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West End Neighbours hopes that you all enjoyed a wonderful time with family and friends over the holidays, and wishes you a great year in 2012. Much happened in our community in 2011. The West End became a stronger community thanks to all who contributed in various ways in the past year.
The WEN petition, signed by almost 13,000 people, calls for “No rezoning without a comprehensive plan.” In the spirit of that petition, we will continue to work with many others to encourage civic engagement and ensure that the West End continues to be a great place to live for everyone.
Below are updates on some key issues, each one part of a bigger story. For more information on most of these, please visit our website or CityHallWatch and search for the key word indicated.
West End Planning Process: Coming Soon
In July of 2011, City Council agreed to move forward with a comprehensive community planning process for the West End. This process resonates with the demands of our petition, and having a plan in place should help guide the future of the West End in an organized fashion rather than creating uncertainty through the current “spot rezoning” approach taken by the City. City Staff have recently embarked on the preliminary stages of the planning process, including establishing the draft terms of reference for the plan.
An invitation-only workshop will be held on January 28 for West End and citywide community organizations. WEN will be present, and welcomes comments from residents in advance of this workshop. The planning process is the community’s opportunity to have a hand in determining the future of the West End, so WEN encourages all West End residents to make themselves aware of the planning process and the opportunities for public input to this process.
Official City site: http://vancouver.ca/nextplans
The WEN website will be updated to provide additional information.
Anyone interested in seeing how these processes work (four now underway in Vancouver) might be interested in the Grandview-Woodland planning process, which is a few steps ahead, and is holding a meeting on January 9. Visit http://vcn.bc.ca/gwac/index.html.
STIR Program: Dead (Or alive?)
On Dec. 15 the “Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing” (STIR) program to encourage the creation of market-priced rental units came to an end. To WEN’s knowledge, the City made no official announcement, and the end of STIR appears to have been completely missed by most media. But in December, Councillor Stevenson said that “the program as we know it has to finish on that date,” when answering questions to Xtra!West Reporter Shauna Lewis, who has given West End development issues some of the most consistent and accurate coverage in the past few years.
City staff will likely be assessing the program, reporting to Council, and making recommendations for follow-up to the STIR program. Controversy has surrounded STIR citywide due to the link between STIR and disproportionately large rezoning proposals that provide windfall benefits for developers at the expense of residents, taxpayers, and the host neighbourhoods. WEN announced in November its findings that the STIR program is legally flawed and that the STIR program as it has been applied can be legally challenged. The City has not yet responded.
The program was adopted in July 2009 with virtually no public consultation. We believe the City should look at fairer and more effective ways to protect and enhance both market and affordable rental housing options. In the West End, the Bidwell/Davie, Beach Towers, and 1401 Comox projects have all come forward in their current form due to the STIR program. A 35+ storey tower proposal may come forward for the site of the Davie Village Community Garden on Burrard/Davie, although it is unclear whether this will be a rental proposal. The City Planning Department indicated that it would entertain proposals accepted before the December 15 deadline, so the public should watch for news about proposals “in the pipeline.”
Official City site: http://vancouver.ca/stir
Key search word on WEN or CityHallWatch: STIR
West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC): Big influence on West End planning
This advisory committee reporting directly to the Mayor was created as a “pilot” for other neighbourhoods in the City and was to end “when a West End planning process is formally initiated by the City of Vancouver’s Planning Department.” That process is now under way, but at its meeting on November 22, WEMAC passed a motion recommending to the Mayor that a “permanent” West End Advisory Committee (WEAC) be created (see minutes on City site).
WEMAC also decided not to answer but to forward to the Mayor a letter from WEN former president and current director, Randy Helten requesting that WEMAC hold “a public meeting as soon as possible (within the year 2011) in the West End, well-advertised in advance, to describe its activities to date, current status, and future prospects.” The letter was stimulated by the fact that WEMAC held no public meeting within the West End for residents, though its official work appears to now be completed.
WEMAC and the influence of its recommendations on City policy are important to continue watching.
Official City site: http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/westend/advisory/index.htm
Key search word on WEN or CityHallWatch: WEMAC
WEMAC’s “Rezoning Application Community Priorities Scorecard”: Magic numbers?
At the November 22 meeting WEMAC also approved their own “Rezoning Application Community Priorities Scorecard.” The scorecard is WEMAC’s input to the City’s Planning Department to evaluate rezoning applications. It could influence staff recommendations and Council considerations regarding major land-use decisions.
The scorecard has not been formally evaluated independently, but a West End resident with a professional background in surveys did address City Council in September pointing out flaws in the survey design upon which the scorecard is based. For example, the final WEMAC survey reported that the objective “Maintain Height Guidelines” was not a priority concern for survey respondents. Based on WEN’s review of the actual survey findings, in fact, respondents did indicate that maintaining building height guidelines was indeed among the top priorities of respondents. It appears WEMAC did correct this error in the final scorecard, although the official report to Council has not to date been revised on this point.
