(June 27, 2012) A vote in Vancouver City Council today approved the rezoning of 1401 Comox Street for a 22-storey tower on the former site of St. John’s Church in the West End. NPA councillors Affleck and Ball and Green Councillor Carr voted against it. The Vision Vancouver Council members, dominating Council, voted as a bloc to ram this rezoning through. The details of the application were virtually unchanged since it was first made public nearly three years ago.
This Council vote came in the face of strong community opposition, involving thousands of hours of public commitment over the past 30 months, public meetings, street actions, media relations, and intensive communication with City Hall. Almost 13,000 people signed the West End Neighbours petition requesting a stop to “spot” rezonings like this one, calling on City Hall to respect the community’s zoning provisions, and calling for meaningful consultation on a comprehensive plan.
WEN is deeply disappointed with City Council’s approval of this rezoning application.
With today’s outcome, it is clear that Vancouver’s planning and consultation systems are broken. This case showed that residents had no real opportunity to significantly affect the outcome of this major development application after it had gone to the Planning Department, despite what planning staff and Vision Vancouver councillors have told the public. Today’s decision is a significant one in its implications for citizens and neighbourhoods across the city.
For City Council to rezone a property the public benefit must be demonstrated. In return for creating some of the most expensive rental units in the West End, City Council gave Westbank Projects Corp., Peterson Investment Group and Henriquez Partners Architects an almost five-fold increase in the permitted floor area on the site and four-fold increase in the permitted height, as originally zoned. The Vision council gave the developer a long-term and lucrative rental-income stream at the highest rent prices the market can bear. In return, the local community gets a massive building imposed upon it, and a loss to the character and livability of the neighbourhood.
Creating rental units is a worthy goal, but the elected officials on City Council, under our democratic system, have a duty to serve the public interest above all and to balance the needs of the community and the desires of the developer. That balance has not been demonstrated in this case.
In 2010, Mayor Gregor Robertson stated publicly that he asked for this project to be “put on hold” to allow for more consultation and to achieve a “win win” outcome. But the project approved today is essentially unchanged since the original application. Council has approved the rezoning while ignoring the voices of a community asking that changes in zoning be based on a community plan created through meaningful consultation. The decision also confirms that the Vision-dominated Council is distancing itself even further from long-respected planning policies, traditions of neighbourly urban design practices, and a history of accepted and reasonable consultation processes.
It is clear that this harmful trend will not improve without collective efforts across the city by the citizens of Vancouver.