It’s Davie Village, not Davie City

We have heard from many of you who were stunned to find out about the Implementation of “Vancouver Views” and Opportunities for Higher Buildings in the Downtown policy report.

This week, between festive parties, holiday travel, gangster shootings in the Mayor’s neighbourhood, the SE Marine Dr sinkhole, and the provincial parties’ ongoing leadership saga, few people knew that the City was planning to eliminate an important view corridor to the North Shore mountains which sets the view for many other locations. In fact, it is the single most important control on the heights of many potential building sites on the downtown peninsula. Today the City will be putting on a brief presentation about this policy at 2pm in Council chambers at City Hall.

You can watch live via this link

Very few had realized what the stark impact of a map in Appendix B of a staff report really meant. What was presented by the City to the public regarding sites for extremely tall towers in a Vancouver Courier ad like this…

Ended up in this report released last Friday for Councillors to vote on this week, looking like this…

A difference? You be the judge…

The above indicates the land within the West End where the Davie Village Community Garden and the Esso gas station now sit, would be the ‘low hanging fruit’ portion of the Higher Building zone.  We thought it would be interesting to see for lack of an existing design yet, what the Higher Building envelope would look like in the neighbourhood.

Here’s what the Davie Village looks like facing east, as it is now:

And here’s what that same view would look like built out with Higher Buildings at Burrard and Davie (Burrard Gateway proposal on the Pattison/Reliance property in behind):

Here’s the reverse angle at Burrard & Davie – before:

And behold the after, the… Davie Gateway??…

Even Manhattan, the bastion of skyscrapers with no mountainscape to speak of, values and respects the character in its dense low rise neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca.

Burrard and Davie St corners in the West End were not part of the October 2010 public open house display materials, but appeared in the report as the location to allow two very tall towers.

The implication of the changes became noticeable when examining the material very, very closely.

We also discover in this presentation to the public, this statement on page 1:

In all cases, the taller buildings would not impact protected public views to the mountains.

Clearly contradicting this statement on page 3:

Step 1: Defining Potential Locations

The first step was to identify all areas within the study boundary that met the basic requirement as a location for Higher Buildings: a location where no view cones would be impacted other than the Queen Elizabeth Park view.

This would obviously lead to confusion getting in the way of meaningful public discourse. If the parameters had changed since the October 2010 public houses, then the public needs an opportunity to review these changes, and to comment on them, prior to Council consideration.

The proposals included in the report are based on a public consultation attempt that did not successfully engage residents – only 72 members of the public completed a survey on this issue.

Further, it would be expected that many of those who did complete surveys had something to gain by supporting the proposed increases in height and infringements upon protected views.  Public policy of this nature should be based on the input of the many, not the few.

The Mayor’s West End Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Councillor Andrea Reimer indicated in the Nov. 24, 2010 minutes that priorities for the community, as determined from previous public responses in the past year, were too narrow a demographic to be representative of the West End.

These “narrow” responses came from an excess of 600 people. How then could Council regard a survey of 72 respondents as having any sort of significance?

Mayor Gregor Robertson states in this audio clip from the November 21, 2010 Vision Vancouver telephone townhall meeting that he created the Mayor’s West End Advisory Committee…

“…to start identifying the best way to get the community input on what kind of development does occur…”

…and that they…

“…just approved updated plans for up to three more neighbourhoods starting next year on their planning process, and the West End will undoubtedly be one of those…”

He goes on further to say…

“…the changes that we make there have to be done very carefully. There have been lots of towers built in the West End over generations now and so we want to be careful with how that happens going forward and keep the community closely involved.”

Well then – what’s the rush? Why are the West End corners of Burrard, Davie and Georgia being targetted for extremely tall towers?

No doubt a West End plan would include the entirety of the West End as can be seen on this city map:

Will the Mayor’s West End Advisory Committee engage the community about the Higher Buildings in these corners of the West End in time before Council takes the issue up on January 20th? A review of the minutes noted above indicates the committee fleshed out a plan for the next few months, but it doesn’t seem to be on the radar.

We know that Mount Pleasant just recently completed their community plan, which does not make allowances for the proposal in the works within the last three years for a tower at the corner of Kingsway and Broadway.  Is this rush for Higher Buildings simply an attempt to sneak something through before a West End vision document potentially rules it out?

These proposed changes have the potential to affect our city for the next century – they must be managed in a manner that accurately gauges and reflects the objectives of all stakeholders.  There should be no rush to accommodate the corporate signatures inherent in tall buildings.

Council’s decision to defer consideration of this item until January 20th, 2011 is a positive first step.  But the deferral itself does not solve the problem.   It remains to be seen how the City of Vancouver Planning Department intends to address the fact that the public is not appropriately educated on the trade-offs being presented.  WEN encourages City staff to raise the issue with the public, to engage stakeholders, to be clear about the neighbourhoods affected (including the West End), and to report back to Council with additional public input prior to Council consideration.

The key issue now will be the quality of public discussion between now and January 20. And the public has a LOT of questions to ask.

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