WEN statement on demolition of St John’s Church (1401 Comox)

[Updated with video, May 19] We are empowered by the mandate of 11,500 people from this West End population of about 45,000 who have signed our “No Rezoning Without a Comprehensive Plan” petition. See text of statement below video.

Today we have two main messages….

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First, we are sadly marking the demolition of St John’s Church, an important community asset in the heart of the West End. There has been a failure on the part of all those who could have preserved this building for the public benefit, from even before the site went up for sale. On this case, City Hall could have done much more since 2009 for the residents of our community.

The second message is to recognize that this story is not yet over and that it is part of a much larger story in the West End, and in fact, in Vancouver. Here is a bullseye map of all the major rezoning and development sites we have monitored this year in the West End. MANY neighbourhoods of Vancouver are facing similar losses of space, heritage, greenery and sky, in the face of spot rezonings. City Hall is not functioning right – that includes both the Mayor and Council, and public servants. Failing to put public wishes first, failing to respect neighbourhoods in major land use decisions.

As I said, what is eventually built here is still a big question. It appears that City Hall has encouraged Westbank Projects Corp, Peterson Investment Group and their architect, Henriquez Partners Architects, by indicating that their application to build a tall tower here, with public incentives, has a good chance of success. The current owners bought the church on speculation, and in all fairness, they should recognize that there is no guarantee that their application will be approved. Look around and see that most buildings on Comox Street, for many blocks in each direction, are only two or three storeys high, with only a few that are six or eight. The site is zoned for a building six stories and just under 26,000 square feet of floor area. They are expecting to go nearly four times higher, and nearly five times the floor space.

A church stood here for over 100 years and was for many people the heart and soul of the community. In recent years it was used not only for worship by several religious groups, but also by many other community groups. The building being demolished was only 30 years old. This needless demolition is a huge loss to the community.

Another part of this story, repeated in many places in our society, is about corporations making the profits, while the public, communities, and neighbourhoods bear the costs and losses.

But there is hope that what replaces this church will be a community asset, as part of a comprehensive plan.

Many wrongs have been committed and are still being committed, but there is still a chance of redemption. First, City Hall can reject this rezoning and development application for a tower here. And second, it can work through fair, open, and meaningful consultation with West End residents to review the existing guidelines which have served the West End so well for the past 20 years.

As 11,500 people have said, we want a comprehensive plan, not rezoning.

Statement by WestEndNeighbours.ca (WEN) in front of demolition in progress at St. John’s Church, 1401 Comox Street, Vancouver. Spokesperson: R. Helten, President of WEN. 11:30 am, Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

For the record, here is what Mayor Gregor Robertson said at Heritage Call to over 300 people at an event organized by Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, the day after his inauguration in November 2008. He was thanking citizens for fighting “ecodensity” and electing Vision Vancouver. “…And it took a very very intense  effort on behalf of all of you and the neighbourhoods to counter that [ecodensity] and to reframe the whole debate around what matters most. Community, and our neighbourhoods. Ultimately, when you think about what was most important. Where you grew up. What’s most important through your life. It’s those connections to where you live and the people that you live with. …So making our communities stronger is so critical right now.

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