Stratcom & Westbank Survey

The Survey Questions

In the autumn of 2010, many West End residents received a call from Strategic Communications (Stratcom), a research firm hired by Westbank Development Corp. to solicit opinions of the proposed development at 1401 Comox Street (St. John’s Church). There were many problems with this survey in terms of professionalism, fact and ethics.

The research company’s caller asked for 10 – 15 minutes of your time (it was actually more like 25 – 30 minutes) but would not disclose the sponsor or client for the research. They asked personal questions including age, sexual orientation, whether you own or rent, occupation, voting preferences, how long you’ve been in the neighbourhood, roughly where you live and they obviously know your telephone number.  They asked several questions about the 1401 Comox proposal and what you would support. Many of these questions appear biased or forced you to accept options that were vague or could lead to misleading conclusions. The caller also provided false information, similar to what WEN has described in For the Record.

What was the purpose of this research? Who were they interviewing and how did they select the people to interview? How will they use the results? Where is the transparency in this research?

After the survey was completed, a representative of Westbank Development Corp. who owns the 1401 Comox property revealed in a community meeting that they were behind the survey. Obviously, this organization has a strong vested interest in the outcome.

WEN has transcribed the questions so people could see what was on the survey and prepare for it. SR is the interviewer.

SR: We very much appreciate your…

SR: We’re Strategic Research…

SR: …we’re based in Vancouver. We’re a national, professional research firm.

SR: And our survey has to do with some important and timely issues in the West End.

SR: The scope of the survey becomes quite apparent as soon as you get going.

SR: Please be assured, by the way, that we are not selling or soliciting anything and all your responses are kept strictly confidential.

SR: I trust you’re the person in the household who is 18 years of age or older and who is whose birthday comes next?

SR: And the survey generally takes about 10 or 15 minutes at most. So we thank you very, very much for your participation tonight.

SR: And if I put on my surveyor’s hat, of course I can’t respond to your answers in any way. So as not to influence the survey one way or another.

SR: If you need me to clarify or repeat a question, I’m certainly pleased to do that for you.

SR: And again, thanks so much for participating.

SR: All set. And here’s the first question. Could you please tell us your occupation or whether you are unemployed, a student or a homemaker?

SR: And first of all, and here’s a blank box where I get to type in your response: What do you see as the most important issue facing your community, the West End? That is, the issue that you’re most concerned about.

SR: How familiar are you with the area of the West End of Vancouver around Comox and Broughton? Would you describe yourself as very familiar, somewhat familiar or not familiar with that area of the West End?

SR: And the real estate developer called Westbank has submitted a proposal to develop the property at Comox and Broughton.

SR: Have you heard, read or seen about this project? Would it be a great deal, some, not very much or nothing?

SR: How did you hear about this development proposal?  I can key in whatever your response might be.

SR: Now here’s another blank box. Based on the information you had before you began this survey, could you please tell us what is the main thing that you have heard about the proposal to develop the site?

SR: Yeah, this is where I type in your response. Based on the information you had before you began this survey, could you please tell us what is the main thing that you have heard about the proposal to develop the site?

SR: Anything else in particular or is that your…?

SR: And then, moving forward, given what you’ve seen read or heard about the proposed development on this site, do you support or oppose it going ahead? Do you support strongly, support somewhat, oppose somewhat or oppose strongly?

SR: And another blank box where I type in your response. Why do you support or oppose the proposed development?

SR: Is there a reason?

SR: And anything else in particular?

SR: And now I’ll tell you a little bit more about the proposed development. The development has been proposed as a rental building with 184 units and would be 22 stories high. In order for the development to go ahead as proposed, the City would need to rezone the site to allow approximately 2 extra stories of height above the current zoning guideline as well as to allow additional floor space. (Comment: This is incorrect: see For the Record). The City has a program to allow this sort of rezoning to encourage developers to build rental housing rather than condominiums. So based on what I’ve told you now, do you support or oppose this development going ahead? Again the choices would be support strongly, support somewhat, oppose somewhat or oppose strongly.

SR: Why do you support or oppose it? And here’s another blank box.

SR: . And moving forward, please tell me if you can think of anything that would make you more favourable to the proposal. Anything in particular. And again, here’s a blank box where I’ll type in your response. Is there anything that would make you more favourable to the proposal?

SR: And I’ll move onto the next question. Now, we’ll ask you some questions about housing types and in particular about rental housing.

SR: Based on what you know now, would you say that Vancouver has too much rental housing, too little rental housing or just about the right amount of rental housing?

