Early Evening On The Drive

July 27, 2017

Turks has been doling out it own unique weirdness for many years now and I don’t stop in there enough. I spent about an hour there late this afternoon and they really do have the best patio on the Drive. In location it is matched by Havana and Fet’s, but at Turks you need only spend $2.60 for a coffee to enjoy the Drive’s street cabaret and the always fascinating happenings at Grandview Park.

I found a seat in the doorway to the patio, half in and half out of the shade.  There I sat and watched and listened and sipped my very good coffee.

This evening, the warm sunshine has brought out to the Park perhaps two dozen street people, travellers, and their acquaintances. There are plenty enough low concrete walls for everyone to sit in the shade; and they talk and smoke dope, play music, dance, dispute, debate, and generally have a fine old time. Passers-by can look down on them, if they must, but these folks keep our Park lively and interesting and are a community we need to embrace. They have no effect on either the children’s playground or the Bike Polo court, both of which remain busy and active.

The “vehicle” types on the street in this hour included cars, buses, small trucks, skateboards, mobility scooters, Vespas, motorcycles and, of course, a lot of bikes.

The range of humanity walking in the sidewalk was even more diverse. I bet that in that hour every colour and shade from across the globe was represented in the passers-by; tall and short, adolescent and elderly, of every gender.  I caught snatches of 8 or 9 different languages — 10 if you include broad American accents.  Dogs of every description also made their appearances, some, it appeared, walking about on their own, while others were delivered by car and handed from one carer to another.

And in the distance, through the trees, the highrises of downtown could be discerned. And I sat with my cooling coffee glad to be here on the Drive and not there in a forest of concrete.

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St. Francis Bows To Local Pressure

July 4, 2017

In February, I reported on a public meeting regarding the proposed development of a new parochial school for our local St. Francis of Assisi church to be built on the Wilga gardens behind the current house at Napier and Semlin.  As you can read from the report, there was much criticism of the plan from those in the immediate neighbourhood.

Today I learn from a notice sent by the church that the original proposal has probably been abandoned. They will now plan to redevelop the current school site at Venables and Victoria. There are, they “barriers to building on the current site” but they will work through them before making their next proposal to the City.

I understand City planners were not too keen on disrupting the traffic-calmed neighbourhood around the church with a new school, but the pressure from the residents seems to have played a significant role in the change of heart by church authorities.

 


More on Commercial Drive Vacancies

July 4, 2017

On the last Changes on the Drive edition, I posted a graph of the storefront vacancies on the Drive for the past two years. A commenter noted that if I were to start the graph from an earlier date, I would get a more defined trend toward more vacancies.  The commenter was quite right, of course, and here is the graph for the last five years:

There appears to have been a rash of closures in the first few months of 2015, bringing the number of vacancies to a new level. That new equilibrium has, more of less, been maintained since then.

I would note, just for the sake of consistent methodology, that the retail storefronts in the 2200-block east side were not counted as vacant during the rebuilding of the Marquee building. They began to be occupied in July 2014 after which time the relevant stores were shown as vacant.


Today In Salsbury Park

April 28, 2017

Quite the lovely day in the Park today. Warm enough to sit quietly, cool enough not to sweat even climbing the hill.

The blossom trees are just about starting to bloom, and the dandelions are painting the lawn. Beautiful.


St. Francis School Meeting

February 2, 2017

This evening I attended the meeting held in the basement of the St. Francis church at Napier and Semlin. Earlier discussions about the church’s desire to build a new school can be found here.

The meeting was to introduce the project to the immediate neighbours of the church. However, the meeting was well known to GWAC members, people who read this blog, and others, so there were perhaps one hundred citizens in the room from a wider range than the limited geographic area expected. I thought that was a good thing.

There were half a dozen well-constructed display panels explaining the site, the demographics of the current student population, and some general aspects of the project. There was a fairly short speech about the project from a member of the church’s building committee from which we learned

  • that the budget for the school building is $12million;
  • that the church owns the current school site at Victoria & Venables, Wilga garden, and the St. John’s convent site;
  • that the current school site will generate more revenue from a sale than the sale of the garden and St. John’s combined;
  • one option is to rebuild a school at the current site; his will involve a 2 year relocation of the student body during construction, and the sale of both the gardens and St. John’s to pay for the construction;
  • the church’s preferred option is to sell the current school property, using the funds to build a new school on the gardens, demolish St John’s and create a new green space in its place;
  • the new school will have roughly the same enrolment as today — 220 students from 160 families;
  • they want to bring the children closer to the church as a matter of strengthening the faith and increasing community (my words, but I think I got it right).

And then there were questions from the audience. Someone whispered to me that the Church has no idea of the fight they are getting into; and it is certainly true that the tenor of the questions was negative. However, the church was firm that a new school will be built and the discussion is about how that gets done. From the Q & A we learned:

  • that there are no plans to expand the use of the school after school hours beyond the PTA-type meetings that happen today;
  • a majority seemed to favour building on the current site, maintaining St. John’s, and selling Wilga gardens to the Parks Board (though the shortfall in revenues this plan creates was not really addressed, except perhaps that the church should only build what it can afford);
  • that St. John’s is currently used by a number of community groups and that some consider it t have heritage value;
  • that traffic is a major concern, as is any suggestion of changing the traffic-calming regime currently in place;
  • that the current proposal is too massive for a residential area;
  • that all schools in Vancouver are in residential-zoned areas (I haven’t fact-checked that but it was said, and sounds not unreasonable);
  • that the Notre Dame High School project on Renfrew is not an SFA program;
  • that many people believe a phased construction program at the current site would allow the school to continue operating throughout;
  • that a rezoning will be required for the size of the proposed structure.

