Vancouver city planners need a new lens
West End resident Brent Granby happens to be reading The Just City these days. It’s a 2010 book by Susan Fainstein, a professor of urban planning at Harvard University.
Granby finds the work very relevant because a major rezoning application in his Vancouver neighbourhood is coming up for public hearing on Monday (June 11).
Westbank Projects Corp. wants to build a 22-storey tower at 1401 Comox Street. It’s an all-rental building of 186 units. To do that, Westbank applied for an increase in the allowed density at the former site of the St. John’s United Church from the current floor-space ratio of 1.5 to 7.5. Westbank also wants the city to waive development-cost levies totalling $1.4 million.
In The Just City, Granby said, Fainstein talks about how many city-planning processes have focused mostly on the procedural aspect of public engagement and the objective of economic development.
“What she’s saying is that we also need another lens to look at things,” Granby told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. For Fainstein, it’s the imperative to create more fairness.
The 1401 Comox proposal has generated criticism about its scale. But density isn’t Granby’s beef. Following the Harvard professor’s line of thinking, he believes that the project is actually an opportunity to bring about a much needed public good: for the West End, it’s affordable housing.
But to accomplish this, Granby is suggesting that a third of the 186 units should have a starting rent (for the first year) equivalent to 30 percent of the median income in the neighbourhood. He estimates this beginning rent to be about $950 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
“So anybody who’s on low income or on a pension or some kind of disability benefit, they would be able to look at this building and say, ‘Yes, this building is going to bring more affordability to me,’ ” said the former president of the West End Residents Association.
According to a city staff report, Westbank plans to rent out a studio unit for $1,040. A one-bedroom apartment will go for $1,340. Two-bedroom and three-bedroom units will be rented for $1,890 and $2,520, respectively.
Jill Killeen, a communications consultant working for Westbank, did not make a company representative available for an interview with the Straight by deadline.