The scorecard has already been applied to a major rezoning proposal at Beach Towers, for which the WEMAC scorecard can be found on the following web page under “supporting materials” for the November 22, 2011 meeting:
WEN welcome comments from readers regarding WEMAC’s rating of this rezoning application, likely to go to a Public Hearing early in 2012.
Specific site updates
Beach Towers: Next up – big public hearing for rezoning
The Heritage Commission and Urban Design Panel have given their blessing on the latest proposal. This is the first case of WEMAC’s Rezoning Application Community Priorities Scorecard being applied. All that’s left on this STIR project rezoning is a staff recommendation and Council referral to a Public Hearing. WEN encourages residents to read up on this case and prepare to speak when the Public Hearing is scheduled.
Official info: http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1600beach/index.htm
See also: http://beachtowers.ca, and search for “Beach Towers” on WEN and CityHallWatch websites.
1401 Comox (former site of St. John’s Church): Flat land but tower soon?
This is another controversial rezoning application made possible by the STIR program. St. John’s was bulldozed last July, leaving a fenced hole in the ground and scaffolding to protect trees on the property boundary. The only public information available on current status is from Xtra! (link) quoting Matt Shillito (senior city planner) saying, “I understand from the rezoning planner that the applicant [Henriquez/Westbank/Peterson] has recently submitted a revised proposal, which seeks to respond to concerns raised by the community. We expect some public information meetings to be held on these revised plans early in the new year.”
On December 22, the city’s website was updated with new information: (http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1401comox/index.htm) The newly revised application is still asking for the same height (22 storeys) and a huge increase in floor space ratio from the current permitted maximum of 1.5 to a proposed 7.14, but the community space for Qmunity and Gordon Neighbourhood House has been removed from the proposal. An open house is expected in February. A Public Hearing would follow sometime later.
ALERT: Just after our newsletter went out, we found that the formal rezoning application for 1401 Comox had been updated on Jan 3. Details are here. We will publish an analysis soon.
1241 Harwood (Legg Residence, tulip tree site): Heritage demolition, tree saved (?), 17 storey tower coming
The revised proposal for this site was treated by the City as a development application, permitting less public input than a rezoning or a heritage revitalization agreement. In December, the Development Permit Board approved (by a vote of three senior-level members of City staff) the application to construct a new 17 storey tower with the preservation of the tulip tree and demolition of the Category “A” Legg House on the property. Some West End residents are investigating further possible responses to the approval by this Board.
Bidwell/Davie: Maxines to Alexandra – demolition done, facade up, construction next
Learning from the disturbances resulting in numerous complaints by Westbank’s demolition of St John’s Church last June/July, Millennium has created a web page to update neighbours about progress with the demolition and construction of this 21-storey tower. Currently heavy equipment sits on a site cleared to the dirt. Nothing but the facade of Maxines’ remains. It appears construction could begin any time. Millennium’s info site is:
Darling House: Construction proceeds
Construction work is proceeding on the Darling House at 1090 Nicola. WEN wrote the Mayor in June 2011 supporting this projects for respecting the heritage, zoning and character of the West End while also increasing density.
WEN website: Search for “Darling”
Other projects: Search WEN website
Comox-Helmcken Greenway: Design stage in process
The City is currently planning a major project to develop the “Comox-Helmcken Greenway” through the West End. Consultation was done in the fall of 2011, and the City says that as the design is not yet known, costs are not yet known. The City’s transportation director was interviewed in December in The Georgia Straight on this topic. http://straight.com/article-567796/vancouver/new-greenway-needed-city-staffer-says
Official City site: http://www.vancouver.ca/comox-greenway
Key search word on WEN site: Greenway
Regional News: Metro Vancouver
Metro Vancouver (the GVRD) is a large regional body covering 24 local governments and about 2 million people, costing every family over $500 per year in taxes, and having considerable influence on land use and development in the region. Within the 1.5 years, Vancouver must adopt a “regional context statement,” a parcel-by-parcel land-use plan for the City, which could have big implications for Vancouver, including the West End, under the 30-year Regional Growth Statement adopted in July 2011. Watch for more news on this.
In December a new chair of the board of directors was elected by secret ballot (Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore) and vice-chair (Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie). Vision Vancouver mayor and councillors took all six spots representing Vancouver citizens on this board.
Jan. 7 (Sat) 2012, 10 am to 4 pm: West End Community Centre Open House
Jan 8 (Sun) 2012, 10 am to 4 pm: Coal Harbour Community Centre Open House