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.


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!


More on TMH at Commercial & Adanac

March 22, 2019

As reported earlier, the No Tower Coalition has been suggesting to City staff and Councillors that the virtually-unused and City-owned parking lot at the corner of Commercial & Adanac would be a perfect site for a Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) project.

I understand City staff have nixed the idea, saying the site is unsuitable, presumably on the grounds of size. I believe that is just nonsense.  Steve Bohus, a GWAC Director, has produced concept renderings showing that a 40-unit TMH — extrapolated from the existing footprint of the 52-unit TMH at 898 Main Street — is perfectly feasible for the property suggested.

Given that we have here a neighbourhood group requesting a TMH in their district (contrary to the City’s experience in some other neighbourhoods) along with a genuine need for such housing, and a suitable property already owned by the City, I think it is incumbent on City staff to explain what their plans are for this site and why those plans would be better for our residents than a TMH; and it is equally incumbent on each Councillor to demand those answers.


GWAC AGM 2019

March 17, 2019

The Grandview Woodland Area Council, the oldest established and one of the most active of residents’ associations, held its Annual General Meeting today at Family Place, About three dozen members were present.

After brief reports from the current Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary, the election of directors took place.  Four current directors (Dana Cromie, Craig Ollenberger, Steve Bohus, and Susan Briggs) agreed to stand again, while Penny Street was nominated from the floor.  All directors were acclaimed and will be the officers for 2019/20.

Cathy Low of Save Our Neighbourhood Parks gave a useful speech about the current Parks Board policy of replacing genuine green turf with synthetic rubber surfaces. She is in particular concerned with the plans for Clinton Park, a two block park in the north east of the neighbourhood.  Parks Board planning has one block of the Park to have the grass stripped out and replaced with synthetic material suitable for soccer pitches.  My understanding is that that section will be fenced off and only made available to paid licensees. This is, as Cathy says, privatizing our greenspace.

Cathy notes that teams from across Vancouver will book times to play and that teams waiting to play on the new surface will use the other half as a practice pitch while they wait.  Thus, the entire park will be lost to the general public.  Moreover, the increase in car traffic will significantly disrupt neighbourhood parking.  The group has a Facebook page and a petition at the link given above.

The eastside in general, and Grandview Woodland in particular, are already deficient in greenspace. It seems nothing but crazy to take away the little we already have. These seems like an issue that would fire up the Greens but Cathy’s interactions with Green Parks Board members has been quite the opposite.  We know how that feels.

The balance of the meeting was a presentation by Patrick Beattie and Duncan Higgson of the Portland Housing Society regarding their history with Temporary Modular Housing (which has lately become an issue here).

There were several important takeaways from the discussion;

  • housing is a key component of the health care continuum for opiod and other substance abuse treatments;
  • providing housing results in significant cost savings compared to long term health care without it;
  • compared to the 5 years of planning, bureaucracy, and building of regular bricks and mortar buildings, TMH can be designed, manufactured, delivered, and opened in five months;
  • TMH, built in BC, are designed for a 50-year life span and each TMH facility can be moved inexpensively from one site to another as need arises.

All in all a useful meeting.  It is a shame that only 30+ people came. The No Tower Coalition, the OCOP group that was active during the Community Plan exercise, the Grant Street and First Avenue projects have proved that large groups of people can be activated for specific projects and issues.  We have yet to successfully educate the general populace that these “single” issues are actually part of a planning and development continuum that are best looked at in a wider perspective, the kind of perspective that an organization such as GWAC and, even more broadly, the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods can present.


TMH at Adanac and Commercial

March 4, 2019

It is almost a year since Boffo and the Kettle — after an extended and popular campaign by the No Tower Coalition — cancelled their plans to build a huge for-profit condo tower on city-owned land on Commercial Drive between Venables and Adanac. The campaign, of which I was a part, was covered in detail on this blog.

Since the cancellation announcement by the developers, various members of the Coalition have continued working quietly on this and other local issues. Now, the Coalition has formally proposed to the City that the site, currently an infrequently used car park, be used as the location for Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) for those in real need. It is, I believe, the perfect solution.  As the Coalition writes, there are many reasons to support the idea:

  • This would be a quick win for the City.
  • It is already City-owned property.
  • This would be using City land for a valid social purpose, not a for-profit development.
  • There is a need for housing for the hard-to-house in Grandview.
  • It would be entirely suitable for around 30 units of SRO-type housing, with a maximum of three storeys.
  • The community will likely not object to three storeys on that site. It’s not a tower!
  • The TMH proposal allows the City to retain control of the land and while providing essentially the same amount of social benefit that would have been achieved with the proposed Boffo/Kettle project.
  • The current council seems to be doing a pretty good job of distributing social housing and services equitably throughout the City. No one neighbourhood should be expected to take responsibility for more than its share.
  • This TMH proposal is the right scale for the community. A 30-unit TMH project would provide secure housing for those who currently need supportive housing in Grandview-Woodland but the project would not be so large that it would draw lots of people in need from other neighbourhoods.

The Coalition is asking its supporters to write to City Council in support of this idea (see the Coalition site for email addresses). I join in that request.


Real Parks Or Phoney?

