(Updated) At the end of November, after many requests, this document was posted on the West End page of the City of Vancouver website (Vancouver.ca/westend), in the form of a memo dated August 19, 2021, from the City’s Director of Planning, Theresa O’Donnell, to the Mayor and Council.
West End Public Benefits Strategy Implementation – Progress Update
The memo is in the form of a report to City Council, not as a report to the public.
The memo provides an overall update on the progress of the West End Public Benefits Strategy (PBS), with the general message that the PBS “is on track and has delivered significant amenities” (early successes in housing delivery and transportation/public realm improvements), with more substantial projects now in planning (such as the West End Community Centre). However, the long-term delivery of the PBS is challenged by both the volume of renewal obligations in the West End, and availability of renewal funding city-wide. The prioritization of renewal of community centres will be addressed through the 10-year Capital Strategic Outlook.
(We’ve highlighted “renewal.” See below for why.)
The 22-page report contains many useful numbers and is matched with a 15 MB infographic (download from CoV link) highlighting selected numbers (see our short commentary here as of Oct 2021). So in that sense, it is a useful report.
But a distinction needs to be made between a progress update on the Public Benefits Strategy and a more comprehensive review of the implementation of the West End Community Plan (adopted in 2013) as West End Neighbours has been requesting since four years ago (see questions here). We’d like to write more on all of this at a later date.
So this PBS report provides selected bits and pieces of the big picture. The WECP projected an increased population of 7,000 to 10,000 new residents over 30 years to 2043. The PBS report roughly estimates that the population increased by 4,100 (albeit from the 2011 census based on floor area completed to year-end 2020). For comparison, based on more comprehensive numbers from the Vancouver Park Board, CityHallWatch estimated that projects already approved, under construction or in the pipeline by Sept 2020 could accommodate 25,627 residents. Many of the projects under the WECP have involved the demolition of existing rental housing and displacement of renters, with expensive new rental units produced, and a large amount of strata condos. Where are the numbers on that? How many dwelling units have been lost? How many people have been renovicted?
Another important topic is money. The PBS update states: “Since 2013, approximately $182M in CACs and density bonusing contributions have been received through rezoning and development permits in the West End. This represents both cash and in-kind contributions that are completed ($15M), as well as cash and in-kind contributions currently under construction ($82M). The remaining $85M in cash contributions represent received cash that has been earmarked for spending on future affordable housing, childcare, parks and transportation and community facilities, as well as other public benefits in the West End. … Currently, there are approximately $163M in cash CACs “secured” (rezonings approved in principle by Council).”
Many other relevant numbers are provided in the report and there is coverage of projects under way including West End Waterfront Parks and Beach Ave Master Plan, child care, and public art.
However there’s a big issue with all this. The report makes a distinction between “renewal funding” and “growth funding” — a distinction not made during WECP consultations or even in the final WECP document.
Quote from PBS report: “There are several projects in the West End PBS that will require both renewal funding and growth funding, such as the West End Community Centre/Joe Fortes Library/West End Rink, the Vancouver Aquatic Centre and the two fire halls. It is estimated that more than 60% of the
funding required for these projects is renewal funding. As a result, each of these projects will only be able to proceed once there is sufficient City contributions and Development contributions.”
So in other words, while the WECP started the gold rush in 2013 for developers resulting in a huge amount of demolition and construction, the West End now has to compete with the rest of the City to get most of the money needed to renew the existing facilities in the community, and there are no clear prospects for when that money will be in place.
Here’s another red flag in the memo: “As noted earlier in this Memo, the current estimated costs to deliver the PBS have increased from the $620 million estimated in 2013, when the West End Community Plan was adopted, to approximately $1.5 billion. This cost estimate includes cost escalation (for construction and/or land acquisition) and, for some projects, additional scope. These trends are consistent with the rest of the city, not just in the West End.”
When the WECP was adopted, a City press release quoted then-Mayor Gregor Robertson, “Many of the facilities in the West End are either out-of-date or at capacity. Whether it is upgrades to the community centre and library, the aquatic centre or the ice rink, we heard clearly from the public that their favourite recreation facilities are in need of renewal. The new Community Plan reflects what we heard and will make that happen.” (see West End Journal: About that West End Community Plan? Is The City Following Its Own Guidelines? – March 2021)
All of this is relevant not just to the West End but to all neighbourhoods in Vancouver. The City is now nearing the end of preparations for the Vancouver Plan, a citywide plan that is likely to be deemed the city’s Official Development Plan some time in 2022 prior to the October election. There are also moves to waive the requirement to hold public hearings in Vancouver, as has already been legislated for all other municipalities in B.C. The opportunities for public oversight and scrutiny of promises versus what’s delivered and when could be further eroded.