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Candidates scrap over tangled planning policies

Vancouver politicians are sparring over the terms of upcoming community plans for Grandview-Woodland, the West End and Marpole. City planners…

By Adam Pez , in Development , on November 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Candidates debate at an Oct. 27 Grandview-Woodland public forum.

Vancouver politicians are sparring over the terms of upcoming community plans for Grandview-Woodland, the West End and Marpole.

City planners said the new plans, now under consultation, replace existing ones, some as old as 20 years, which are out of tune with neighbourhood needs for amenities and housing.

The status quo has left gaps in the planning process which has resulted in several controversial spot rezonings where developers, city hall and residents have clashed over the size and character of developments. These clashes have put the community plans in the crosshairs of candidates looking to capitalize on concerns over rampant development in single-family neighbourhoods.

Council candidates Elizabeth Murphy for the NSV and Bill McCreery for the NPA said the community plans should provide certainty and let neighbourhoods determine the pace of densification. But others, like Vision City councillor Geoff Meggs, criticized challenges to the status quo and said communities would have to compromise if they wanted the pools, parks, affordable housing, and outdoor art provided by developers.

The result of the debate, and the final contents of the plans, could determine where and how the three neighbourhoods develop over the next 20 years, said assistant director of planning Matt Shillito.

More neighbourhood say wanted

Shillito said city hall is trying to determine a ‘sweet spot’ between community desire to get amenities and keep neighbourhood character and city-wide priorities on transportation, housing and density.

But several candidates have suggested the process currently under way is flawed and, instead, the city needs to stop the spot rezonings and let communities determine how neighbourhoods are planned.

Murphy wants the city to stick to existing plans, not draft new ones. She said that the 1995 CityPlan, a Vancouver-wide plan done under extensive public consultation, was supposed to set the framework for city priorities until 2016.

“[The new plans] will result in a net loss of affordability. All the older rental buildings will be gone; they’re at huge risk of redevelopment,” said Murphy, who indicated the old plans still had enough high-density zoning to encompass growth for the next 20 years.

“They’re old, but they’re not necessarily out of date,” Murphy said.

In her Nov. 14 letter to Straight.com, Murphy said that existing plans are being superseded demonstrates the city’s partiality to the interests of developers.

Related: Cash-strapped municipalities turn to developers

The costs of spot development

McCreery, like Murphy, calls for more openness and accountability at city hall. But, unlike Murphy, he wants to strengthen the upcoming plans, rather than discard them. He cited the Shannon Mews development and a proposed tower at East Broadway and Kingsway as evidence of the need for more clarity.

Site of the proposed 27-storey tower on East Broadway and Kingsway

“The community said they wanted buildings 8-10 stories high,” said McCreery, “and then the city presents a 26-storey development.”

The East Broadway tower, which was presented in May 2011, came just a couple weeks after the city finalized the Mount Pleasant community plan. The tower required a spot rezoning, and the site was mapped for increased density in the community plan, said Shillito.

The project was later downsized to 19 stories after resident opposition. Shillito said the fact city hall and developers were willing to compromise indicated the system worked.

But McCreery said the fact there was outcry at all evidenced the need for more definitive plans.

“It leads to a lot of uncertainty,” said McCreery. “Nobody’s happy.”

McCreery said new strong community plans would save developers time and money, spare residents worry and result in a more efficient planning process by providing certainty.

Vision sticks with status quo

But Vision city councilor Geoff Meggs said he was against giving neighbourhoods a veto on city-wide priorities.

“There is no free lunch here,” said Meggs.

“You can’t just throw a wall up, as some have tried to do, and say we won’t take any rapid transit or we won’t take any social housing, but we do insist on community centres and on pools and libraries.”

The drop in the East Broadway tower’s height, said Meggs, meant the developers removed 40 units of rental housing from the design—a critical commodity in short supply in Vancouver’s heated real estate market.

Between 2006 and 2031, the city is slated to grow by 121,000 people, according to the 2011 Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy. The same study said that growth would generate the need for 33,400 units of new housing over the next 10 years. A third of those new units need to be rentals.

Vancouver doesn’t have a long history of community plans, said Penny Gurstein, director of UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

“It’s a real issue when city-wide priorities are different than neighbourhood priorities are,” said Gurstein. “You need something where the interests of the city are taken into account.”

I just don’t think they can do that with community plans.”