John Weldon: My concerns about planning directions in the West End
By John Weldon
In the general terms of reference for the three community plans in Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, and the West End, reference was made to the fact that the roles and responsibilities of community-liaison groups would be discussed with community stakeholders.
No such discussion took place in the West End and the watchdog-process advisory role of liaison groups in previous planning processes was eliminated—with the role of the new neighbourhood champions network confined to assisting staff with engagement.
Only two face-to-face meetings between staff and the neighbourhood champions network have taken place. This is the result of a very top-down planning model with the city controlling the planning process and decision making.
A community plan should be bottom up, with the community involved in all stages of the plan—including decision making—especially with conflict between a city housing affordability agenda relying on spot rezoning and the major concerns in our community relating to building scale and height, and neighbourhood character. The present process is not representative of a truly collaborative community plan. It is the city's plan for our community based on a deeply flawed planning model.
An increase of 9,000 people representing 20 percent of the population is projected over the 30-year course of the plan. No meaningful discussion has taken place with the community concerning this projection, or with respect to neighbourhood equity relating to environmental sustainability and densification.
Substantial density is being added to our already dense community, while other city communities are permitted to continue with relatively unsustainable land uses. The West End is not shy in contributing its share to meeting global, regional, and citywide challenges, but when certain privileged neighbourhoods are let off the hook, this can only add to the increasing lack of trust between many neighbourhoods and the city. Work on a citywide plan should not be a prerequisite for this conversation to take place.
At a recent Urban Design Panel discussion of the West End planning directions, reservations were expressed by panel members concerning the ability of the plan to withstand anticipated strong development pressure in our neighbourhood areas. How can this plan uphold its intention to protect these areas when applications for bonus density under programs such as Rental 100 are so heavily encouraged and supported by council? 1401 Comox is an example of this, a development out of scale with the immediate neighbourhood, where the developer received almost five times the permitted density and was exempt from paying a development cost levy and a community amenity contribution in return for providing market rental housing at rents beyond the reach of most West Enders, who were not in favour of this project.
Allowing for an increase of 9,000, why more residential towers? The West End was downzoned in 1969-73 for very good reason because residents felt a need for future development at a more human scale up to a maximum of seven storeys. I doubt very much that residents want to see the possibility of a wall of up to 20 storey towers along west Davie Street as outlined in the plan directions.
At the same Urban Design Panel meeting previously mentioned, a staff member said that a strategy was adopted to go aggressive in the outer frame of the community and that some finessing was required. I would suggest that more than that would be required to satisfy most residents.
The 18- to 21-month planning period has been a failure on account of the pressure on staff to complete the process within a timeline that has not allowed for truly collaborative engagement, meaningful dialogue, community capacity building, and effective widespread involvement. This has added to the increasing lack of trust previously mentioned.
Finally, I request that the process be extended for another six months to ensure that the community and its representatives are given a sense of ownership of a plan that has the approval of most of our residents.