Packed hall discusses West End plan Aug 28 – Summary report of meeting

(Updated 3 pm Sept 4) A packed hall of an estimated 250 people participated in the Special Forum on the City’s Draft Community Plan for West End, organized by WEN at the local community centre on August 28, 2013. Below is an initial report of the meeting. The moderator was Charlie Smith (editor of the Georgia Straight), and city staff included Brian Jackson (General Manager, Planning and Development Services), Kevin McNaney (Assistant Director) and Holly Sovdi (West End planner). More audio, video, transcripts, and materials will be added below, little by little. This is the City’s slide show, mixed with images from the event. (Download in PDF: CoV presentation West End Plan for WEN 28-Aug-2013.)

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Based on the volume of applause showing agreement with certain statements made by participants, the general tone of the meeting was critical of the process and content of the West End plan, but a few speakers had positive comments as well. Senior city staff started with a brief overview, and the rest of the meeting was an open microphone. Note that the City is planning a meeting for the “Neighbourhood Champions’ Network” on Thursday evening, September 5. If you are interested, please contact City staff at westendplan@vancouver.ca. The NCN is the only community body formally given a role in the Terms of Reference for the West End plan, and its only function is “outreach” to the community, but it does give people a chance to have closer access to planners and to discuss concerns briefly with other interested residents.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Top bureaucrat Brian Jackson defends proposed West End community plan (Georgia Straight, by Charlie Smith, 4-Sep-2013)
http://www.straight.com/news/418411/top-bureaucrat-brian-jackson-defends-proposed-west-end-community-plan

West End city planners face criticism at public meeting (Xtra West, by Shaune Lewis, 29-Aug-2013)
http://dailyxtra.com/ vancouver/news/west-end-city- planners-face-criticism-at- public-meeting?market=208
(All mainstream media were notified, but this is the only media coverage after the event. The Straight has carried the text from one speaker (below), and covered the story before the event. Vancouver Sun, Province, Courier and other media — have showed no interest or coverage yet. CBC inquired but did not follow up. Are media doing their job?)

John Weldon: My concerns about planning directions in the West End, AUG 29, 2013 (Complete version of his statement to the meeting.)
http://www.straight.com/news/417466/john-weldon-my-concerns-about-planning-directions-west-end

West End towers in draft community plan (Georgia Straight, Carlito Pablo, 28-Aug-2013): VANCOUVER CITY STAFF are eyeing a skyscraper that would top even Donald Trump’s tower.
http://www.straight.com/news/415311/west-end-towers-draft-community-plan

ELECTED OFFICIALS

As elected officials, City Councillors Adriane Carr (Vancouver Greens), and George Affleck (NPA) were present. Adriane spoke briefly as one of two councillors designated to be in charge of liaision between the West End planning process and City Council. Councillor Tim Stevenson (Vision Vancouver) had also been specially invited as one of the two liaison Councillors but did not reply directly, did not attend, and sent no substitute (his secretary conveyed the message from him that he was out of town; unfortunately, no Vision council member was present, though Cherie Payne was present for part of the meeting — she was on the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee in 2011 as co-chair but stepped down as co-chair to join Vision in a successful run for the Vancouver Board of Education.) Local BC MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert was unable to attend, but sent a staff member to observe and report back to him.

See below these pictures for more reporting…

??????????????????????????????? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (2) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (3) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (4) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (5) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (6) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (7) WEN West End forum 28-Aug-2013 (8)

OVERVIEW

  • The thirty information booklets brought by staff were snapped up in minutes, leaving many people empty-handed. (Staff said more copies would be available at the Joe Fortes Library, and you can download the June 2013 Plan Directions booklet here.)
  • Who attended? WEN Director Randy Helten asked participants to indicate who they were by a poll, by show of hands. About 15 to 25 made their living professionally as planners, developers, consultants, etc. Another 15 or so were from outside the West End. The rest were residents, with many long-timers, the longest being 57 years living here. Some had participated in the previous planning process in 1989. 
  • About 25 people had a chance to speak, with many unable to get to the microphone due to the two hour time limit on the meeting.
  • City staff answered or commented on several of the questions, but it was clear that many still have many questions, concerns, and opinions about the West End planning process.

FOLLOWUP

WEN would like to follow up on this meeting with a written report to City Council, plus more meetings and engagement with West End residents. Stay tuned. On September 25, Council will consider extending the other three planning processes by six months for more consultation, but the West End is not currently being considered for an extension.

