November 20 marks FIFTH anniversary of the West End Community Plan: How has it been for you?

West End Community Plan cover page 2013The West End Community Plan (WECP) went before City Council on November 20, 2013 and Council adopted it after 10 pm that night. Happy fifth birthday, WECP! Zoning amendments to accommodate the plan were adopted two months later, at a daytime Public Hearing on January 23. (City’s official web page for WECP.)

The WECP is based on seven broad “principles”:

  1. Achieve a green, environmentally sustainable urban pattern.
  2. Support a range of affordable housing options to meet the diverse needs of the community.
  3. Foster a robust, resilient economy.
  4. Enhance culture, heritage and creativity in the city.
  5. Provide and support a range of sustainable transportation options.
  6. Protect and enhance public open spaces, parks and green linkages.
  7. Foster resilient, sustainable, safe and healthy communities.

While these principles are general and came with few quantitative targets, the plan makes specific mention of creating 7,500 new “homes,” and the words “affordable” or “affordability” appear 44 times in 139 pages. For example, “Deepening housing affordability and meeting the needs of a growing community are a priority,” says the summary statement, although nowhere is the definition of “deepening” provided. Another key feature of the plan is the Public Benefits Strategy, estimated at then to provide between $585 and $630 million in benefits to the community over 30 years, with the funds coming from development.

West End map from WECP 2013The full WECP document can be downloaded here (PDF, 139 pages):
https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/west-end-community-plan.pdf

Within months of Council’s adoption of the WECP, Business in Vancouver reported a “Real Estate Boom Projected For Vancouver’s West End.” (Our story here.) And that is exactly what we have seen.

Excerpt: “Vancouver’s West End is on the verge of a dramatic real estate revival sparked by density brought on by a recent community plan, according to a real estate industry report… ‘Nothing would have happened without the West End community plan,’ says James Lang, the market intelligence manager for Colliers International Realty. ‘That plan unlocked value and growth potential in the downtown core where land is so scarce.

Let’s look back before the plan’s adoption for a moment. Early in the public consultation process (2012 – 2013), West End residents were kept busy with periodic events, such as a story-telling evening, photo competition, road painting, the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC, members hand-picked by two Council members, and with all meetings held at City Hall), and the “West End Champions Network” (created for the plan process but now defunct).

Just weeks before the plan went to Council for approval and after many months of community input and comment, residents who attended staff presentations were treated (but only for a matter of seconds) with their first and only chance to view a sophisticated 3D video model of the future West End, bristling with tall new towers that had not previously been indicated as part of the public consultation process. It included bands of development going up to 60 storeys in height along the Alberni Street, Burrard Street, and Thurlow Street corridors. Given the departure of this type of development from the themes shared with residents to that point, some might conclude that members of the development and real estate industry had been involved in a separate, parallel process with the City to discuss the development potential for certain areas and sites in the West End.

Now back to 2018. In the five years since November 2013, there has indeed been a wave of development and change: many demolitions and evictions of renters from older and more affordable rental buildings, tax increases and retail business closures; developer-funded buy-outs and displacement of strata condo owners to make way for tower developments; and lots of new tower construction, with big towers, primarily along the corridors along Davie, Robson, Alberni, and Thurlow Streets. Most of the new towers have been luxury condos, but some have been rental apartments – with luxury rents anticipated.

How has the West End Community Plan worked out for you?

Some people in the community have concerns about the impacts of the WECP. Even the newly elected mayor, Kennedy Stewart, appears to have gotten the impression that things are not going so well. See this excerpt from the Vancouver Sun of what he told residents when he was still a mayoral candidate prior to the October 2018 election.

Excerpt: Stewart, speaking at Gordon Neighbourhood House in the heart of the West End, said the neighbourhood was known for years as one of the greatest in the country. But that has changed as the West End has become known for renovictions, empty retail storefronts, and increasing homelessness. “The West End is under threat — as are many other great neighbourhoods all over Vancouver, from Grandview-Woodlands to Marpole to Kitsilano,” Kennedy said. “Many renters feel like they are under attack.

Some in the community are surprised by the dramatic impacts of development arising from the WECP, such as the demolition of the 19-year-old Safeway building on Davie Street, the demolition of the Empire Landmark Hotel on Robson Street for ultra-luxury condominium development, and the seemingly endless parade of blue “development proposal” signs sprouting up.

The WECP plan is intended to be a thirty-year vision for the neighbourhood.

Starting in 2009 and working with a petition eventually signed by over 13,000 people, West End Neighbours worked hard to reach out to residents, to request that “spot rezonings” be stopped and that the City of Vancouver create a community plan for the West End that would reflect the needs of the community and provide predictability moving forward.

To mark this fifth anniversary, in the coming months, WEN will ask the newly-elected City Council to document the nature of the developments and changes that have occurred so far and are still underway, in order to evaluate the positive and negative impacts arising from these developments, with reporting back to West End residents on whether approved and proposed developments are fulfilling the plan objectives and meeting the needs of current and future West End residents. (The previous council did not create any systematic review or reporting mechanism.)

How many millions of dollars have been secured through rezoning applications? How have these funds been allocated? When does the neighbourhood see new, tangible benefits such as an improved public library?

Give the scope of the impacts of the WECP, we would like the City to publish a report and to make a public presentation within the West End for residents of the West End.

If you are a group or individual interested in communicating with WEN about this topic, please write us here: westendplanning@gmail.com

WEN started its activities in 2009. Our mission is:

“To enhance and celebrate the quality of life, the distinct, diverse character and the heritage of the West End, a livable neighbourhood between downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park. We accomplish this by influencing policy decisions and ensuring change is based on evolving community needs, is neighbourly and respectful and reflects relevant and timely engagement with residents.”

WEN’s main current focus is maintaining our website and Twitter accounts (@WENvancouver), tracking the community plan, and serving as a clearing house of information and developments in the West End, though meetings are held occasionally.

Have questions or comments about the West End and the WECP?

Submissions for sharing with the community are welcome.

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