The opening of the Canada Line has fuelled speculation that Cambie Street is on the verge of an extreme make-over. We’ve already seen the arrival of some major retailers in the area north of Broadway. This is likely just the beginning of a transformation that will take place along the line.
Last month, Vancouver city council approved the terms of reference for a Cambie Corridor Planning Program, but this isn’t going over well with some residents. The program will deal with the area between West 16th Avenue and Southwest Marine Drive, which is largely residential, though it includes Oakridge Centre, B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, and B.C. Children’s Hospital.
The first phase will define planning principles and an interim rezoning policy “to rapidly inform development applications in locations immediately adjacent to existing stations” along the route, according to a staff report. Stations are located at King Edward Avenue, West 41st Avenue, West 49th Avenue, and Southwest Marine Drive. Future stations have been proposed for West 33rd Avenue and West 57th Avenue.
The initial phase of the program is expected to be completed this fall. The second phase, due by fall 2010, will produce a coordinated strategy for the entire corridor, as well as policies for what the city calls “strategic sites”. The third phase, which is described as “optional”, would result in a development policy for neighbourhoods near the transit corridor. This would occur by fall 2011.
In a submission last month to council, the Riley Park/South Cambie CityPlan Committee cited numerous concerns about the program. The committee, which includes local residents, alleged that planning staff began meeting over a year ago with developers and architects, and that resident associations, merchant groups, and local area planning committees were not consulted.
The city’s director of planning, Brent Toderian, was out of town and unavailable for comment. The assistant director of planning, Kent Munro, did not return a call from the Georgia Straight by deadline. Toderian and Munro coauthored the Cambie Corridor Planning Program report presented to council. It stated that planning around transit stations has typically focused on areas within a five-minute walk, or 500 metres. “Research shows that people are generally willing to walk approximately five minutes to a minimal level of transit (i.e. a bus stop), although willingness to walk farther distances increases with the quality and frequency of the transit service as well as the quality of the intervening built environment,” they wrote.
However, the Riley Park/South Cambie committee noted that the Cambie Corridor Planning Program covers 450 city blocks, which it described as “too unwieldy”. It noted that 63 percent of the study area falls outside the 500-metre areas around the stations. “Current TransLink operational planning shows Cambie bus service—that is, all transit outside of these station areas—will in fact decrease by half,” the committee stated. “Casting the net wider would encourage dispersed redevelopment activity.”
In addition, the committee stated that the rental apartment zone between West 19th and West 24th avenues should not be considered for rezoning because it already has the highest density in the area, as well as the most affordable purpose-built rental housing on the city’s West Side. To benefit tenants, the committee recommended that the planning process exclude this apartment area “to provide further protection against dislocation and loss of affordability”.
The B.C. Liberal government has already passed legislation giving TransLink authority to review “major developments” and the adoption of amendments to official community plans. That has one observer of the planning process, former city housing employee Elizabeth Murphy, concerned that the regional transportation authority will have a big say in the rezoning process along Cambie Street.
“Even though the transit line is already built, they’re still being a major player in development along that corridor, which is very problematic,” Murphy told the Straight in a phone interview. “The deal is done as far as transit goes. Transit is built. Why are they even there in this discussion at this point? The reason for this, of course, is they are looking at profiting from the development along that corridor.”
Murphy said this will ultimately mean that citizens in the area will lose their democratic rights in the planning process, because TransLink will be in a position to override local concerns.