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Viaduct debate fuels False Creek park uncertainty

Uncertainty over the future of an important passageway into downtown Vancouver has cast further doubts over long-running plans for a…

By Lucas Powers , in Development Feature story , on November 17, 2011 Tags: , ,

The Creekside Park extension would be built on the land east of Carrall St. and extend from Pacific Blvd. to the waterfront. Concord Pacific has built a sales centre on the site.
The Creekside Park extension would be built on the land east of Carrall St. and extend from Pacific Blvd. to the waterfront.

Uncertainty over the future of an important passageway into downtown Vancouver has cast further doubts over long-running plans for a park in False Creek.

The current incumbent party, Vision Vancouver, is considering the potential removal or alteration of the Georgia Viaducts, but a final decision won’t be made until next year at the earliest.

Vision is seeking to maintain a council majority in the municipal elections due to be held in Vancouver on Nov. 19.

The viaducts run adjacent to the nine-acre tract of land at the northeast corner of False Creek that was designated to become a waterfront park when developers Concord Pacific purchased the former Expo ’86 land in 1990.

Residents of Northeast False Creek have been negotiating for over eight years with the city and Concord Pacific to have Creekside Park built.  The new park would be an extension of an existing park that sits to the north of Science World.

They are worried that the uncertainty over the future of the viaducts will further delay any decision on the park.

“One of our concerns is that it will be used as a stalling tactic to put off development and delivery of the park,” says Arthur Brock, a member of the False Creek Residents Association (FCRA) and past president of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association.

“This need not be delayed by the viaduct issue because that could take another 10 years.”

Map of Concord Pacific’s and the City of Vancouver’s land holdings in the area

View Creekside Park Extension Map in a larger map

City staff admits there is a possibility of further delays due to the viaduct issue, but point out that no decisions have been made.

“If council did decide to remove them, and I don’t know that they necessarily would, that would have the potential… to delay decisions in the Creekside Park area,” said Devan Fitch, an engineer for the city who is working closely with the viaduct planning committee.

“What we do down there is going to last for at least 100 years, and there’s not many areas left in Vancouver… to make such a grand gesture and no one wants to get it wrong.”

Lengthy review process

Vision Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs spearheaded council’s campaign to review the options for the viaducts’ future. He says the viaducts are a stub of a freeway left over after an abandoned freeway plan from the early 1970’s.

Phase one of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaduct Study was completed in the summer and submitted for review by council in September. Phase two will examine six possible scenarios and will narrow it down to the three best possible options for review by council in April 2012.

Residents, though, are not convinced that the outcomes of the viaducts study will be beneficial. They are unsure of how the city’s long working relationship with developers like Concord Pacific might influence the use of any land that is freed up.

“[Concord Pacific] see the viaduct study and their land as connected, and they can’t really do anything until the study is completed,” said Patsy McMillan, president of the FCRA and long time advocate for Creekside Park.

Concord Pacific has rented out the parking lot on Lot 9 to Cirque De Soleil and the Quebec government during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

“They see themselves as the purchaser and the developers of that land if the viaducts come down.”

Concord Pacific said in an email: “We, as well as other developers involved are working with the city planning on this. There are many moving parts and groups involved with this process.”

“We look forward to reviewing the results [of the study] when the work is complete,” said the developer.

Political differences

The Vision dominated city council voted on October 6th to ‘endorse in principle’ a reconfiguration of the park put forth by Concord Pacific that would maintain the total acreage but allow for the development of four new condominium towers along Pacific Boulevard east of Carrell Street.

Meggs says the aim was to speed up construction of the park.

Suzanne Anton, the only NPA councillor and current mayoral candidate, voted against the reconfiguration. The NPA has included in their parks platform that a main priority will be to support the original Creekside Park design.

The NPA has also stated it has no intention of removing the viaducts and that message has been reinforced throughout the election campaign.

“We have no plans of taking them down, they are good infrastructure,” said Sean Bickerton, NPA city council candidate and outspoken critic of the city’s handling of Creekside Park.

“The Creekside Park negotiation will not be held hostage by the larger viaduct discussion,” he said. “There is a political solution to getting the park delivered now by granting Concord additional density near BC Place.”

Residents in Northeast False Creek are weary of promises made by any of the municipal parties.

Speaking for the resident’s association, McMillan pointed out the negotiations have “gone on for eight years and three different councils: one COPE, one NPA and now Vision.”

“It’s a legal and heavily layered entanglement that is difficult to untangle.”

A waterfront path is currently the only amenity on Lot 9 available to local residents.

Coming to a compromise

Throughout 2010, the city held six professionally mediated meetings that brought together representatives from Concord Pacific, the FCRA and city council, as well as independent architects to discuss how Creekside Park could be built as soon as possible.

Discussions focused on the proposed reconfiguration (PDF). Residents are open to negotiating the reconfiguration but worry it could turn most of the park into a ‘front lawn’ for the new condo towers.

McMillan says the meetings ended with ‘an agreement not to disagree’, but the residents’ association felt it was a positive step in moving forward.

“They [city council and Concord Pacific] are now accepting us as full members in the process,” said Brock. “A lot of inhibitions that we had about the city are being addressed.”

Residents are hopeful that the park will be built regardless of what council decides for the future of the viaducts, but they are ready to face the possibility that it could become an issue.

“The length of time that it could delay the delivery of Creekside would be utterly unreasonable,” said Brock. “How many generations of kids are we going to wait?”

Map of the proposed Creekside Park extension reconfiguration put forth by Concord Pacific


View Proposed Creekside Park reconfiguration in a larger map