A proposal to allow taller buildings in downtown Vancouver received strong criticism from some residents gathered at the city’s public library Tuesday evening.
At a public forum organized by West End neighbourhood activist Randy Helten, speakers and audience members raised concerns about the potential impacts of taller buildings on view corridors, the environment and on housing for residents of the Downtown Eastside.
City council is scheduled to vote on staff recommendations for two reports, the Vancouver Views and Higher Buildings in the Downtown report and the Historic Area Heights Review, at a planning and environment committee meeting on January 20.
YouTube video featuring highlights from the public meeting (with a somewhat misleading title, because nobody in the video mentions 80-storey buildings)
The Vancouver Views report recommends that allowances be made for taller buildings at seven sites in the downtown area.
Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project said her organization will be asking city council to reject staff recommendations on the Historic Area Heights Review out of concern for the potential impacts of gentrification on Downtown Eastside residents.
“What we’re concerned about with tall buildings is the impact of gentrification on human beings and on the lives of vulnerable people who have really no place to go if they’re pushed out of their own community by condo towers,” she said.
She said condo buildings can have a “ripple effect” on the area’s low-income residents.
“Condos push up land prices in surrounding areas,” she told the group. “With higher land prices, hotels increase their rent so low-income people can’t afford to rent a cheap room, which is the last stop before homelessness.”
In a presentation during the public forum, Steve Bohus argued that the building heights report is misleading in illustrating how much view corridors could be impacted by the proposed taller buildings.
Randy Chatterjee voiced concerns about the energy costs of high-rise buildings.
“These things use about 10 times more energy to heat than the low-rise houses that some of us like,” he said.
“There’s no way around it, these things are dinosaurs. Whether you believe in peak oil or just the higher prices of energy, these things are a disaster waiting to happen.”
Helten, who has started up the website www.cityhallwatch.ca, said concerns about the way in which the building heights report was introduced are symptomatic of what he sees as an unfair system for land use planning in the city.
“Information is released late, at the very last moment, decisions are made as quickly as possible before people can notice what’s going on, information is either got errors in it or it is inaccurate or misleading - there’s a lot of problems,” Helten told the Straight following the meeting.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said the view corridor issue is not a new one.
“The issue of view corridors was debated at length last year,” Meggs told the group Tuesday. “The issue was should we relax the view corridors...and council’s decision was very clear – no...the views stay.”
Helten argues the city doesn’t have enough information on either of the reports, and he wants to see council get independent reviews on the staff recommendations before voting on them.
“They’re saying that there was consultations...but the point is not the length of the discussion, it’s the quality of the discussion, and the depth of it, and the independent views expressed, and that’s what we’re not hearing,” he said.
COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth said she plans to introduce a motion to city council next Tuesday asking city staff to inform councillors of all the density across the city and what can be developed in other areas, and “not to proceed with these tall towers until we have that information.”
The city’s director of planning, Brent Toderian, announced the city will be holding a public information session next week in advance of the January 20 meeting. Staff are scheduled to vote on the staff recommendations following presentations from the public.
“I heard some continued misinformation here, so we’re working on making sure that we get the accurate information as to the nature of staff’s recommendations on the website, and that’s why we’re going to hold another information session before the 20th,” he told the Straight.