SR: The responses would be has too much rental housing, too little rental housing or just about the right amount of rental housing.

SR: And now I’ll ask you the same question about the West End. Based on what you know now, would you say that the West End has too much rental housing, too little rental housing or just about the right amount of rental housing?

SR: Of the rental housing that is available, would you say enough of it is affordable or that it’s too expensive.

SR: And now I’ll read you two statements. For each one please tell me if you agree or disagree. First one: “Tenants face a real risk that their rent will be raised  unfairly and that their landlord might evict them in order to convert their building and attract higher-paying rents.” So would you agree or disagree with that statement?

SR: Would you agree strongly or somewhat?

SR: And the next question, or the next statement: “Increasing the supply of rental housing is a good way to protect tenants from unfair evictions and rent increases.” Would you agree or disagree with that statement?

SR: “Increasing the supply of rental housing is a good way to protect tenants from unfair evictions and rent increases.”

SR: You would disagree somewhat or strongly?

SR: And next question: “Some people say that condominiums and other housing not built as rental will not be adequate because eventually property which is not built as rental will be taken off the rental market by owner-occupiers. Other people say condominiums and other housing not built as rental housing will provide an adequate supply of rental housing because owners will rent their properties. So which would be closer to your view: “condos will not provide an adequate supply of rental housing” or “condos will provide an adequate supply of rental housing because owners will rent their properties”? Which of those would be closer to your view, would you say?

SR: And next question: “Some people say that new developments, including some taller buildings on selected sites are needed to provide more housing choices, including more purpose-built rental housing. Other people say the West End already has enough taller buildings and that new development is not needed. So which would be closer to your view?

SR: Essentially, which is closer to your view? And the two choices are “New development, including some taller buildings is needed” or “New development, including some taller buildings is not needed”.

SR: It’s not a comment field so it’s a choice of one or the other or there is a “don’t know” or “no response” option, if you wish.

SR: And moving forward. The City of Vancouver has implemented a program called the “Short-term Incentives for Rental Program” or STIR. How much have you heard about this program? Would it be a lot, some a little or nothing at all?

SR: And next, based on what you know now, do you support or oppose this program?

SR: Somewhat …or strongly …?

SR: Now I’ll read you a description of four proposals that people have considered for the site at Comox and Broughton, and based on what you know now, please tell me which one you would prefer. And some of these are a little bit wordy so if you need me to clarify or repeat, certainly I can do that for you.

SR: The first one, a 20-storey building, made up of a combination of rental units and condominiums. This proposal includes less rental housing but the building is not quite as high as the building proposed by Westbank and is within the correct guidelines. The next one, a 22-storey building very similar to the one proposed by Westbank but comprised entirely of condominiums. Under this proposal, Westbank would be required to provide the community with additional benefits instead of the rental housing. The next one, a 15-storey building comprised entirely of condominiums. This proposal does not provide any rental housing but the building is 7 stories lower than the one proposed by Westbank.

SR: And the fourth. The proposal submitted by Westbank for a 22-storey building comprised entirely of rental units for the life of the building. This proposal is a couple of floors higher than others but obtains more rental housing for the city. So which of those do you think you would prefer?

SR: If you need me to repeat I can certainly do that.

SR: Which of those four would you prefer?

SR: The next. Some people say the rental housing in the proposed development at 1401 Comox isn’t enough to outweigh their concerns with additional height and density which are included in the development. Other people say that Vancouver needs more rental housing and that it’s important to build the development at 1401 Comox for this reason. So which is closer to your view? The two choices are, and I’ll repeat them for you

SR: “Vancouver needs more rental housing and that it’s important to build the development at 1401 Comox for this reason” or “the rental housing in the proposed development at 1401 Comox isn’t enough to outweigh additional height and density concerns”.

SR: Now I’ll read you a list of some amenities which Westbank might be required to provide in exchange for its proposal being approved.

SR: For each one, please tell me if you would definitely support the development if this amenity were provided. If you would be much more likely to support it, somewhat more likely to support it, would make no difference or if it would make you less likely to support it.

SR: So I’ll give you the options as we go along. The first one, a community space for Qmunity, BC’s Queer Resource Centre. Would you support or not support that amenity?

SR: You would be less likely to support or would make no difference.

SR: Definitely support, much more likely to support, somewhat more likely to support, would make no difference or less likely to support.

SR: The next one: put funds improvements to community centres in the West End. I think they intended to…the reading to be put funding improvements to community centres in the West End.

