WEN asks Mayor/Council to send draft West End Community Plan back to community for more work, more input

WEN logo Raster RGBThis is the letter from West End Neighbours on the draft West End Plan, in Council (see agenda) on November 20, 2013.

November 19, 2013

Mayor and Council, City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 1V4
Sent by e-mail

RE:  Request to Send Draft West End Plan back to Community for more Work and more Input

Dear Mayor Robertson and Councillors:

West End Neighbours opposes the Council adoption of the draft West End Community Plan as currently written. We have many serious concerns about both the content and process.

We ask Council not to adopt the Plan, but rather extend and improve the process to help achieve a successful planning outcome supported by a broader spectrum of the community.

The West End’s current population is about 45,000 people – already one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and the Community Plan is intended to serve as an important document to guide development and regulate land use over a period of thirty years. We want to do this process right. There is no real need to rush this important last stage.

CONCERNS ABOUT CONTENT

West End Neighbours and an ad hoc Working Group on the West End Plan are seeing many concerns about the draft Plan. Here are just some of hundreds of questions and concerns that have come forward:

  • Surprise at the range of recommendations, e.g., changes to lower Robson Street and removal of residential uses from the shopping streets
  • Lack of connection between general themes identified during the process and specific components of the Plan document  [change to its own bullet]
  • Concern regarding the addition of more towers when this was a building form that residents specifically said they did not want. Towers ranging up to 70+ storeys are being proposed
  • General concern that residents do not adequately understand the Plan
  • Concern as much with what is NOT in the Plan as what is in it, such as the removal of the block-face tower separation guideline and a lack of clarity on the future of heritage resources in the community
  • The failure to provide a consolidated map of new land-use provisions, such as height and density.  As a basic element, the Plan should include concise graphics showing the development potential for the entire community
  • Addition of significant population and density to an already dense area. The West End does not seem to be getting much credit for its existing high density
  • The high floor space ratios proposed (up to 8.75 FSR) for new development on Robson Street from Jervis to Denman
  • “Filling in” of Lower Davie Street with podium/tower developments at up to 7.0 FSR from Jervis to Denman
  • Proposal for conversion of part of Davie Street to an entertainment zone
  • Removal of “residential” as a permitted use from all shopping streets. given that mixed-use has been a successful development scenario for almost all areas of the City
  • Lack of clearly-articulated provisions for maximum density of new development in the Burrard corridor – current plan provisions set no maximum density for this area
  • Removal of block-face tower separation guideline for Lower Davie Street, resulting in more tower developments on each block. Lack of clarity on the implications of changes in tower separation guidelines.
  • Pre-zoning of Lower Davie Street to permit additional density without Community Amenity Contributions or a Public Hearing for each of these proposals
  • Lack of adequate detail and commitment to timing in the $600 million Public Benefits Strategy
  • Lack of transparency in the selection of groups or facilities to receive funding from community amenities and lack of public discussion on this topic
  • Excessive height (up to six storeys) of laneway infill developments proposed for some areas
  • Lack of adequate definition of key concepts, including “social housing”
  • Lack of certainty regarding possible types of rezoning applications (form, height, density) in the “neighbourhood” areas (Area ‘A’ in the plan) of the West End
  • Failure to clearly explain that once some areas (e.g., Lower Davie) have been “pre-zoned,” development applications will to straight to the development permit process, without public hearing; the result is that the community will have much less of a voice on changes in the neighbourhood

Above is just an initial list of concerns about the content of the draft Plan.

CONCERNS ABOUT PROCESS

The quantity of material and level of detail provided in documents released (partially on October 22 and the remainder on November 6) gave the public limited time and opportunity to review and become comfortable with the exact text and the many recommendations. In fact, further careful review by individuals seems to create more questions rather than resolving them. City staff have been helpful in answering questions, but more time is needed for the community to digest the rationale for the recommendations and to consider alternatives. Whiles Council gave three other neighbourhoods more time and resources in its “Community Plans: Next Steps” decision in September, requests from many West Enders for more time were completely ignored.

Despite the thousands of “participant contacts” indicated in the West End Plan process, consultation did not reach a broad cross-section of the West End. The numbers include an unquantified level of multiple-counting of the same persons, and the actual “contacts” were in many cases of “low quality” in terms of depth of detail. Input from residents was merged with input from developers and other stakeholders, and the public has no verifiable way of distinguishing the two. Many residents still remain completely unaware the Plan process was even underway. Just as importantly, many of those who are aware likely do not understand the outcomes of Plan implementation. Tools used during consultation to engage residents did not do a good job of educating people about the jargon, issues, trade-offs, options, and future outcomes of Plan implementation. Meaningful discussions about alternate scenarios and approaches to development were minimal or non-existent. Engagement techniques focused on presentations of general materials at open houses and surveys on general themes, rather than specifics. One of the main tools to leave comments was simply by posting “sticky-note” comments on poster boards. These are not innovative engagement tools for the twenty-first century.

The result of this process is generally a plan that residents do not understand, and the disengagement of many members of the community from the process itself. The final, detailed components of the 200-page package were made public on November 6, and the public was invited to comment online in a general four-point survey that closed November 13. The survey questions did not examine specific Plan concepts in detail, but only provided opportunities for a general indication of support or concern. There was no chance for incorporation of this survey input into the Plan or for its review prior to Council consideration.

Of the population of 45,000, only about 125 persons in total were able to attend one of the five two-hour “Learning Sessions” held by staff in the week following the October 22 release of the main text of the draft Plan. The sessions did not permit any in-depth discussion of Plan content. We are hearing from many residents some confusion at the speed with which the plan progressed from general ideas and themes in the June open houses, to a very specific level of detail and conclusions in the draft plan information released October 22.  No alternate options were considered, such as weighing the pros and cons of mid-rise (Olympic Village-style) or podium/tower development.

CONCLUSION

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 draft Plan as presented to date, while offering a great deal of positive direction regarding the future of the West End, does not satisfy those criteria and lacks 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 and 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.

Our hope is for an outstanding, world-class West End Community Plan that the residents of this neighbourhood are proud of and will gladly support during the thirty-year time frame of the Plan. Unfortunately, the Plan is not yet at that stage. While certain components of the Plan appear to satisfy certain segments of the West End population, we firmly believe that the community as a whole does not currently have an adequate understanding of the content and implications of the Plan in its entirety.

Please do not adopt the West End Community Plan as drafted and instead send it back to staff and the community for further work. We would be happy to share our ideas regarding techniques to encourage broad input into the process.

Sincerely,
E. Pereira (President) 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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