You are encouraged to write directly to Mayor and each Councillor with your thoughts on the West End plan. Direct e-mails are here.

VIDEO AND AUDIO OF THE MEETING

More will be added. This will take a few days, as we are 100% volunteer-based and this work takes time.

Below, resident Carole Walker, with decades of experience in West End planning issues, says that the current planning process, with complex issues extremely oversimplified in drop-in-format open houses, is glossing over critical issues and failing as a consultation process.

QUESTIONS AND STATEMENTS MADE AT THE MEETING

Below we will post some questions, comments, and materials we received before and after the meeting. We welcome text from others who spoke but could not complete their messages.

Grace MacKenzie of Mount Pleasant neighbourhood spoke at the meeting, making these points:

  • When City staff talked about what they plan to do in the West End it was the same outline as they did in Mount Pleasant. It’s not a special plan for your area. West Enders need to be warned of this.
  • Mount Pleasant’s neighbourhood plan doesn’t work because it is too vaguely written. Be sure you pin the City down precisely on every point, or else you might as well rip up any plan they impose on you. Don’t let them simply stated the number of storeys when describing buildings. They WILL allow the first and second ‘storeys’ in new developments to be 21 feet each. Get them to define in feet/meters exactly what they mean by low, mid, & high-rise buildings. The City WILL switch this meaning when it comes time to implementing the Plan. They are now telling us that on Main Street, where there are 1 to 4 storey buildings, that a mid-rise is now 12 storeys (it used to be considered 6 storeys, or 18 meters). Get any written Plan to stated exactly how much density (in exact floor space ratio – FSR) is specified and where.
  • Make the City state exactly what they mean by so-called ‘public benefits’ and in return for what additional height and density. Get the City to tell you exactly where they plan to put new parks. During the implementation of the Mount Pleasant plan they tried to impose streets-to-parks on commercial/industrial streets where people need these streets to do business. These were not locations indicated in the Plan.
  • Mount Pleasant continues to get “public benefits” from new developments in the form of artist space. First, ask how much artist space the community needs. Second, watch out for actual uses, the new artist space in practice gets used by businesses who are not artists in any way.
  • In my opinion these so called Plans are simply a way for the City to rezone or do any other initiative City Hall wishes, at will. 
  • Be alert that there may be a ‘City’ person placed amongst you at community meetings.

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LETTER FROM RESIDENTS Wendy Bice, Liz Wilcox, and Patricia Jones.

Unfortunately [we were] unable to attend the meeting on Aug. 28th.  However, [we] would like to give you [our] responses to the questions posed at the end of your invitation.

Process of the West End Plan:

1. Informing residents of events: YES, every household be mailed information and surveyed.
2. Public workshops needed in each subject area: YES.
3. Has the City provided enough data and justification for the proposed additional population: ABSOLUTELY NOT.
4. Has the city Provided enough information about trade offs and options available to the community: NO. Does it feel like we are being prevented with one option, take it or leave it: YES.
5. What additional data do you need before supporting proposals in the plan? CONCRETE INFORMATION, NOT GENERALITIES OR BUZZ WORDS.
6. What should the City do to gauge widespread community approVal before the Plan goes to Council: A SURVEY, CONCRETE INFORMATION, SPECIFICS NOT GENERALITIES.
7. Do you know what will happen after Council adapts the Plan – will large areas be rezoned in one swoop, and then no more public hearings on specific rezonings: WHO KNOWS/ SEE POINTS MADE ABOVE.

Other Questions:

1. Are you happy with the current Plan: NO. Do you understand it: NO. Did you know the process was on, and that consultation is nearly over: YES.
2. Have questions about the plan will help housing affordability: I DO NOT SEE HOW IT WILL.
3. Do you support incrases in height along Davie, Thurlow, Burrard, Robson, Alberni up to 70+ storeys in spots: NO.
4. Do you have questions about your own street and favourite spots: NO.
5. Do you undestand proposed zoning changes and how they will be done: NO.
6. Is parking a problem: YES, AND IT WILL GET WORSE WITH THIS PLAN. Want more bike lanes: NO. (The changes to Comox St. at Nicola, for example, have resulted in complications – limited visibility, increased danger to cyclists, pedistrians, drivers.)
7. Want more towers: NO. Low-rises, Laneway houses: Other: YES, IF THE MAJORITY IS SOCIAL HOUSING.
8. Do you cherish your views: OBVIOUSLY, YES. want a new library: A LARGER ONE. Pool: NO. School: NO.
9. Do you want more rentals: YES, IF SOCIAL HOUSING. More condos: NO.
10. Keep AND protect heritage homes: YES.
11.Community gardens: LIKE THEM ( but not to exclusion of green areas.)
12. Is the West End accessible and safe: YES, SO FAR. iT IS LIKELY TO CHANGE WITH THIS PLAN HOWEVER.

