Croatian Hall packed as community responds to Assembly’s draft ideas

There was some measure of anticipation at the Croatian Cultural Centre on Tuesday, May 5, as the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan sought public input on its draft sub-area recommendations. How would the ideas measure up under watchful eyes of about 200 often-wary residents?

Especially given, as Assembly chair Rachel Magnusson said in her introduction, that the recommendations “are still drafts.” Those drafts try and balance complex variables and reconcile differences of opinion that occasionally just can’t be bridged, and sometimes they need polish. “They’re still a bit messy,” explained Magnusson. “They’re still a bit inconsistent.”

The key, she said, is that public input — which has been invaluable to the Assembly members in shaping their recommendations — may yet cause the Assembly to change course. Magnusson noted that some plans incorporated input from the seven public sub-area workshops fairly closely, while others diverged. She invited the public to propose their own ideas and feel free to tell the Assembly when they disagree.

Magnusson outlined the format, mainly two rounds of conversation at 15 generally jammed tables, including Assembly members and facilitators, to allow people to contribute to more than one sub-area conversation.

One participant asked if there would be an opportunity for a question-and-answer session for the whole room. Briefly, at the end, said Magnusson. “We’re trying to keep the conversations at the tables. It’s really hard to have good conversations with 200 people.”

Assembly members then introduced the 27 pages of sub-area recommendations, highlighting key elements and goals:

  • A more welcoming, greener Cedar Cove that respects existing housing, creates some new affordable housing opportunities, preserves sightlines, and connects better to the rest of Grandview-Woodland.
  • Hastings redevelopment that appropriately enhances the high street to the east and the industrial area to the west, creates some social benefits such as social housing by allowing some height at suitable locations, improves the public realm, enhances connections to parks, builds on cultural infrastructure, and shows concern for impacts on adjoining areas.
  • Limited zoning changes in Britannia-Woodland to respect the importance of affordable rental and co-op housing, combined with “active” transportation and greenway improvements.
  • In Grandview, protecting the residential character while expanding rental and home ownership opportunities on East First, by allowing four storeys, and greater safety on Victoria Drive.
  • On Nanaimo, attention to its challenge as a designated truck route intersected by commuter-oriented East First, so mixed use instead of row houses, a focus on new development first at key nodes, expanded development based on how that works, a limit on land assembly of three lots, and an enhanced public realm.
  • On the Drive, protect and promote the existing, diverse, accepting, fine-grained character. Improve safety for everyone. Create a better pedestrian experience. Bike lanes from East 14th to Gravely Street, and then north along Salsbury Drive. Limit height to four storeys except at Grandview Highway, limit lot assembly, create design guidelines, and allow commercial activities in laneways. On the proposed redevelopment of the Kettle Friendship Society sites at Venables and Commercial, however, the Assembly couldn’t agree on parameters for extra height.
  • At Broadway and Commercial, allow modest increases in height because of the location’s local and regional importance, and better integrate the area into the surrounding neighbourhood. Density specifics included a 12-storey limit at the Safeway site along with a plaza, six storeys on Broadway with setbacks after four storeys, density along the south side of the Grandview Cut, and toward 12th near Commercial to draw activity down that portion of the Drive.

 

More convergence than divergence

 

Magnusson then asked that people identify what they like and what could be improved in the recommendations. “Just a friendly reminder to be respectful in your conversations,” she said. “Dig deep,” she added, encouraging people to explain the underlying reasons for their views.

And so the conversations began, and at Hastings and Cedar Cove tables in the first round they were often familiar, sometimes surprising, and occasionally idiosyncratic. “Why is it that we’re not talking about recycling plastic bags?” said one person. Why put density near parks, said another, when it will only generate noise complaints?

More often, though, conversations found points of general agreement, in both support of and opposition to Assembly proposals. “I think the Assembly has come to a pretty good compromise on the Safeway site,” said one of a diverse group of participants at the Commercial and Broadway table, during the second round. “What concerns me is the six-storey residential and commercial along Broadway.” That concern was a key area of general consensus. Would commercial work? Was the height excessive?

