Norm Dooley was a fresh UBC graduate when he settled down in Vancouver’s Riley Park/South Cambie neighbourhood in 1976. Over more than three decades, he has seen gradual changes in the community, which is bounded by 16th and 41st avenues and Fraser and Oak streets.
Without a doubt, the neighbourhood will continue to evolve. But nothing Dooley has experienced is likely to compare with the changes that will be brought about by two major plans currently being discussed.
Near the intersection of Main Street and East 33rd Avenue, there’s the proposed massive redevelopment of the former Little Mountain Housing site. This six-hectare property owned by the provincial government was once the site of the oldest social-housing complex in Vancouver.
As well, a planning process is under way to increase residential and commercial densities on Cambie Street, the route of the Canada Line, in an effort to boost the ridership of the new SkyTrain branch. Last July, city council approved the terms of reference for the Cambie Corridor Planning Program, which covers the area between 16th Avenue and Southwest Marine Drive.
“These are significant changes, and we recognize that these changes are going to happen,” Dooley, who attended the March 25 Little Mountain advisory committee meeting, said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “We’re not going to say that this is entirely wrong.”
However, residents in this mostly single-family-residential area want a more meaningful say in how their community is going to be transformed.
“We have a certain kind of quality of life and character of our community, and we’d like to see that respected to a certain degree,” he said. “We understand that density is going to occur, and there are going to be more people living in our area. But we wanted to see it done in a manner that respects the existing residents and uses a type of architecture that enhances the community, which are lower-rise buildings. They tend to produce more social interchange, more people on the street looking after each other and taking care of each other, as opposed to very large towers.”
Dooley said that presentations by the Holborn Group, the developer selected by the province for the Little Mountain site, didn’t provide answers to questions from residents regarding details like the height of buildings and the number of housing units to be built.
The retired college instructor doesn’t expect such information to be forthcoming at the two open houses that will be held at Riley Park Community Centre (50 East 30th Avenue), on June 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and June 15 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
In November 2005, the city approved the Riley Park/South Cambie Community Vision, a document that, among others, expressed the residents’ desire not to see buildings higher than four storeys on the Little Mountain site.
However, a memorandum of understanding signed by the city and the province on June 8, 2007, brushed away this community preference. The agreement stated that buildings higher than four storeys should be considered.
According to Dooley, the Little Mountain project may bring as many as 5,000 new residents into the community. Before most of the two-storey walkups on the site were demolished late last year, there were a total of 224 housing units in the complex.
A city staff report last year regarding the Cambie-corridor development identified heights for future buildings near four Canada Line stations. Buildings located in the vicinity of King Edward Station may reach six to eight storeys. Future structures near Oakridge–41st Avenue Station can go from six to 12 storeys.
“People want to live in Vancouver, and we do have a transit line that has to be used,” Dooley said. “What we’re really involved in is ensuring the integrity of the consultation process. So that when the population sees aspects where we think that there should be changes in the planning process and how it’s implemented, or that we think there had been assumptions made by the city about sizes of buildings, for example, that may be inappropriate for the community, if there are good alternatives, that will achieve the same results of density but with different building types.”
Two open houses for the Cambie planning process will be held this month. The first happens today (June 3) from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chown Memorial and Chinese United Church (3519 Cambie Street). The second will be held on Saturday (June 5) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Oakridge Centre Auditorium (650 West 41st Avenue).