WEN submission on 1030 Denman (Coast Plaza) rezoning

WEN today sent this message to Mayor and Council, regarding the Public Hearing for rezoning of 1030 Denman (Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites). We believe this is consistent with the spirit of the petition signed by 11,000 people.

April 20, 2011
Mayor Robertson & Councillors
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue

Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 1V4

Re: 1030 Denman St. – Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites (C-5 to CD-1, Public Hearing Apr. 21)

Dear Mayor Robertson and City of Vancouver Councillors:

At the Public Hearing of April 21, 2011, Council will hear public input on the proposed rezoning of the above site from C-5 to a new CD-1 zone.  Please defer this rezoning until such time as meaningful consultation has been undertaken to create a plan to guide the future of the West End. This letter provides a justification for this request.

We were expecting the new staff reports (“yellow memos,” made public just yesterday) to provide encouraging new information, but found nothing new in them to alter our views of this rezoning application.

West End Neighbours (WEN) is not opposed to the concept of the Coast Hotel and Suites being converted from the existing hotel use to rental apartments – this would appear to be a good use of an existing building that has suffered from low occupancy as a hotel and the creation of these rental units in an existing building is a relatively low-impact way to increase the supply of rental housing.  There appear however to be many missed opportunities with this rezoning proposal, and WEN asks that Council send the Planning Department back to work with the applicant to create a project that can be focal point for the West End.

Approval of this rezoning will mean that the property owner is provided flexibility to operate as both a hotel and as rental apartments.  With no guarantee or requirement that this site convert to rental housing, why not leave the existing zoning in place until the need for the land use conversion is confirmed?   Approving this rezoning would mean that the property owner achieves the flexibility to do as he wishes, while the community is left with uncertainty regarding the timing of a land use change.

Some of the physical aspects of the project highlight the fact that the existing mixed-use complex is an artefact of an era where urban design and public realm took a backseat to commercial objectives.  The existing Denman Mall is an inward-looking relic of the 1970’s, and the current rezoning application should be an opportunity to address some of the negative effects of this complex on three West End Streets.

The “Summary and Recommendations” document notes that “Design Development” for the site should include enhancements to pedestrian interest at the Comox Street elevation and that this can be achieved by introducing windows into the grocery store.  As the grocery store fronts Nelson Street, it is assumed that these improvements would be directed toward the Nelson Street frontage.  But overall, it is disappointing that the existing unpleasant Nelson Street frontage of the site will receive only modest changes.  This type of public realm relationship would never be considered acceptable in a new rezoning and development proposal, so the current application should be an opportunity to address the problem – instead the report suggests that little can be achieved.

On the Comox frontage of the building the report references the possibility of reducing the width of the driveway crossings, but makes no suggestion that one of these two driveway crossings should be considered for removal.  The existing “porte cochere” and circular driveway serve the hotel function at this site, but will not be needed for the proposed apartment use (the porte cochere has recently been dismantled at the Pacific Palisades site).  This area could be “re-imagined” to function as a valuable southerly-exposed pedestrian plaza, but instead it appears little effort has been made through the rezoning application to achieve such community improvements.

It is regrettable that public access to the significant landscaped space above the existing mall will not be offered as part of this rezoning proposal – this space could serve as a valuable greenspace amenity for the neighbourhood, and access to this area should be pursued.

The report makes no mention of the demands on community services – such as schools, the library, and the community centre – arising from these 314 additional households.  Given the state of the existing Joe Fortes Library and the West End Community Centre it would be difficult to imagine the addition of these three hundred households doing anything other than further stressing these community facilities, yet the rezoning proposal offers nothing to assist in their renewal.

While the report reviews the amenity package proposed (including commercial space for the West End Seniors’ Network and a $600,000 contribution to the City’s Affordable Housing Fund) the public is left with little information to determine whether this is a suitable package in relation to the creation of the proposed 314 rental suites.  The report indicates that staff have negotiated the proposed community amenity contribution, but without a current community plan in place and agreed-upon community priorities, the neighbourhood is left to question whether the proposed package is adequately meeting existing and future needs.

The rezoning under consideration highlights, again, the need for a comprehensive community plan for the West End.

As stated above, we encourage Council to defer this rezoning until such time as meaningful consultation has been undertaken to create a plan to guide the future of the West End.  The applicant has indicated the existing hotel will remain for some time. There seems to be no urgent need to adjust the zoning on this site at this time.  Delaying this rezoning will allow further time for community planning work as well as to explore solutions to some of the urban design deficiencies existing on this site.

Sincerely,
R. Helten
President, West End Neighbours (WEN)

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