Vision Vancouver councillors voted to cancel scheduled appearances of up to 80 people today on the Historic Area Height Review, and to launch a public hearing and a Downtown Eastside community committee.
COPE councillors David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth and NPA councillor Suzanne Anton spoke out against the surprise motion, which was introduced by Councillor Raymond Louie just hours before speakers were scheduled to address council.
“I think it’s appalling the way this is coming before us,” Woodsworth told council. “This motion needs to have an opportunity for public input.”
The motion called for the report, which proposes building height changes to some sites in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, to be referred to public hearing and for city staff to conduct a social impact study on low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside.
The motion also calls for a community committee to be struck “to enhance and accelerate a DTES local area plan.”
The committee will be co-chaired by a member of the Downtown Neighbourhood Council, one member of the Building Community Society, and a representative from the Strathcona Residents Association. The motion states that the committee should be completed by December 31, 2011.
Cadman said while he doesn’t dispute the content of the motion, he couldn’t support the way in which it was introduced.
“This is another blow to democracy by this council,” said Anton. “[The motion] says to me you are afraid of hearing the 80 speakers who are on this list.”
Vision Vancouver councillors spoke in support of delaying implementation of the report to seek more input from Downtown Eastside residents.
“We have heard loud and clear from the people in the Downtown Eastside that they needed to be at the table, involved in the process, before we moved along and moved ahead with the process,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “We responded.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told reporters she received significant correspondence from Downtown Eastside community organizations, calling for the city to implement the local area plan and social impact study that council committed to last January.
"We could have heard from 90 more people today, in a addition to the several hundred that I and I think others have heard from, but the message seemed quite consistent, that they wanted a community-led planning process, and that's what council approved today," she said.
Ivan Drury, a member of the board of directors of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, called the cancellation of the speakers list a "rotten process," but he said council's decision for more discussion with the community on the proposal is a victory.
"We worked very hard on this, and we've seen that the city has finally been feeling the pressure of this widespread opposition to the condo towers," he said.
"It's a victory for the day, beyond today the struggle has to continue."
Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project suspected the decision is prompted by council "feeling the heat" over a letter sent by academics to council this week, and over more than 50 speakers signed up to speak.
"It only covers three of the eight sub-areas in the Downtown Eastside," she said of the resolution. "They haven't heard the community - they've shut the community up. We had no input into the resolution, which has a lot of bad things to it, and I don't know if we can agree to it or not."
"I'm totally offended," Chinatown resident Harold Lavender told the Straight following council's vote on the motion.
"Basically I came here and I had things to say, I had concerns, and basically city council has acted pre-emptively because there's so much opposition and the plan won't fly. But I've been essentially denied my right to speak, denied my input into what I think the future of the whole neighbourhood should be."