (on the other side of Broadway, under the SkyTrain line) were still significant issues. It was said in the presentation and on the display boards that Safeway required (demanded?) 55,000 sq.ft on a single level (even though their current store is just 33,000 sq.ft), and that parking be no more than one level away from the store. Because of these requirements, they said, it was impossible to include the plaza on site.

That was in June 2017.  Bing Thom had died in the previous December and now Westbank has taken over the project using a new architect.  With their new proposal, we are being asked to accept three towers reaching up from 24 to 30 stories, well in excess of the heights approved in the Community Plan.  While the Plaza has now been moved back onto the site, the proposed design seems less like a public gathering space for families than an enhanced foyer for both the Safeway store and the Skytrain station.

 

I guess we now have to look forward to another series of presentations and a public hearing before City Council signs off. It will be interesting to see the public reaction.