Vancouver’s Cambie neighbourhood faces growth, residents want input

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      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).



      Clive Bottomley

      Jun 4, 2010 at 8:33pm

      Cambie corridor planning proposal in the King Edward station area

      We are owners in the Cambie and King Edward area. We enjoy our home and view on W. 26th and we are now extremely concerned. We attended the Open house on June 3rd and we were shocked by the heights that will be allowed by this proposed plan. The proposal is 6 storys on the South side of King Edward between Cambie and Ash, and between Cambie and Yukon, and 6-8 storys on the North side. Between Ash and Heather and Yukon and Manitoba the proposal is 4 storys on both the south and north side. We had been keeping an eye on this knowing that some kind of increased density would be proposed near the King Ed RAV station. What we had expected was 3 story townhouses on King Ed (just like on 16th Ave.) and 6 to 8 storys on Cambie only. The city website leads one to believe, via a little map, of an Interim rezoning policy that only the parcels of land that border Cambie would be considered for taller 6-8 story buildings, and shows nothing down King Edward.
      I would suggest that this kind of density only be on Cambie Street where there are currently business buildings as well as already having higher density apartments. It makes more sense to add to the density there as it fits better with what is already there, instead of building a wall of 6 to 8 story apartments on King Edward right in front of or beside 1 to 2 ½ story single family dwellings. The appropriate way of increasing density for this area would be lower townhouses or more laneway homes or coach houses.
      If you live on 26th or 24th you need to understand that you could have a 6 story building (or 8 story for 24th) across the lane from you and yet your zoning remains single family. The view is gone (or the sunlight in your backyard is gone) and the property value is gone. And for residents in the few blocks north or south of that, you will also see a reduction in property values due to loss of view or due to your proximity to a development like this.
      We want to inform the residents in the area what is being proposed because this has not been very well publicized by the city, nor is the full extent of this plan available to view on the city’s website so it is only by attending the Open House that you get a real sense of what could happen. It feels a little like the city is trying to quietly slip this through. It is a developers dream and a single family homeowners nightmare. We were told by some of the staff that the 6-8 story heights are to entice developers, because the developers don’t make enough money on 3 story townhouses so they aren’t really interested unless they get more height.
      We hope residents exercise their opportunity to voice their concerns and make a difference to the rezoning plan by attending the last Open House
      Saturday, June 5, 10 am - 4 pm
      Oakridge Centre Auditorium
      650 W 41st Avenue (at Cambie Street)
      For more information email or call James O'Neill at 604.871.6947.
      If people are unable to attend the open house, please consider writing to James O’Neill with your concerns (before the June 10th deadline).

      Carey Murphy

      Jun 5, 2010 at 6:10am

      Points we considered while reviewing the display at the open house:
      Ӣ 49th Avenue at Cambie shows only 4 story buildings along south side of 49th, but should be preferred over King Ed area for densification. Langara College is in close proximity more housing for students needed. Slope of the land such that views and property value will not be significantly affected. Taller buildings there make more sense than in the King Ed area.
      Ӣ Density should be focused on Cambie Street only, there are apartments and office buildings already.
      ”¢ ”˜Shadow studies’ figure into the city’s determination of building size, doesn’t appear to be any ”˜loss of views’ studies. Building tall structures along east/west axis like King Ed puts it across the view corridors.
      Ӣ City should first allow the laneway home program to be studied after 150 of these homes are built and re-access then. If the program is a success, then increasing that form of densification is the way to go, instead of one or two blocks of 6 to 8 story towers. Stratification of coach houses is allowed in the city hall area and that would speed up the coach house or laneway house program in this area.
      Ӣ On 16th Ave. Between Cambie and Oak there are 3 story apartment buildings. Why such a need for 6 to 8 story buildings on King Ed? Is it really necessary that so many units be that close to RAV Line. Spread the density out over an easily walkable distance of several blocks
      ”¢ No “level playing field”. A 6-8 story building right across a narrow lane from you in a normal house and your zoning remains single family, that's terrible!
      ”¢ King Ed area obviously of interest to Developers, but they want buildings with a lot of units in them. The more height they get, the more units they can add per plot of land bought. Developers will pressure city for significant zoning changes. With meetings and open houses being poorly publicized most residents don’t know they even have a forum to voice their opinion. If there is only a small amount of negative response due to poor attendance the city will take that as a green light. The city talks about making zoning changes that are ”˜viable’ for developers. They seem intent on doing this here at the expense of the existing residents and against the grain of the existing neighbourhood feel.
      This excerpt from the article basically sums it up ..."We understand that density is going to occur, ... 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.”
      The city website doesn't contain key details of these proposed plans, including max building heights, the question is why? When we contacted the city they said they would try to get the information up by early next week. But, the deadline for residents to comment on these changes to their community is June 10th. Doesn't feel like the city wants real input on their plan to give away our neighbourhood to the developers.

