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.

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What Value Neighbourhoods?

September 27, 2019

In a post yesterday, I outlined a few of the developments that are altering Grandview beyond recognition.  As if on cue, on Wednesday October 9th, Heritage Vancouver and SFU are hosting a conversation specifically called “What do we do about neighbourhoods?”  To quote their website:

“Neighbourhoods are often positively associated with community. They tend to have a combination of qualities that communities identify with which can make them distinct. These include the people, the types of interactions they have with each other, nature, types of commercial spaces, housing tenure, and public spaces in addition to the type and design of buildings. However, there are conflicting views as to whether this distinctiveness is positive or not.”

In 2016, I was a panellist on one of these “Shaping Vancouver” conversations, and this is part of what I had to say then about the changing nature of the Drive:

“Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.

Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.

And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents.  And that is because all these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.

That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.”

My opinion  hasn’t changed.  It will be interesting to hear a discussion on this three years later.  Hope to see some of you there.


The GW Community Plan Starts To Bite

September 26, 2019

It is now about three years since the Grandview Community Plan was bludgeoned through City Council by the pro-development Vision majority. For some while thereafter, it seemed to result in only minor effects on the ground.  However, below the surface, seismic events were building up a head of steam.

Almost immediately, realtors and developers had started to plan for their new future.  As I noted back in 2017, large numbers of Grandview properties were being offered — at hugely inflated prices –“for assembly” by developers. This had an undoubted effect on the house price inflation that has plagued Grandview until the market correction earlier this year.

Then the proposals started piling up. First, the outrageously incongruous Boffo Tower at Commercial & Adanac was approved, against broad community opposition, for 12 storeys. We have only been saved from that disaster by the developer’s refusal to proceed without even greater heights of absurdity, and the current softness of the luxury condo market.

This has been followed by projects on Grant Street, at First & Clark, at Nanaimo & Charles, on E. 11th Avenue, on East Hastings, at Lakeview Church, and at the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

top left: Lakewood; top right Charles & Nanaimo; bottom left E. 11th; bottom right E. Hastings

Top left First & Clark; top right Boffo Tower; bottom left Grant Street; bottom right Safeway site

Do any of these look anything like the neighbourhood we know and love?

My concern is that the avalanche has barely begun.


High Rent Project On Grant Approved

September 17, 2019

The current Vancouver Council continues to disappoint those who worked hard to rid us of Vision Vancouver.  In their latest pro-developer action tonight, they voted 6-3 to approve the highly contentious rental project in the 1500-block of Grant Street. Councillors Carr, Fry and Swanson voted against, while Hardwick and Bligh were absent.

As will be clear from my earlier posts on this topic, I was generally supportive of this project but strongly opposed to the rents proposed, all of which are unaffordable to the majority of Vancouverites. With this approval, tax-payers are subsidising rents for households making well in excess of $100,000 and more a year.

How can that be right?


And …

May 17, 2019

In my earlier piece about demolitions in Grandview, I forgot to mention that 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.

For the block on Venables that was being discussed, we have firm knowledge that the two houses already demolished housed twelve people. They have all been displaced.   The four duplex units that will take 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 will be 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 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, even with a so-called new Council..


The Effect of A Bad Planning Process on Our Neighburhood

May 17, 2019

Last  night was the May monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group. As usual it was two hours of lively informed comment and discussion on a  wide variety of topics.  These included upcoming heritage tours and programs, an excellent presentation from a group looking to put together a history of Clark Park, and an exquisite piece of historical detective work by Neville revealing the history of 1906 Grant Street.

We also looked at the plague of demolitions that are this summer’s blight on Grandview. In particular we looked in depth at a single block on Venables where five older houses are being (or have already been) demolished this month. 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.

As part of the overall debate, we kicked around ideas about why 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.

Should we really be changing the nature of our communities just to suit a failure of competence in the planning process?

 

Update: see also: “And …”


Viaducts, Traffic, and Community Engagement

April 30, 2019

The May monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) takes place next Monday at 7:00pm in the Learning Resources Centre room under the Britannia Library.  This is a very important meeting to discuss massive traffic issues facing Grandview over the next decade.  As per their email notice:

 

 

Most of you probably know that the idea of removing the viaducts has a long history.  There is some community support for the demolition but much of the impetus comes from Vision Vancouver’s need to satisfy their developer supporters by providing more land for their profit.  There has been significant opposition to the demolition from East Vancouver and areas east of us who consider the viaducts a primary and convenient access to the city. I suspect we have not yet heard the end of this battle, especially if this still-newish Council can finally show their muscle and start directing the Vision holdovers in senior City staff positions rather than simply acquiescing to whatever the bureaucrats propose.

However, the survival or not of the viaducts is intimately connected with the question of traffic east of Gore, and how that traffic will affect Grandview.  This was the issue that Vision Vancouver (interested only, I believe, in the development aspects) could never solve. They eventually decided to use a so-called Community Panel to cover their asses on the decision.  From what I hear from the GWAC rep who attended, this Panel was as pointless as the Citizens Assembly they foisted on us during the Community Plan.

Given both the history and the importance of the viaducts/traffic issue, Monday’s meeting should not be missed!