The Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan took its draft neighbourhood-wide recommendations to the community on Thursday, March 5, as it enters the final phase of its nine-month process.
“They are still drafts,” Assembly chair Rachel Magnusson told the crowd of about 130 at the Croatian Cultural Centre, explaining that the recommendations are the Assembly’s first kick at the can. “They want your help,” she said. “That’s why we’re here tonight.”
Magnusson also emphasized that there is pretty much no bad time for the community to offer input. “If you’re like me, you’ll wake up at two in the morning and say ‘Oh my gosh, I wanted to say this, and I totally forgot.’ ” So send us an email, she said.
Magnusson also talked about the virtues of collective wisdom. “We all know that no one person in this room has all the right answers,” she said, particularly when something has as many moving parts as a community plan. “These are really complicated questions. But together, we can do a lot better.”
Those present also had to deal with the absence of recommendations on some of the most contentious issues. Sub-area recommendations, including those on building form and height, won’t be considered until the last public roundtable, which will take place in late April. At that meeting, revised neighbourhood recommendations will also be reviewed.
Draft recommendations were posted in the walls; themed tables discussed them, and proposed additional ideas. At the Wild Card table, some people were looking for a moratorium on spot rezonings during the flux created by the implementation of a new plan.
At the Local Economy table, the importance of local, community-minded ownership of commercial buildings was discussed. Creating a planning policy that encourages and rewards that, however, is not easy. On Commercial Drive, people talked about the relative merits of restricting land assembly and design guidelines as tools to protect the small, independent businesses that give the street its character: The community wants small frontages, but even independent grocers need larger spaces.
At the Health and Community Well-being table, one person said Grandview-Woodland is a walking neighbourhood while the planning conversation focuses mainly on bike routes. “Walking routes are just thrown in.” There was also concern about the lack of recommendations on services for youth.
At one of the Housing tables, zoning for townhouses and apartments around parks was discussed, and one resident half a block away from a park objected to the way new density would isolate him visually from that neighbourhood resource. The issue of equity in land value changes as a result of rezoning was raised.
The assumption that building new housing will increase affordability in Vancouver’s “twisted” real estate market was questioned. “Don’t let the Assembly get lulled into the idea that increasing density will create more affordable housing,” said one, reflecting the common belief that social housing and market condominiums can’t adequately compensate for the potential loss of the neighbourhood’s significant stock of affordable, privately owned rental housing.
Said another: “You’ve got to have variety across the board in the neighbourhood and you’re not going to get that from 30-storey towers.” One participant offered this counterpoint: towers allows the city to require the creation of public greenspace on what would otherwise be private land, and concentrating new residents near transit will do a better job than “gentle” block-by-block densification of getting people out of their cars.
All these arguments are now pretty familiar to Assembly members, and most can generally agree on the problems. Specific alternatives to the Assembly’s recommendations, however, were sometimes in short supply.
Housing dominated community concerns
When reporting out on discussion highlights took place, five housing tables dominated. The first stated that while conversations about building height and built form need to be considered on a site-specific basis, community amenity contributions (the public benefits that the city negotiates with developers on large projects), do not. The group called for fixed-rate CACs, which are more in line with the development cost levies that are charged against a much broader range of new developments.
The second Housing group called for the city to zone for diversity of housing types within the built forms that already exist in the community. The third group called for a 10-year moratorium on spot rezonings once the plan is approved. The fourth said that while it is happy to allow increased density, it doesn’t want wholesale change, and to support that goal would recommend no spot zoning and a limit on property assembly of two lots. The fifth Housing table suggested requiring a rental component in new residential development.
On Health, the group called for more attention on the delivery of specific services. The Local Economy group’s primary takeaway was that the city should protect industrial land, but that better planning for industrial use is required. “We’re more interested in finding out how industrial lands can be reenergized.”
The Public Realm group reported that it was disappointed with the draft recommendations. “We felt they were timid and missed the mark.” The Energy and Climate Change table said that language requiring developers to identify opportunities for energy conservation needed to be stronger.
The Arts and Culture group waded into the controversial issue of relaxing industrial zoning with a call to use arts and culture to revitalize the Venables corridor. On Heritage, the group wanted careful consideration of the impact of spot rezonings on heritage and particularly more careful attention to how existing bylaws and building codes affect heritage buildings.
One of the two omnibus tables said it wanted to extend duplex and laneway housing opportunities, establish a six-storey maximum height in the community, introduce a foreign investor tax, create mechanisms for better ongoing community engagement (possibly including an Assembly-like council, or an ombudsperson, or a ward system), and deliver civic election campaign finance reform. The other called for more support for live-work studios, laneway houses, and independent businesses.
The first Transportation table called for vigorous city advocacy to improve the Victoria Drive/Downtown bus service, and a bus route along East First. The second table spoke more broadly, beginning with the assertion that everyone has a preferred mode of transportation — the one they use. The common denominator is speed, and the group called for traffic of all types to be slowed.
The meeting ended with Magnusson’s call for continued community engagement, at the last sub-area workshop on Commercial Drive, the March 28 Assembly meeting’s public observation session, and by email. As usual, Assembly member Larissa Ardis, one of about 30 Assembly members present at the meeting, led the call for community members to talk to Assembly members, and offered to meet one-on-one with any resident who wants to speak about the community’s issues.
If there’s a solution the community wants to see among the Assembly’s neighbourhood-wide recommendations, now is the time to refine and propose it.
You can find the notes and feedback on the Assembly’s draft neighbourhood-wide recommendations from community participants at the Public roundtable here.