SR: “Put funds into Aquatic Centre upgrade” in the next one.

SR: “A community space for Gordon Neighbourhood house, including a day care facility”.

SR: And “put funds into improvements to parks in the West End”.

SR: And now here’s a blank box. Is there any other amenity which you would like Westbank to provide in exchange for its proposal being approved.

SR: Any other amenity that you would like Westbank to provide.

SR: And moving…and can’t think of anything on other amenities.

SR: And next question then. I’d like you to think about the development proposal which Westbank Corporation has submitted to the City. That is the proposal for a 22-storey building with 184 rental units. I’ll read you a series of statements that people have made about this proposal; and these are just statements of opinion by the way, and we know not everyone agrees with them and that’s why we’re asking your opinion, so for each one, please tell us whether it makes you more or less favourable to the proposal.

SR: So I hope that’s clear.

SR: The first statement will be, “The West End already has more than its share of tall buildings. It doesn’t need another one.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this proposal? The statement is, “The West End already has more than its share of tall buildings. It doesn’t need another one.”

SR: That statement…well, that would be a statement and we are asking whether the statement itself would make you more or less favourable to this proposal.

SR: I’ll indicate that. “The proposal does not respect neighbourhood planning as it includes five times the density allowed under the existing zoning.” So would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: Somewhat less favourable or much less favourable?

SR: Next statement will be “Existing discretionary zoning already allows a 20-storey building. The new rental housing and the Qmunity space, which will be created in exchange for allowing the extra two stories and the floor space are well worth it.” So would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: And “More rental housing will reduce property values in the neighbourhood.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: “The building won’t change the neighbourhood. There is already one 18-storey building in the next block and a number of other high-rises in the immediate area.” (Comment: Walk around the site. The St. John’s church site is primarily surrounded by low rise buildings.) So would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: “And the West End already has enough rental housing.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this proposal?

SR: And “shading from the development will have a negative impact on surrounding properties and the Broughton Street mini-park.” Same responses as before?

SR: And “building new rental housing in the West End will increase the supply of rental housing and make it more difficult for landlords to aggressively increase rents and unfairly evict tenants.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: “The proposed development is consistent with the City’s goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world because it will allow people to live close to shopping and transit and therefore cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.”  Would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: And “In order for the development to be approved, the developer may be asked to provide the West End with community space for Qmunity and Gordon Neighbourhood House, including a day care centre.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this proposal?

SR: And “the proposed development would be one of the first rental buildings built in the West End in years. It will make an important contribution to the stock of rental housing in the West End.”

SR: And “the proposed tower is bulky and out of context with the character of the other buildings in the West End, which are surrounded by landscaping and greenery.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this proposal?

SR: And “the proposed 80 parking stalls for 184 rental units will overload the available street parking in the neighbourhood.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this development?

SR: “The proposal has been recommended by both the City’s Planning Department and the City’s Urban Design Panel.” (Comment: To our knowledge the proposal has not come to the stage where the City’s Planning Department has approved it.) Would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: And “the large size of the building means a larger building project with more noise, more dirt, more traffic and more disruption.” Would that statement make you more or less favourable to the proposal?

SR: “Vancouver has seen a lot of new building in the last 20 years, but virtually none within the area traditionally defined as the West End, that is, west of Burrard and south of Georgia. (Comment: This is incorrect: see For the Record).

Would that statement make you more or less favourable to this proposal?

SR: Finally, given what you’ve seen or heard about the proposal by Westbank, including the information you’ve been given in this survey, do you support or oppose the development?

SR: Would you support the development if the developer were required to provide the community with some or all of the benefits which have been discussed previously.

SR: A petition has been circulated in the West End opposing the proposed development. Did you personally sign it? And why did you sign it?

SR: Vancouver City Council recently established the West End Advisory Committee. How much have you heard about? A lot, some, a little, nothing. And what have you heard about it?

SR: Just a few a questions here so we can group your responses with those of other people.

SR: Could you tell me the year of your birth?

SR: What type of dwelling do you live in? Single detached house, duplex, townhouse, apartment, condominium?

SR: Do you own or rent it?

SR: How long have you lived in the West End?

SR: How long have you lived in Vancouver?

SR: If the Vancouver municipal election were held today, which party or candidates would you most likely vote for? COPE, NPA, or Vision Vancouver?

SR: Did you vote for Gregor?

SR: Finally, I’d like to ask your sexual orientation? Heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual?

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