We agree that the City is failing to look at the big picture of the West End residents’ needs. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to express our views.

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HERE ARE TWO BATCHES OF QUESTIONS WE WOULD LIKE TO SORT OUT AND POST TO THE CITY, AND GET WRITTEN RESPONSES.

WEN FORUM ON WEST END COMMUNITY PLAN, 28-AUG-2013

BATCH 1, Questions on Community Plan Process:

  1. What is the  status of results of the City’s heritage resource analysis and when will the  results of this work be available to the public?  It would be helpful if  this work could inform the land use designations in the plan to  allow for creative ways to preserve heritage.  Many in the community are  disappointed with the approach taken at Maxine’s which allowed for a large  density increase in exchange for token heritage retention and do not want to  see these types of approaches repeated.
  2. Community  engagement in the plan process to date seems low.   Early in  this process residents, including members of the Neighbourhood Champions  Network, noted the need for innovative engagement tools such as computer  modelling and 3-dimensions representations of proposed changes in the  neighbourhood.  To date, little has been done to show residents the  physical impacts of proposed changes in land use designations.   Is  the City proposing to undertake this work during the next phase of the  plan?
  3. Are residents  being asked to make choices on issues like building form?  Or are they  simply being asked to judge the proposals being made by staff and  advisory groups?  There has been no opportunity to date for residents to  be involved in testing policy approaches – is this  forthcoming?
  4. What were the  conclusions of the Urban Design Panel’s review of the plan proposals, and what  changes in plan directions are contemplated to this  input?
  5. What densities  are being proposed for the areas designated for  redevelopment?
  6. What changes to  zoning are being contemplated in association with the  plan?
  7. Curbside parking  changes and the creation of Bute street plaza have been undertaken while the  plan is in process – are any other “plan directions” proposed to be  implemented prior to approval of the plan by City  Council?
  8. How will sites  within the “centre” of the neighbourhoods be dealt with in future?  Do  these sites have the same density of development permitted as current zoning  allows and are each of the existing low-rise buildings eligible for  re-development on a site by site basis?  Would consolidation be  encouraged to allow for re-development?
  9. The unique  character of the West  End is something many indicated a desire to preserve.  Are  existing RM-5 development guidelines being carried forward with the new  community plan?  Or will only the smaller list of design guidelines from  the June Open Houses be part of the new plan?
  10. At an early  meeting on the plan, then Director of Planning Brent Toderian mentioned that  he felt the West End’s development history  included a unique type of building form – a smaller floorplate high-rise  building.  Has any thought gone toward guidelines that would encourage  this type of development in future?
  11. To date, only  limited information has been provided regarding existing community services in  the West End, such as schools, the library,  and the community centre.  When will more information be available  on how these facilities will deal with increases in population?  In  particular, what is the plan for school capacity at Lord Roberts School, particularly if family-oriented  housing is proposed?
  12. Many residents  have indicated a desire for mixed use development (ground floor retail with  residential above), while it seems the City will not consider this in the  nightclub zone in Davie Village, would consideration be given to this “village  approach” on Denman Street or on Lower Robson or Lower  Alberni?
  13. It’s been  indicated by the City that building height proposals were based on building to  the maximum heights permitted by existing view cones.  Does this approach  take into account urban design impacts and issues such as shadowing?   Were dwelling unit counts and population estimates taken into account?   Or was the intent simply to maximize the buildable  heights?
  14. Has the City  analyzed which of the sites in the corridors have development potential (as  opposed to sites that are occupied by relatively new buildings), and if so,  when will this information be available?
  15. Public  consultation, including surveys, is an important part of the planning  process.  Will the City be doing a better job of linking the adjustments  to the plan proposals to the input from residents through open houses and  surveys?  Do date, there has been little documentation of how resident  input has influenced the plan policies.
  16. In one of the  City’s surveys, 62% of respondents indicated a need for “affordable home  ownership” as a type of housing.   Plan policies to date focus on  market condominium and market rental housing, but are silent on affordable  home ownership.  Is affordable home ownership intended to be addressed in  the plan?
  17. Bonusing for  social and rental housing is mentioned in several of the plan policies.   What are the amounts of these bonuses?  And what are the targets for  social housing and market rental housing in the life of the  plan?
  18. Has the City  created any more detail around the laneway buildings proposals?  Six  storey buildings along laneways have the potential to significantly affect  privacy and access to light, as well as impacting service access and parking  and many residents have requested more information on these  proposals.

