The exhaustive and exhausting G-W Community Plan process came to an end Thursday when council approved the last iteration (with only Adriane Carr opposed due to the accelerated, mid-summer final-approval schedule). The amended plan reflected much of what the innovative Citizens Assembly had recommended but parted company with planning staff on the controversial Boffo-Kettle site at Venables and Commercial. The Vancouver Sun story is here.
The process itself will probably be mined for years for ideas about public engagement and attempts to hear the voices of citizens other than “the usual suspects.” What united the community was a concern about displacement of renters; the plan has a “pace of change” provision in which only 5 rental buildings, of a maximum of 150 units (out of about 4,000 in the area), will be considered for redevelopment in the first three years. It’s interesting the city has the power to do that within the framework of the Vancouver Charter.
A city graphic from The Plan.
An uncontroversial part of the plan involves zoning on Commercial Drive itself – keeping the existing 3 FSR and resisting lot consolidation to try to keep its streetscape of small storefronts alive and vibrant. Changes to the RT duplex heritage/character area east of The Drive sailed through, too; changes to that zoning to make it more like the successful RT8 zoning in Kitsilano will penalize with a reduced FSR any owner/builder who wants to tear down a pre-1940 house, and reward retention with infill, multiple-suite conversions, and other goodies. However, a group of architects and fellow-travellers under the title “Dynamic Cities Project” opposed the reduction of the outright FSR there to .5.
Is there any innovative mechanism to retain and renovate the small, affordable apartment buildings without renovicting the tenants? If so, I haven’t spotted it. It seems everyone has drunk the Kool-Aid of Affordability and Supply to such an extent that they’re willing to tear down buildings that would sell at $400/square foot and replace them with larger ones at $800/square foot. However, there is much new rental density, especially along Hastings and on Broadway, which most people supported.
Open space in park-deficient Grandview was an issue for many, but the plan only offers “enhancements” and new “plazas” to soothe the 35% population increase predicted by the plan. Is this the new normal for dog-abundant, child-friendly Vancouver? Will the city say okay, this new ratio of greenspace/person is enough for the 21st century, and let’s decommission parks elsewhere in the city and build affordable housing on them? Doubt it.
In the hearings, the sweep of the plan was hijacked, to a degree, by the split in the community over Boffo-Kettle led by the No Venables Tower group. Supporters of the project, including a carefully curated, heartwarming video of the Kettle’s clients, were encouraged in chambers by Councillor Jang and clearly won the day. Much of the controversy about the project focused on building height (12 storeys) rather than its proposed FSR of around 6.7 in an area where the highest density so far is about 2.5; staff’s response, presumably reflecting urban design concerns and the impact of such a large condo component on the nearby low-income apartment area, was to recommend 9 storeys, a lower streetwall and an FSR close to 4. Cllrs. Carr and Affleck voted against the amendment.
I spoke to council in favour of the plan (as presented, not as amended) but didn’t find the amended outcome surprising. This is a rich country which increasingly supports its mentally ill population (in the case of Boffo-Kettle) and impoverished renter population with private-sector bonusing. The din of the cash registers while property-transfer taxes flow into provincial coffers and the city increasingly stratifies is never matched by increasing public investments in social services.
To me the major sour note was Councillor Meggs, at the end when words of reconciliation would have been appropriate, chiding the community for its reluctance to accept what he considers to be adequate density for public transit. A 35% population increase is not enough? In a community of transit users, many of whom are poor renters, with the highest cycling rate in the city? Of course, he is the point man on the Subway to Nowhere, aka the Broadway line that will terminate at Arbutus Street. Did I say I tried to stay neutral?