      Victor Lee

      Jun 7, 2010 at 12:07am

      I also live in the area and this is the first time that I ever heard of anything like this and it's supposed to be into the final stages of Phase 2 already. I don't like the fact that this has gotten this far without any real neighbourhood notification. It definitely smells fishy.
      The loss of the view will be a big hit as many of my neighbours bought into this area because of the great downtown and mountain views. A 6 -storey building in front of us will just be a towering wall to the north and the east. There has been no thought in massing transition at all otherwise, why would a 6 storey tower be allowed right beside a 2 storey home? We're talking about 3 times the size difference.

      In addition, this extreme densification would bring on much more people to an area which is predominately single-family in character. I think a townhouses, rowhouses, or 3 storey walk-up develipments fit the area much better.

      Clive Bottomley

      Jun 8, 2010 at 1:59am

      The city website finally has posted some material that was previously only available at the two recent Cambie corridor open houses that were very poorly promoted.

      The dissappointing thing is that they still don't show anywhere on the site that the proposal calls for 6 story apartment buildings between Cambie and Ash and Cambie and Yukon on the south side of King Edward and 6-8 storys on the north side, and 4 story apartments buildings between Ash and Heather and Yukon and Manitoba on both sides of King Ed.

      Residents can't answer all the questions on the city's comments sheets without seeing the large scale Cambie Corridor “super poster” and knowing what the heights proposed in their area are.

      I really wish the city wasn't afraid to tell the truth... the whole truth.

      Stephen Rees

      Jun 8, 2010 at 12:42pm

      "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"

      The purpose of the process is to increase the density - that in itself is the objective - since denser communities are much more energy efficient, much healthier - people walk and cycle more, more sociable - people actually get to meet their neighbours and so on. Transportation and land use have to be planned together. For most of the last fifty years it has been assumed that people want to drive everywhere. We planned for cars, not people. That has been bad for us and bad for the planet. Ridership on the Canada Line may increase too, but there are a whole host of indicators when one thinks in terms of a sustainable future. This kind of journalistic over simplification plays into the inherent conservatism that distrusts any kind of change - but change we must if we are going to survive as a species!

      Clive Bottomley

      Jun 8, 2010 at 1:19pm

      An update to say the city does now have the large scale Cambie Corridor "super poster" up on their site. It is under a clickable link called "A draft Emerging Plan for the Corridor" which gives you a PDF file that can be zoomed.

      Evil Eye

      Jun 8, 2010 at 1:19pm

      The RAV/Canada line metro was not built under Cambie St. as an example of good public transit, it was done to inflate property values to expedite rezoning to much higher densities of selected properties to give windfall profits for an elite few.

      It would be well worth investigating just who owns the properties to be rezoned and see if the owners donated to the BC Liberal Party.

      Clive Bottomley

      Jun 9, 2010 at 2:17am

      Addressing the statements made by Mr. Rees

      “since denser communities are much more energy efficient, much healthier - people walk and cycle more, more sociable - people actually get to meet their neighbours and so on.”

      I won’t argue the energy efficiency part and I’m not really sure what he means by “much healthier”. As far as the “people walk and cycle more” that only happens if it is a complete community with food stores, coffee shops, other needed businesses and community centres etc. in the immediate area. Building a wall of 6-8 story buildings doesn't guarantee any of the occupants will be walking or biking anywhere, unless you make it a condition that they can't register a car in their name, and you can't do that. Most of these units with likey be 2 car households.