February 12, 2019

I was impressed by the following which I am quoting from the latest Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) newsletter:

“The Clinton Neighbourhood Committee (CNC) recently asked for GWAC support and advice in its effort to raise awareness of its opposition to a synthetic sports field proposal for the Clinton Park, north of 1st Avenue, between Kamloops and Slocan Streets. Synthetic sports field have financial and environmental costs including: loss of earth-based green space which is habitat for worms, insects, and birds; insertion of synthetic pellets which require top-up three times a year; and landfill and total replacement every ten years. Aside from environmental issues,

CNC explained that synthetic fields are fenced and available only to pre-booked sports groups, a stipulation that removes them from public access. Thus, this formerly open, grassed space ceases to be a public park. “Greenest City” indeed. There are already 11 synthetic sports fields in Vancouver, with more to come. Many believe that “improving” existing parks without creating new ones in neighbourhoods slated for densification is a flawed use of resources.

For members concerned about loss of any of our limited public green space in East Vancouver, we recommend visiting the Clinton Neighbourhood Committee’s Facebook page OurNeighourhoodParks for more information and a link to their petition.”

This all ties in, I believe, with CoV Planning’s push for “plazas”, “public squares” and similar unsatisfactory substitutes for real grass and dirt parks.  Concrete and convenience (for them) substituting for fresh air and freedom. The proposal for the plaza at Commercial & Broadway — an expanse of concrete surmounted with noisy elevated Sky Train tracks (no expensive cut and cover subway for us, we are just Eastsiders after all) running almost continuously. Does that sound like a relaxing place to repose with your family for a while?

We are starved of green space and we should insist that CoV Parks Board encourage the development of more genuine dirt and grass parks in Grandview and elsewhere in East Vancouver.


Reminder: Public Hearing for 815-825 Commercial

February 11, 2019

This is a reminder that a public hearing on the proposed redevelopment of 815-825 Commercial (and 1680 Adanac) is scheduled for 12th February at 6:00pm at City Hall.  That’s tomorrow night.

The proposal is for a 6-storey mixed use development with commercial at grade and 38 rental units above. There was an open house for the project last April after which I stated my support for most aspects of the design and the mix of apartments proposed.

 

However, I objected to the project in the end, having noted the following at the open house:

“The very first thing I heard one of the developers’ reps say to someone else as I walked into the presentation room was ‘No, these aren’t designed to be “affordable” units. The one beds will probably start at around $2,200 [a month]’.”

The notice from Vancouver Planning says quite specifically that the units will be “affordable”, but the development documents say they will be “market”.  As we have seen in so many recent developments, City Planning seems to think that $2,200 is affordable for a one-bedroom apartment.  I don’t, and I am sure that the 50% of Vancouver workers who get paid median incomes or lower will also disagree.

If you have concerns or interest, please make yourself available to speak at the public hearing.


Vision Redux At Clark & First

February 10, 2019

For about a year now I have reported on — and fully supported — a major development at Clark Drive and First Avenue  (see here, here, and here).

 

My support for this project has put me on the opposite side of the barricades to most of those with whom I have campaigned on projects in the past, and I have, to be frank, been shocked by some of the NIMBY rhetoric used by a vocal minority of the opponents.  My support, let me make clear, was based a number of factors:

  • the location of the project, at the lowest point of Grandview, combined with the immediacy of the already existing Clark Drive arterial and light industrial 6-storey zoning, made the height of the proposal unproblematic in my view;
  • the integration of detox services seems reasonable to me, and I have yet to see any reliable police statistics to suggest that an increase in crime is to be expected;
  • there is zero heritage value to the lots being used;
  • most importantly to me, it would supply about 100 truly affordable housing units at a point in time when we are facing a critical shortage of available units meeting that criteria.

The press release issued on 16th February 2018 specifically stated that the residential part of the project “will serve low-to moderate-income people.”  Now, a year later, we hear a different story.  According to an article in the Georgia Strait this week, City staff have decided that there will be 90 housing units of which half will be rented at “private rental market rates for Vancouver”.  And even with that, they still recommend that BC Housing be forgiven the $1.9m of development cost levies they should be paying.

This puts a completely different perspective on the project for me, and I have to ask, why?  There are literally thousands of market rental units in the pipeline already; what purpose would these 45 units serve.  We don’t need them. But we do need what we were promised — a supply of genuinely affordable housing for the 50% of Vancouverites who are trying to survive on median or lower incomes.

If our shiny new City Council approves the staff report as is, then one has to wonder if they have already fallen under the thrall of Vision’s private-sector-favouring staff as recent development approval decisions seem to suggest. They can still show some spine by rejecting this report and returning the entire project to its social housing roots.

 


Public Hearing for 815-825 Commercial

January 30, 2019

A public hearing on the proposed redevelopment of 815-825 Commercial (and 1680 Adanac) is scheduled for 12th February at 6:00pm at City Hall.

The proposal is for a 6-storey mixed use development with commercial at grade and 38 rental units above. There was an open house for the project last April after which I stated my support for most aspects of the design and the mix of apartments proposed.

 

However, I objected to the project in the end, having noted the following at the open house:

“The very first thing I heard one of the developers’ reps say to someone else as I walked into the presentation room was ‘No, these aren’t designed to be “affordable” units. The one beds will probably start at around $2,200 [a month]’.”

The notice from Vancouver Planning says quite specifically that the units will be “affordable”, but the development documents say they will be “market”.  As we have seen in so many recent developments, City Planning seems to think that $2,200 is affordable for a one-bedroom apartment.  I don’t, and I am sure that the 50% of Vancouver workers who get paid median incomes or lower will also disagree.

If you have concerns or interest, please make yourself available to speak at the public hearing.