West Enders and Development in the Last Two Decades
Some councillors and members of the development community claim that the West End has not seen substantial development in decades and that West End residents are not able to accept change. But this is not the case.
The West End currently has a comprehensive planning framework developed through extensive community consultation in the late 1980s. When this framework of zoning and development guidelines was put in place, it ended the ad hoc pattern of high-rise towers and established guidelines for creating livable spaces for residents.
Despite curbing high-rise development at that time, the West End still has the highest density of any neighbourhood in the city, with 141.9 dwellings per hectare. The next closest is Downtown at 66.7, most neighbourhoods are much lower at about 10 to 20, and Vancouver’s average at 22.1 as reported in the City of Vancouver Statistics Census Data 2006.
Since 1987, over 5,500 dwelling units in 100 buildings have been built in the West End (defined as the area covered by the Mayor’s West End Community Advisory Committee). Developments include a mix of high-rise and low-rise apartment developments, as well as small townhouse projects – examples include the Alvar, Andaluca, Wesley Place, SeaStar, Mole Hill redevelopment and many others.
The creation of these units has resulted in additional rental accommodation, either purpose-built as rentals (such as at Mole Hill) or through the private rental of condominiums. According to the Vancouver Condominium Rental Study prepared for the City and published December 2009, an estimated 60% of the private condominium units in the West End are owner occupied and the remaining 40% are investment properties available for rent. While it is not known how many of the investment properties are empty, it is expected that the vast majority are occupied by renters.
Significant development potential exists within the current zoning and development guideline framework for the West End. In other words, the community could still accommodate the construction of many more dwelling units WITHOUT the need for rezoning.
West End residents are not opposed to new development – rather West End residents are opposed to rushed, unbridled, ad hoc rezonings for massive structures that:
- Over-ride existing development guidelines
- Omit or dismiss meaningful community consultation
- Disregard concerns of affordability for vulnerable residents
- Ignore the limited capacity of existing community services and place an additional load on remaining capacity (e.g. schools, community facilities and libraries)
- Destroy valuable heritage sites and replace them with mere facades
- Decrease green space and sunlight for nearby residents
- Impact views for many blocks in the surrounding area
- Impinge on privacy of existing residents
- Increase traffic congestion and noise
- Ignore the value placed on our landmarks
- Displace important businesses
- Damage the character and livability of our neighbourhood
The mix of housing types and the emphasis on green spaces in past development patterns have created a community cherished by its residents, and considered by many urban planners as a successful model of livability.
Overall, development in the West End over the past 20 years has increased density in one of Vancouver’s densest neighbourhoods and none of this growth has resulted in the backlash experienced today. The West End is not “development shy.” Rather, it is savvy enough to identify and oppose development that does not contribute to the livability of the community.