One resident deeply objected to change in the area west of Commercial between Broadway and the Cut. Another suggested shifting more density onto the Safeway site to compensate for reducing proposed density increases elsewhere. Both were were minority opinions.

Ways to strengthen the place of small-scale retail in the area, such as a public market, were discussed. Stronger language in support of rental housing was suggested. Commitment in the draft recommendations to services for aboriginals, youth and minorities was lauded. Loss of light and parking were concerns.

The call for a 10-year moratorium on spot rezonings, advocated by two Grandview-Woodland community groups, was heard. Limits on property assembly, to prevent the half-block developments that can change the character of a street, were discussed. The fact that rules requiring the replacement of rental don’t apply to many smaller buildings was a concern, and the value of existing homes on Broadway as sources of affordable housing stock was raised. Animation of public spaces by art and artists, to prevent them from being degraded, was suggested.

 

Affordable rental remains central

When groups reported out at the end of the evening, the three Commercial and Broadway tables went first, and its plans for Broadway were generally acknowledged as an area in need of rethinking.

On Hastings, one indefatigable Assembly member, speaking partly her own behalf, called for “more kids of all cultures hanging out together and becoming familiar with each other”, even if that means throwing balloons filled with paint. She also diverged a little from the agenda to thank all those who devoted time to make the Assembly process work.

The Britannia-Woodland tables reported support for its housing recommendations, encouragement for different models of home ownership, and a call for more creative approaches to the use of industrial land near Clark, possibly including a residential component with light industrial use.

Cedar Cove emphasized the need for better connections, including transit connections, improved use of Pandora Park, creating cottage commercial opportunities, and support for affordable rental housing.

The Nanaimo groups reported varying conversations. In one session, participants objected to mixed use along the length of Nanaimo. Another wanted sub-area feedback regarding Garden Park and Nelson Elementary to be better incorporated into the Assembly recommendations. The second Nanaimo table reported that people wanted respect for the current residential area and that there was a lack of trust regarding communication about the content of previous discussions with the community.

Grandview’s tables reported that four storeys was deemed to be too much height on East First. One said consensus suggested three was OK, at least on the south side, and that better process in the future needs to accompany any zoning change. The other table reported a call for protection of rental stock.

The Commercial Drive groups wrapped up the reporting, with the first affirming support for its bike lane recommendations and support for keeping the area affordable for existing businesses. Frontage limits were debated, and the Assembly plans to revisit its proposed language. The Kettle plan, the group said, wasn’t discussed much as there was no consensus.

The second group, conversely, said it spent almost the entire time discussing the Commercial and Venables site. The person reporting out — a citizen but not an Assembly member — got a big cheer for a shot at “grumpy old white homeowners,” reflecting the deeply held differences of opinion on the subject. She said there is support for housing those with mental health and addiction issues in the community, but no consensus on the specifics.

The meeting closed with a look at the next steps, beginning with the Assembly’s final meeting on Saturday, May 9. It won’t be easy for the Assembly to balance all the competing pressures, and complex factors that influence its decisions. The results of the draft report will be refined and edited by Assembly members over the following weeks, and presented to Vancouver city council in late June. The planning department will likely be asked by council to produce a draft response in the fall, for public and Assembly member feedback, and a proposed plan will go to council in winter or spring of 2016.

 

One participant asked if there would be an opportunity for the public to comment on the Assembly’s redrafts of its recommendations. Magnusson said no, but there would be opportunity before council and at future public meetings to comment on the recommendations and on how they are incorporated into the city’s planning documents. In the end, Magnusson said, she believes the community’s effort will be reflected in the plan. “I know it’s been a long, long haul, but it’s going to be a good one.”

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The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly put local residents at the centre of the community planning process. Forty-eight randomly selected local residents and business owners met eleven times over nine months to learn, listen and put forward their recommendations concerning the future of the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood. Download their final report here.