      I disagree completely with the “more Sociable – people actually get to meet their neighbours and so on.” The only way that would happen is if it was several smaller low level (3 story) row houses or town homes that had separate street level entrances or garden space out front. That way, people would bump into each as they are coming and going or hang out in the garden space. If the density comes via higher forms of housing with a single entrance and multiple floors then the occupants enter, ride the elevator to their floor and go straight into their suite often not knowing most of their neighbour’s names. Maybe they talk about the weather on the way up in the elevator but generally in larger apartment buildings it is a very anonymous existence. I’ve been there and seen that.

      I’m not against an increase in density, per se, just against certain types of higher density forms that don’t fit with the existing neighbourhood, don’t respect the current homeowners and don’t achieve the more sociable, neighbourly goals talked about by Mr. Rees. One of the best ideas in this area is the current Laneway house program which is a sensitive way to help increase density. Laneway houses are efficient, affordable housing and in most cases an existing house could be kept. Laneway houses also beautify lanes and make the lanes a safer place, a place people would like to walk. The back of an apartment block is usually a place to avoid. The neighbourhood wants a more sensible and more gradual approach to achieving higher density instead of a ”˜one big swoop’ attack on the tiny radius around the RAV station. Spread it out a little... NO TOWERS on King Edward.

      Carey Murphy

      Jun 9, 2010 at 1:54pm

      I’m not against increased density but I am against high density at and near the King Ed station. I reject the notion that we need to provide housing that is a mere 1-3 minute walk from the station and that walking 5-10 minutes is not acceptable. The reason for the proposed plan of 4-6-8 story buildings on King Ed no more than 2 blocks from the station is simply for the benefit of Developers. It’s a beautiful area and these units are not going to be affordable housing. We purchased a property 5 years ago. We improved it by way of a major renovation 4 years ago. We worked hard to afford this. It is less than 2 years since the renovation is complete and that we are able to enjoy and appreciate the natural view corridor. It wasn’t handed to us. We’ve made choices that have meant significant sacrifices (no 2nd car, no trips, no ski holidays, no expensive toys/hobbies, virtually no entertainment, no gardener & no clothing budget). We traded those for something that meant more to us. It takes 2 incomes and all the savings we can muster. It meant $80,000 of credit card debt on top of mortgage payments for a period of time. Why does the City allow major renovations and new builds that obviously capitalize on views north when it knows it plans to allow 4, 6 or 8 stories building to be built in front of them? We aren’t the only ones. There are others in our area in a similar situation. The proposed zoning could see a 6 story building directly to the north of our property (across the lane). It will obliterate any view and leave us in the shadow of towering apartment buildings, overlooked with no privacy and likely with a view of the dumpsters and problem areas that lanes become behind large buildings (there is no pride of ownership in the lane behind an apartment building). And just why is all this high density a necessity? Is it because we need to limit the walking distance to the station to 3 minutes or else people won’t buy in the area? Hmmm”¦no it’s not about that. It’s about the Developers getting their way and getting rich and the City realizing their eco-density vision quickly. Our entire view will be sold to a hundred buyers in one building and yet the city will leave us zoned as single family. The solution is this: lower density housing that fits in with the neighbourhood and radiates further out from the station. These are large land lots in this area and this area would be a superb candidate for strata housing and coach houses similar to the program in the City Hall area. The city should respect and consider the existing neighbourhood and the residents who live here!

      Jo-Anne Pringle

      Jun 14, 2010 at 12:12am

      Clive - I just saw you on the news (Sunday 11:30pm newscast). Frances Bula interviewed me two weeks ago and then did an article in the Globe & Mail regarding the development at Canada Line Marine Drive Station - our neighbourhood is being faced with a huge tower with a very unappealing design. You mentioned on the news tonight that you needed to get something going to deal with your situation. Please e-mail me and I can tell you what we are working on in Marpole to address our issue down here.