BATCH 2, QUESTIONS ON THE WEST END COMMUNITY PLAN PROCESS

  1. Why were the roles and responsibilities of the process advisory group substantially reduced? The Neighbourhood Champions Network is confined to assisting staff with public engagement unlike the Community Liaison Group in Community Visions and the Mt. Pleasant Community Plan which had a watchdog and process advisory role. The fact that only two face to face meetings between staff and the NCN have taken place is an indication of its substantially reduced role in the process.
  2. Why were the roles and responsibilities of the NCN imposed although the general Terms of Reference for the 3 community plans make reference to the fact that they would be determined in talks with stakeholders? No such talks took place in the West End.
  3. Why was a decision made to increase the top-down nature of the planning process? Differentiation must be made between engagement and decision-making with the latter now more centralized compared with previous processes.
  4. What was the rationale for projecting a population increase of 9,000 representing 20% of the current population?
  5. Why should the West End, which is very dense  and has a per capita ecological footprint of about 25% of some of the City’s wealthier neighbourhoods, take on substantial additional density, while those neighbourhoods remain relatively untouched and free to continue with their unsustainable lifestyles? This relates to the concept of equity which is the first of 4 principles in the City’s definition of social sustainability adopted by Council in 2005. Equity was not included as one of the 7 principles of the 3 Community Plans. Interesting to note that Portland Oregon’s City Plan adopted in April 2012 has equity as its core value.
  6. What assurances can residents have that this plan will adhere to its intention to preserve the character of the inner neighbourhoods in terms of scale and building heights when Council’s current agenda with respect to the provision of market rental or subsidised housing can clearly override it e.g. 1401 Comox St? Another factor to consider is the anticipated strong development pressures as highlighted at the Urban Design Panel discussion of the Plan’s Directions on July 31, 2013.
  7. Are the very high building heights and densities indicated in the Corridor areas representative of the wishes of most residents, especially when 2 of the 3 most prevalent concerns in surveys conducted by the City were building scale and height, and loss of character?
  8. At the same Urban Design Panel discussion a staff Planner mentioned that a decision was made “to go aggressive in the outer frame” and that “some finessing was required”. What reduction in height and density would staff be willing to reconsider especially with major concern about development up to 20 storeys along the West side of Davie?
  9. Allowing for an increase of 9,000 people, is it not possible to accommodate them in buildings up to 7 storeys? If so, why not when most residents express a preference for no more than that.
  10. Denman St. is used as a major thoroughfare by residents travelling between outside neighbourhoods. Is there a plan to divert this unwanted traffic to the exterior corridors? Opening up one lane of traffic for parking during rush hours will only add to the harmful congestion at present.
  11. How much time will the community have to review the Draft Plan? A Council motion now requires a minimum of 2 weeks but ideally at least one month should be made available to review it before it goes to Council.
  12. The Mt. Pleasant Implementation Committee has had its roles and responsibilities imposed in a very top-down manner. Will residents have any say in the roles and responsibilities of the West End Implementation Committee?

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FURTHER QUESTIONS ARISING…

About consultation …

The CoV presentation indicates that 6,483 people have participated in public outreach, and there were 97 public meetings and events. The public and City Council should not accept these numbers at face value, but need to ask if these numbers are a sincere and valid indication of the quantity and quality of consultation? Do the numbers lead to valid input and how is it reflected in the plan written by City staff? Are residents’ desires (e.g., for quality of life) given a fair weighting when mixed in with the wishes of interveners with different priorities — like the profit motive of major developers? The City’s numbers are summarized by “input type” at the bottom of Page 2 of their presentation. Clearly the City is double, triple, and quadruple counting. Is it being sincere to suggest that each of these individual “consultation interactions” represents meaningful consultation? 

City statistics on consultation participation in West End plan 2010 to 2013
(Figures are to August 2013)  
Launch event                  82
Commuhnity Open Houses/Info Session            1,315
Walkshiops/Walking Tours                284
Asset mapping                  62
Community outreach events            1,720
Ideas fair                300
Panel discussion                  50
Workshops                141
Stakeholder meetings/presentations                900
Commuhnity circle Discussions                217
Survey questionnaires            1,412
Neighbourhood Champion Meetings                  78
Total (note CoV total misses the NCN 78)            6,561
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