WEN to City Council: Extend the West End community plan process, be fair

WEN logo Raster RGBThis letter was sent to Mayor and all Councillors on City Council today, September 20, 2013.

RE: Consideration of Timelines for Community Plan Processes – Request for West End Extension

Dear Mayor and Council:

It is our understanding that on September 25, 2013, Council will consider a report entitled “Community Plans: Next Steps.” West End Neighbours, on behalf of our supporters and the many West End residents with whom we have communicated, strongly requests the following:

1. An extension to the community plan process for the West End and additional resources to allow for an improved consultation process. An extension of six months would allow for a revised consultation effort with the objective to resolve the details of the plan proposals and to better engage those affected by the implementation of the new plan.

2. Confirmation of fairness. We believe that the West End deserves a plan created in accordance with agreed upon terms of reference and one equal to the plans created for other Vancouver neighbourhoods, such as Grandview Woodland.

It is our opinion that the West End planning process has not fulfilled what it was mandated to do. On a most basic level, it does not appear that it will produce a plan to provide certainty for the future of the West End, or achieve the objectives identified as important by West End residents and businesses.

The request for a new West End community plan arose from resident concerns regarding site specific rezoning proposals. WEN’s collection of over 13,000 signatures on the petition titled “No Rezoning Without A Comprehensive Plan” called for you, City Council, to provide “meaningful consultation with residents, protect existing neighbourhood liveability, and respect/maintain the character of the neighbourhood.” The plan and emerging directions as presented to date, do not satisfy those criteria and lack adequate detail to show the physical and social impacts of plan implementation. Sufficient detail is needed in the plan to provide a reasonable set of policies against which to measure future development proposals. Failure to achieve a successful community planning outcome is likely to result in on-going challenges, frustrations, and delays in the review of development projects.

WEN is grateful to Director of Planning Mr. Jackson and two staff members for coming to WEN’s public forum on August 28th which was attended by about 250 people. It was clear however from the discussion at this forum that the majority of speakers were unhappy with the current planning process.

The current timeline offered by City staff makes it clear that insufficient time will be available to allow for a meaningful consultation process with the community prior to Council consideration of the plan in early November. City staff have confirmed that once the draft plan is released, the only opportunity for feedback will be through the public hearing process. This process seems unfair.

Many residents are asking for more detail in the plan provisions. What are the proposed new zoning provisions? Presumably staff have explored zoning options – why are these not being shared? What will laneway buildings up to six storeys in height look like and where can they be located? How will a revised permit parking system work?

The Vancouver School Board indicated recently that a new elementary school will be required in the West End, and lack of adequate school facilities in the West End is likely to be one of the greatest obstacles to meeting the plan proposal to add 9,000 new residents, many of them in families. Rather than a general indication that public facilities and schools will be supported, what is “the plan” for these vitally important elements of our high density neighbourhood and what are the plan provisions for new or expanded school facilities?

Even the City’s Urban Design Panel at its meeting of July 31, 2013 made comments and raised questions such as: “What is the current plan for redevelopment of older stock?” and “How do we fit more residents in the West End while maintaining the character?” and “Redevelopment will occur in the existing residential area. The Community Plan has to acknowledge that development and redevelopment will occur there.”

These are valid issues that are not addressed by the current plan language. West End residents deserve information on these issues prior to a plan being forwarded for City Council’s consideration – a plan that is intended to guide change in the West End over the next three decades.

A significant investment of city and community resources was made in developing, reviewing and commenting on a terms of reference that would guide the planning process for the West End and three other neighbourhoods. The West End Community Plan Terms of Reference include (in Section 9) clear definitions of success – that the Plan:

1. Fulfill the core principles outlined in the Terms of Reference (Section 4);
2. Be achieved through broad collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders;
3. Be completed within the allocated timeframe and resources;
4. Provide a clear sense of direction for the future of the West End;
5. Be practical and easily implemented;
6. Have general community buy-in;
7. Help to make the community a better place to live, work and play;
8. Have the commitment of the City (and, where appropriate) its partners to tracking its long-term effectiveness;
9. Provide a framework for positive change in the well-being of the West End.

It has become clear that while there has been some engagement and consultation of residents, effective collaboration of the type that has been a basic feature of other previous planning processes in the City, has to date been missing. Ideas regarding innovative engagement techniques, ranging from interactive computer models of various development options to the evaluation of the pros and cons of alternative policy options, have not been implemented in the consultation on the plan.

There has been a lack of clarity and transparency, as required by the Terms of Reference guiding the community planning process, with many of the plan directions lacking a clear rationale or connection back to input received through consultation. As an example, in November of 2012, the City published the results of community consultation in Phase 1 of the process, and included the results of the following question:

CoV West End survey housing needs
It is clear from the input that lower-scale housing units are desired. Yet while 78% of residents suggested new housing should be in buildings of no more than 11 storeys, the plan directions indicate that the vast majority of proposed new West End housing will be in buildings between 15 and 60 storeys. If there is a rationale for this “plan direction,” it has not been provided.

An extension of the plan process timeline and opportunities for improved and innovative engagement need to be explored. This engagement must ensure that real collaboration occurs and that ultimately, as noted in Point 6 of the terms of reference above, contributes to a draft plan that has “general community buy-in” prior to being considered for approval by City Council.

We believe that an improved process could be achieved through the establishment of a Joint Management Group, similar to that recommended by the Grandview Woodland Area Council for their own planning process. A Joint Management Group could play an important role as a liaison between the City and the community, and as a forum for testing policy options as well as engagement techniques.

In conclusion, please accept that residents and stakeholder groups, including WEN, embarked on this community plan exercise with open minds and a sense of optimism, encouraged by the City’s commitment to an inclusive and meaningful process. A community plan process should be inspiring – it should encourage involvement and careful consideration, not a sense of mistrust or frustration. The community’s consideration of development options should be based on understanding and a clear rationale for options under consideration.

Please consider the voices of the vast majority West Enders who have not yet had an opportunity to fully consider the impacts of the plan proposals for the West End. Please grant an extension to the West End planning process with a fundamental change in approach to allow for more detail, more meaningful consultation, and a commitment to fair treatment for the West End.

Sincerely,

Randy Helten (Director) West End Neighbours (WEN)
info@WestEndNeighbours.ca

cc Mr. Brian Jackson, Director of Planning
Mr. Kevin McNaney, Assistant Director of Planning
Mr. Holly Sovdi, West End Planner

West End Neighbours is a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the quality of life for all West End residents and the distinct, diverse character of the neighbourhood. Our mandate is premised on a petition now with more than 13,000 signatures – calling for “meaningful consultation and a comprehensive plan.”

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