I found the meeting to be a good start to the process. It was the kind of meeting that Boffo/Kettle should have had but never did. I’m sure neither “side” came away completely satisfied with what was said and done but at least the conversation has begun and is out in the open. By encouraging on-going dialogue, SFA has a wonderful opportunity to teach developers how this process can be improved.

As for me, my inclination is to support the project as proposed by the church, with conditions:

  1. the school is no taller than the church;
  2. the design is actively neighbourhood-friendly;
  3. the green space at St. John’s is a truly public space outside of school hours;
  4. creative effort is put into the traffic issues.

Wilga gardens are not publicly accessible in the sense of being a park; having publicly accessible green space at St. John’s would be a good replacement and better than we have today.  I have reservations about the heritage value of St. John’s. I believe the traffic issues are solvable given creativity and good will on both sides. I would be happy to see density in the form of, say, a three- or four-storey apartment building at Victoria and Venables; that would be a significantly useful addition to the community’s housing stock.

It was interesting to hear the opposition speakers tonight and I appreciate some of their concerns. However, I think the wider community can benefit from this proposal and so it has to be given consideration even if it disturbs a few time-honoured routines that have become entitlements for some.


Meeting About St. Francis of Assisi School

January 30, 2017

There will be a public community meeting in the Church basement of St Francis of Assisi Church, Napier Street, on Thursday 2nd February at 7:00pm.  The meeting will discuss the church’s plans to build a new school on the gardens at Wilga. They will use funds driven by a sale of their current school at Victoria & Venables.

Some of the background is covered here.  A brief history of the church and its grounds is available here.

There has been significant opposition to the development from local residents and meetings on the issue tend to be lively at least. How does it fit with the new Community Plan? It will be worth the time.

By the way, I have heard from SFA officials that this meeting is NOT a public community event and is, in fact, invitation only for neighbours around the church. However, that is not how the neighbours read the letter they received. I also note that neighbours of the SFA school at Victoria & Venables (like me) — deeply affected by SFA’s plan — do not seem to have been included in this invitation. Perhaps we don’t count in the church’s eyes.

Everyone concerned should show up and explain to the Church that it is not up to them to decide who is and who is not affected by their decisions


What’s Happening By E. 2nd?

January 18, 2017

wonderbucks-1

For some months now we have been reporting that the Wonderbucks store at 1803 Commercial is about to close due to staggering rent increases.  The closing date is just a couple of weeks away now, and there are signs and rumours swirling around about how this is a much bigger development play than it seemed at first.

There are stories being told that a number of alternatives were suggested to the building owner, alternatives that would have increased his current revenue; but that he turned them all down. There are rumours that a deal with a major pharmacy chain fell through (as if the Drive needs more pharmacies!). Now, I’m being told, the tenants in the apartment block next to Wonderbucks have been handed eviction notices.

This begins to smell like a major land assembly operation going on here. It could just be a coincidence, I know, but history teaches that there are very few genuine coincidences.

When asked about an earlier development in a different block, City planner Andrew Pask assured me there were strict guidelines on assembly in Commercial Drive; and I am certain that a frontage stretching a full half-block would not fit within those guidelines. But who knows these days?

Both these buildings in that half-block have significance for the cultural history of the neighbourhood.   The wide single-storey structure occupied by Wonderbucks was built in 1924 by Alexander Fraser and his brothers to house their Crystal Dairy. The rear of the building housed stables for horses and sheds for their delivery wagons.  By the mid-1930s they were the largest independent dairy in Vancouver. On the Commercial Drive side, they ran a hugely popular milk and ice cream bar which was upgraded several times in the 1940s and early 1950s to compete with other youth spots in town.

Unfortunately, the economics of the dairy industry created a need for consolidation, The Fraser family sold out to Palm Dairy which in turn was swallowed up by Turner Dairies. The Commercial Drive operation was seen as surplus to requirements and was essentially shut down in 1952.  By 1955, the building was owned by the Acme Novelty Company also trading as Select Music Company, and they sold coin-operated equipment until 1968. After that, it was an Italian dance hall called the Melodi for a while, and by the mid-1970s it had became home to a succession of cheap produce stores. Now, it has been the delightful Wonderbucks for almost two decades.

Next door, at what is now the Salonika Restaurant on the ground floor and two stories of apartments above, we have a slightly longer history as the original building dates from 1912. However, the success rate for businesses was not high here and there was a rapid turnover, mostly of furniture stores. In 1928, Harry Hipwell bought out the owner of the Grandview Furniture Exchange and for the next twenty years, he and his family operated a furniture and, later, appliance store from this building. When they closed the branch in the 1950s, one “new and used furniture” store followed another into the space in quick succession.  The building was badly damaged by a storage fire in 1968 and was vacant for a few years. Eventually some Italian coffee bars moved in from the 1970s through the 1990s, and most recently, a Greek restaurant has taken up the storefront.

These cultural and social histories are important components of what make our community so interesting and special.  Some, like the Wonderbucks building, are important enough to fight to keep.