A West End neighbourhood activist is calling on the public to attend what he calls “an urgent public forum” on Tuesday (January 11) at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. Randy Helten, creator of the www.cityhallwatch.ca website, told the Georgia Straight by phone that the forum will focus on building heights, as well as on broader issues around city planning.
“It’s to engage the public in an open, fair, and transparent consultation of all of the key issues and decisions in our city,” Helten said.
On January 20, city council’s planning and environment committee is scheduled to vote on a staff report recommending that allowances be made for taller buildings downtown. Helten said he hopes council will postpone a decision pending further consultation. He also mentioned that he created his website to provoke public discussion about city land-use policies.
“We’ll exist as long as necessary to change the flawed land-use planning and consultation system in Vancouver,” Helten remarked.
The city’s director of planning, Brent Toderian, told the Straight that his staff looks forward to receiving commentary from all stakeholders on how to improve. “[We] have always believed strongly in the value of engagement and consultation,” he said.
Toderian added that there have been misconceptions about the staff’s recommendations regarding higher buildings. He noted that council instructed staff in January 2010 not to allow taller buildings that penetrate view corridors. He also said that the discussion now is about seven specific sites—not seven areas—in the downtown.
On only one of the seven sites will a building be permitted to reach 700 feet, according to Toderian. The current maximum height is 600 feet.
Other sites have varying height increases. Toderian said that some will change from 300 feet to 425 feet.
"All seven are different because they're in existing different zones," he emphasized.
The next highest increase is to 500 feet, he added.
“There is the misconception that we were talking about the whole CBD [central business district] going to 700 feet from 600, or the whole downtown area going to 700,” Toderian said.
Meanwhile, Helten also pointed out that council will vote on January 20 on separate staff recommendations regarding higher buildings in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. “It’s extremely significant,” he noted.
Toderian said that these recommendations, which hadn’t been made public by the Straight’s deadline, would implement a policy approved by council in January 2010. At that time, council chose not to change building heights in Gastown, but allowed “special sites” in Chinatown where building heights could reach up to 150 feet.
In addition, Toderian said, council asked staff to recommend additional special sites in Chinatown South to be considered “for purposes of economic revitalization”.