West End Neighbours (WEN) has the following mission: 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.
The promotion of community engagement in decisions affecting the neighbourhood is one of our key themes. The West End is a densely populated urban community in Vancouver, with a population of about 46,000 people and a history of over 100 years.
The origins of WEN go back to 2009 when, after many years with a stable pace of development and construction, the West End began to see applications for “spot rezoning” at significantly higher heights and densities than other recent development, or existing zoning. With limited confidence that City Council would respect the existing development guidelines, citizens became concerned about major changes occurring in the community without a clear policy framework. Threats were becoming increasingly evident to neighbourhood livability, heritage, character, access to light and views, and highly-valued landscapes. There was a growing perception that certain developers were receiving excessive and unearned benefits without adequately contributing to the community and city through levies and amenities. Residents became concerned that City policies and decisions were not going to result in improved housing affordability (real affordability, objectively defined according to standard definitions typically used by other local governments) of all forms, including rental accommodations.
In response, citizens mobilized to learn and discuss the issues, promote awareness and education, and become more involved in decision-making processes affecting the community. WEN emerged in this context as a grassroots neighbourhood group to respond where no other community groups were actively reflecting community sentiments.
Since its creation, WEN has engaged in a wide range of grassroots activities to promote community awareness and engagement, including seminars, workshops, street events, petitioning, information tables around the community, neighbourhood walks, electronic newsletter, website and social media, research and analysis, displays and public exhibits, encouraging other residents to speak at public hearings and council meetings, correspondence with the City, analysis and reports, responding to media inquiries, and meeting with city elected officials and staff. WEN has been an active participant in the City’s current community planning process to guide development in the West End over the next thirty years.
Activities are entirely run by volunteers. Participants include individuals with backgrounds in planning, communications, media, art, advocacy, heritage, law, engineering, business, community and social services, heritage, counseling, architecture, policy analysis and more. WEN cooperates in networks with neighbourhood associations in other parts of the city. WEN also comments frequently, via our newsletter and website, on major development projects and changes proposed in the community. Our emphasis is on the West End, but we recognize that municipal policies affect the entire city. Funding has been entirely from donations from individuals in the community, which sets WEN apart and allows complete independence from the influence of governmental funding and foundations.
Our main emphasis has been on development-related issues due to their current impacts, but once the current community planning processes has been completed, we envision an ongoing emphasis on promoting community engagement in civic decisions affecting the West End. Other longer-term interests include broader civic issues and promoting an ombudsperson function.
CHRONOLOGY – HIGHLIGHTS
2009 – After many years with a stable pace of development and construction, the West End sees applications for “spot rezonings” significantly greater than existing height and density provisions. Citizens respond by organizing and attempting to engage with City Hall to have a bigger say in decisions affecting the community.
– July: With no public consultation, City Council adopts Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program.
Nov: With no prior public consultation, developer announces application for rezoning/development for a 22-storey rental tower on the site of St. John’s Church at 1401 Comox Street under STIR program, with a density increase from 1.5 FSR (floor space ratio) to 7.2 FSR.
Dec: Public hearing for rezoning at 1215 Bidwell Street for 21-storey tower. Majority of speakers opposed. Application approved by City Council.
– Citizens launch the “West End – No Rezoning Without a Comprehensive Plan” Petition (see text below).
2010 – April: Citizens create WEN and organize its first “West End Town Hall” meeting, to raise awareness about the issues and give residents the opportunity to air their concerns. 400 people attend.
– Ongoing: WEN organizes workshops, seminars about urban planning issues, engagement with City Hall, etc.
– November 19: WEN is established as a registered society in the province of British Columbia (“WEN Resident’s Society”).
2011 – WEN obtains legal opinion on STIR program, issues letter to City of Vancouver. No response received from the City.
– Petition reaches 13,000 signatures
Dec: STIR program expires, replaced by Rental 100 program.
2012 – April: City launches community plan process for West in response to public demand.
– June: West End Town Hall #2 meeting, attended by 150 people addresses topics of spot rezonings, affordable housing, and community planning process.
– June: Public hearing on 1401 Comox Street, rezoning application for 22-storey tower. Majority of speakers are opposed. Council approves rezoning.
– Sept: WEN meets City’s new General Manager of Planning and Development, repeats request for response on legal opinion on STIR submitted in Nov. 2011.
– Sept: City Solicitor replies in writing, with opposing view to WEN queries on authority to waive Development Cost Levies (DCLs), delegation of authority, and definition of “affordable” housing.
2012-2013 – WEN actively involved in Community Planning Process, spreading information to community, encouraging participation, writing Mayor and Council, providing feedback, etc.
Aug 28: WEN holds Town Hall meeting at West End Community Centre, attended by about 250 people, regarding the West End Community Plan.
Sept. 26: WEN writes City Council requesting extension of Community Plan process to allow for better consultation, fairness with other neighbourhoods (Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, etc.)
Sept 20: WEN launches B.C. Supreme Court challenge of the STIR and Rental 100 programs
Nov 8: City of Vancouver responds to Court challenge, saying it will amend the bylaws underpinning STIR and Rental 100. WEN agrees to adjourn the petition hearing, awaiting the amendments.
TEXT OF WEST END: “NO REZONING WITHOUT A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN” PETITION
As a Vancouver citizen and West End resident:
- I support current zoning provisions in the West End that permit a maximum building height of 18.3 meters (60 feet or 6 storeys), request that they be maintained for future developments in the West End, and that the current Zoning District Plan for the West End be upheld.
- I request in the event of considering general or site-specific land use and/or West End zoning changes, that these include meaningful consultation with residents, protect existing neighbourhood liveability, and respect/maintain the character of the neighbourhood. We need a comprehensive plan, not site-by-site rezoning.
Signed by over 13,000 people from 2009 through 2013.