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Frustrated citizens aim to put council candidates on the spot

Vancouver’s neighbourhood-based citizen’s groups, using blogs and other social media tools, are busy rallying locals to attend several city council…

By Keith Rozendal , in City Municipal issues Voters , on October 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , ,

Vancouver’s neighbourhood-based citizen’s groups, using blogs and other social media tools, are busy rallying locals to attend several city council candidate’s forums scheduled ahead of the Nov. 19 municipal vote.

Rize's wooden model
A wooden model shows the proposed development at the heart of Mount Pleasant.

The Residents Association Mount Pleasant (RAMP) called one of the first meetings for Oct. 26th at south Main Street’s Heritage Hall. The group’s goal is to get council hopefuls to clearly state to what degree, if elected, they will use neighbourhood-level input to guide city planning and land use decisions.

RAMP and Rize

RAMP was formed in response to a July 2010 rezoning application by Rize Alliance Properties. The building proposed by Rize at the corner of Kingsway and East Broadway includes a mix of retail and residential units and would rise to 19 stories at its highest point. Fifteen of the 241 dwellings would be rentals proposed under the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental program.

The group believes the development threatens the neighbourhood’s current character. On its website and in regular Facebook and Twitter posts, RAMP argues that the project doesn’t fit with the vision that emerged from the 2007-2010 Mount Pleasant community planning program.

“Generations of residents, planners, and politicians have created the current environment in Mount Pleasant,” said Stephen Bohus, RAMP’s director. “Now, an opportunistic developer has come in and they have a different vision: high rises.”

Mount Pleasant residents who attended community consultations held by Rize in March and April 2011 expressed little support for the project. RAMP has gathered nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing it.

The public hearing and council vote on Rize’s rezoning application is unlikely to occur before Nov. 19. Bohus believes the outcry from angry constituents about the project has spooked the election-minded council.

“I don’t think Council will want to look at a public hearing of a few hundred people right before the election” he said. “That’s not a politically expedient thing to do; you don’t want to have a hot potato in your hands.”

Sandeep Johal, RAMP volunteer
Sandeep Johal posts a flyer advertising RAMP's all-candidates meeting.

Citizens call council candidates on the carpet

RAMP proposed the upcoming all-candidates meeting as a way to force council candidates to take a stance on the Rize project and other development projects across the city that are facing local opposition.

“It’s sort of a litmus test,” said RAMP volunteer Sandeep Johal. “Citizens can really decide who is espousing their values and supporting their communities.”

Other citizen groups have adopted a similar strategy, and a series of all-candidate meetings pack the calendar in the weeks leading up the the 2011 municipal election.

Randy Helten, a candidate for mayor with the Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, tracks the events on his blog CityHallWatch. He says the pre-election forums grow out of a frustration with the current Vision Vancouver majority on city council. Helten estimates neighbourhood groups have dedicated “tens of thousands of hours” organizing letters, emails and calls to council that are critical of projects in the city planning process, to seemingly little effect.

“Vision Vancouver has absolute power on city council, with 8 of eleven votes,” said Helten. “They vote as a block, with almost no exceptions, against the wishes of the community.”

New media, new activism

The large number of pre-election forums reflects the growth of a relatively new network of citizen bloggers and Internet-savvy neighbourhood-based organizations, according to Helten. He says few such candidate debates occurred before the 2008 election.

In the coming weeks, these groups will use social media tools and other means of Internet-based publication to distribute records of the candidate’s meetings.

“We will be filming, Twittering, and live streaming our event,” said RAMP’s Johal. “It will be right there in black and white. People can see exactly what’s said; it can’t be misinterpreted.”

Johal hopes the records of the candidate’s statements will inspire voters and inform their choices on Nov. 19, an exciting prospect for Helten, as well.

“This election will be really interesting to watch, because it puts the information into the hands of the citizens,” he said. “It’s a new stage in our democratic system here in Vancouver.”

Comments


  • Dear Editor and Mr. Rozendal,

    As the owner and hopeful homebuilder on the property mentioned in your article, “Frustrated citizens aim to put council candidates on the spot” we would appreciate the opportunity to add some facts to the discussion.

    Rize Alliance is a Vancouver homebuilder (rize.ca) and we first purchased the property at the intersection of Kingsway, Broadway, E. 10th Avenue and Watson in 2007. We participated in the community process through the evolution of the Mount Pleasant Community plan (adopted November 2010), waited two years for this planning process to complete before submitting our rezoning proposal, and have carried out an engaged community input process on our own, in addition to a City of Vancouver sponsored workshop and an open house.

    Since opening in March, our community information centre at 196 Kingsway (at 10th Ave) has informed over 1,500 residents on the City process and the facts, benefits and impacts of the proposed rezoning. Additionally, we have participated in community events, mailed out over 4,800 information pamphlets to our neighbours, held a number of open house events and have handed out over 300 copies of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan.

    It is critical to note that the Community Plan, the first new plan in almost 20 years in Vancouver, guides development (and other community goals) in Mount Pleasant and very specifically identifies this site and only two other properties in all of Mount Pleasant as being suitable for high density and high rise. The Community Plan additionally calls for this site to be iconic and/or a landmark structure marking the centre of the Mount Pleasant Hill town business district. As a homebuilder. it is our job to understand the communities we live and work in and we are confident that our proposal conforms to the Community Plan as well as architectural and urban planning best practices.

    The rezoning submission proposes much needed and varied (in size and price) market and rental homes for residents as well as homes (also greatly varied in size) for new businesses. It sits directly on two of the most critical transit corridors in our region and will contribute to much needed amenities in Mount Pleasant (as is required of rezoned properties, with the community getting back approximately 80% of any uplift value created by the rezoning). For the construction of new homes, this location, based on high transit access and in a highly walkable community, is as good as it gets for sustainability goals.

    And of course this project will change Mount Pleasant, it should! From the input we have received from young people seeking to purchase their first home to seniors who want to downsize and stay in the neighbourhood they love, we know that the most critical component of this change, the people who will live and work here, will be a positive addition to our neighbourhood.

    We continue to work hard to engage with the community, using social media such as Facebook, Twitter (@cvollanRize) and our blog (blog.rize.ca) to both inform and engage. We have benefited greatly from community feedback and this input has significantly re-shaped our proposal over the last three years. We continue to seek this constructive input from our neighbours.

    For more information about Rize’s proposal for the site, please visit us at Rize Mount Pleasant, located at 196 Kingsway (in the former Cantu building) or visit us online.

    Best regards,
    Chris Vollan,
    Rize Alliance

  • Thanks, Chris, for reading my first article published in Vancouver. I’m happy to share your information with our audience and I can’t wait to meet you in person.

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