Vancouver bowlers barter to save Varsity Ridge
By Rachel Bergen
A group of Kitsilano residents say they are willing to lobby for a developer to build higher in order to preserve a bowling alley for their community — an unusual move in a city that has seen nothing but anti-development protests from residents in the last couple of years.
But the idea from the Kitsilano Arbutus Residents’ Association for a new option at the high-profile Arbutus and 16th site, home to Varsity Ridge Bowl, is only workable if the city helps out, says one expert.
Development consultant Michael Geller says the pitch from a local residents’ association to Cressey Development Corp. — it is promising support for a higher building if Cressey provides space for a new bowling alley — would require Cressey to apply for a rezoning. That’s a lengthier process with more complications.
Geller said several conditions would have to be in place in order to tempt Cressey to accept the compromise for its proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the existing property, currently home to the Ridge movie theatre, a hardware store, a restaurant, and an empty storefront that was once a high-end grocery store, as well as the bowling alley.
“If the city would determine how much money (Cressey) might lose by building the bowling alley and then grant them additional floor space with equivalent value and promise the rezoning process would take three to six months rather than a year, those two things might encourage them to take advantage of the rezoning,” Geller said.
Geller estimates that Cressey would need an extra one or one and a half floors to compensate for the cost of building the value of a bowling alley. People in the neighbourhood say they are prepared to accept them in order to retain an important community amenity.
Kitsilano Arbutus Residents’ Association member Carrie Riches said Varsity Ridge Bowl “has shaped the community for 62 years. No one wants to lose it, no one wants to let it go without a plan to replace it.”
Using their influence
Currently the developer is moving ahead with plans to demolish the existing businesses, including the Varsity Ridge bowling alley, in order to build a four-storey residential and commercial development.
“The developer decided to simply build what he’s permitted to under the current zoning. That’s why he didn’t need to keep the bowling alley or theatre because he’s not required to,” Geller said.
But the operator of the bowling alley, Ken Hayden, is hopeful that the bowling alley will stay if the community can make an acceptable proposal to the city on Cressey’s behalf.
“Maybe if they keep it, the city will give them a fifth floor or a sixth floor. Maybe the city will grant them a couple of floors extra on one of their less controversial building projects. That’s something we’re trying to fly by them,” Hayden said.
Cressey’s vice-president says the company is willing to enter into dialogue with the community about it. But he, too, warns that a solution isn’t easy.
“We’re definitely happy to have further conversations, but it’s really time for action as opposed to conversation because we will be moving our project forward. We need a viable, bondable business proposition,” said Hani Lammam, Cressey vice-president ofdevelopment and acquisitions. “The building is at the end of its economic life.”
- 2,000 people bowl at the Varsity Ridge alley every week.
- 15,000 children bowl there at birthday parties every year.
- 700 league bowlers attend weekly.
- 12,000 school-aged children bowl annually as a part of their physical education curriculum.
- Children and adults with special disabilities bowl weekly. For many it is their only weekly outing.
- $3 million dollars has been raised by the owner of the bowling alley through his position of chairman of two charities.
- Countless other charities use the alley as a location for fundraising yearly. (Information from Ken Hayden)
What’s the deal?
In Vancouver, developers frequently apply for rezonings in situations like this one, to get the maximum density that city planners might be willing to allow.
To get the rezoning, developers negotiate with the city about what community amenities it will provide in exchange. But, in this case, Cressey didn’t choose that route. Instead, the company applied to build under the current zoning policy, which any landowner can do, asking only for an additional floor.
That was denied by the city’s development permit board. The company was reprimanded for not considering community opinion.
City Coun. Adriane Carr was one of the development permit board members who voted to deny Cressey the extra height on its proposal.
“You have to earn that privilege of being able to go that storey higher by making sure the development is very neighbourly. They didn’t earn the right to have a higher development.”
In the case of a rezoning at 1401 Comox Street in the city’s West End last year, the developer proposed a landscaped public open space along Comox Street, a children’s play area, a community garden, and six units allotted for seniors under the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters Program in an attempt to be neighbourly.
In this case and others, communities have still gotten up in arms because they didn’t believe the developers were doing enough for the density they were getting. But Varsity Ridge supporters will advocate for more density in order to keep the existing business.
“Give communities a voice”
A rally at city hall Nov. 16 called “Give communities a chance” brought the Kitsilano residents out, along with residents from several other neighbourhoods who say they are fed up with the lack of community consultation over density and rezoning.
But all of the other groups, including those from the West End, were opposed to giving developers extra density even if those developers provided community amenities.
The Varsity Ridge supporters are taking the opposite tack, with their request to the city and developer for more density in exchange for the bowling alley.
Carr, who was also at the rally, said that if the bowlers and Cressey can come to an agreement, she will be more sympathetic to supporting expanding on the proposed development.
“If the local citizens were to come to a public hearing and say, ‘Look we really back this project,’ that’s pivotal in influencing my decision.’” Coun. Raymond Louie, part of the Vision Vancouver majority on council, agreed. “As council we are required to remain fairly open-minded to reasonable ideas and if, in this instance, a supportable proposal can be assembled, I would be interested in seeing it.”
On another front, some are trying to create a bowling facility through other means.
On Nov. 26, the park board met to consider including bowling as one of the activities for its Healthy City Strategy.
The idea, put forward by Commissioner Constance Barnes, was approved.
If Cressey will not agree to including a private bowling alley in its new development, Hayden hopes to work with the park board for a couple of years on a community facility.
It could be an acceptable plan B, but the community will still mourn the loss of the old bowling alley.
“There will be a lot of tears if this development goes through,” Hayden said.