At a regular council meeting on April 17, 2012, Vancouver City Council approved a rezoning application by Rize Alliance for a 19-storey condo tower and retail development at the corner of Kingsway and Broadway. All NPA and Vision Vancouver councillors voted in favour (except for the abstention by Tim Stevenson, who had not attended all the meetings and failed to review material for the nights he missed). Only Green Councillor Adrian Carr stood with the wishes of the majority of community to oppose the rezoning. The public hearing had lasted six nights. About 290 persons had signed up to speak, but only 139 of them (mostly against the project) were heard, leaving about 150 with no chance to address council in person, due in part to the City’s scheduling of the meetings.
The justification for the rezoning hinged largely on City staff’s extreme interpretation of Mount Pleasant Community Plan directions relating to additional height and density, and failure to ensure that key urban design criteria, including permeability of the site for pedestrian traffic and treatment of Watson Street as a “special site” (not a commercial lane), were addressed. The rezoning was clearly not supported by majority of the community. Suggestions and more acceptable designs that complied with the Community Plan were rejected or ignored. Council’s approval came with only minor adjustments to the proposal that do not adequately address the this proposal’s substandard performance, especially in regard to harmful impacts it will have on livability due to excessive height, density, inadequate building setbacks, number of parking stalls and truck loading bays, problematic vehicle access points and negative effects on the 10th Avenue bikeway, Watson Street and Broadway. This decision ignores these problems, which were brought to light by urbanists and design professionals as well as residents of the Mount Pleasant Community, and also the potential for this massive high-end development with its big box format retail space to adversely effect residential and commercial affordability in the neighbourhood. The monetary contributions for community amenities and housing affordability are meager in comparison to the potential profitability of the proposal..
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver congratulates the citizens of Mount Pleasant, particularly Residents Association Mount Pleasand (RAMP) for a remarkable effort to challenge the project. Their activism has set a new standard for well-reasoned neighbourhood responses to developments being imposed upon communities, even though the result was not what was hoped for. We are aware of the vast amount of time and money contributed by individuals in Mount Pleasant to engage City Hall.
The heightened awareness, scrutiny and opposition that came out of this process was widely covered by the media, and will affect all planning processes going forward in Vancouver.
The former Director of Planning, Brent Toderian, was quoted by the Globe and Mail as follows:
“Vancouver councillors shouldn’t be afraid to reduce the size of a tower proposed for a historic neighbourhood if approving the project as is would turn residents throughout the city against density, the city’s former planning director says.
And, said Brent Toderian, councillors should make it clear when they deliver their decision on Tuesday how they see new buildings fitting into established areas if they hope to encourage city residents to welcome density.”
Since Council chose to ignore advice like this, as well as the comments of the majority voices from the community, this decision will have enormous ripple effects. We expect that Mount Pleasant residents may have some responses to the decision and encourage all Vancouver citizens and neighbourhoods to sit up and take notice of this rezoning.
An important message from this decision, as four other neighbourhoods enter planning processes (Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, West End, Downtown Eastside), is that for community planning processes controlled and directed by the City, every single word and image that goes into the plan must be viewed with high level of scrutiny.
Some other points regarding this decision:
- Against opposition, the Vision Vancouver Council members votes to change the rules (Vancouver Procedure Bylaw) governing Public Hearings in order to limit discussion. Among the numerous changes was a new rule that a person can only speak once in a public hearing.
- Another issue is the role of campaign contributions in Vancouver politics and decision-making. Vision Vancouver received $10,950 in campaign funds from Rize Alliance for the 2011 election, while NPA Councillor Ball received $5,000 from the company in 2008. (The NPA also received money directly from the company in 2008, while in 2011 NPA candidate Mike Klassen also received $5,000).
- Neither should we lose sight of the fact that Council scheduled Public Hearing nights right before the Easter long weekend, when many people had gone out of town. This tactic, combined with a last-minute extension of the meeting, allowed Council to declare that there were no more speakers present, and to close the public hearing on April 5, leaving 150 registered speakers having had no chance to speak.
- Persons close to the issues are saying that Planning Department staff misled Council about the outright height under current zoning, saying it was 15 storeys. This is reportedly incorrect. In fact, C3A zoning guidelines allows 30 feet in outright height in the District Schedule, 1.0 floor space ratio outright and 3.0 FSR maximum. The C3A guidelines referenced in this schedule allow for a maximum height of 70 feet. Experts have also indicated that staff portrayal of images and other facts was misleading on other points as well.
- One more troubling aspect to the Rize rezoning is that once built it will be the new highest building in the area and despite anything stated during Council meetings or the public hearing, the C3A zoning will now have the Rize tower’s 19 storeys as the reference point for new developments. This will also make transfer of heritage density and density bonusing much easier to get through.
In conclusion, the Mount Pleasant Community Plan process, Rize Alliance rezoning application, and Vancouver City Council decision have dramatially increased the level of awareness, citizen engagement, and need for scrutiny of processes and decisions at City Hall. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver encourages communities to stay alert, involved, and connected with others across the city in order to return Vancouver to sounder planning and consultation processes.
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