Debate on height review for the Downtown Eastside sent to public hearing

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."



Clinton James

Jan 20, 2011 at 4:57pm

DTES ... now stands for " Destroy That EyeSore "

Peter Oxford

Jan 20, 2011 at 5:55pm

This means that instead of delaying all plans until public consultation is completed in December 2011, the city is trying to defer public input while rushing ahead with existing plans under the Height Review. According to a Carnegie Community Action Project press release, “five of the condo sites in Chinatown may be going to public hearing in February and could still go ahead.” City policy recognizes that Chinatown is inside the downtown eastside, but now they are treating the Chinatown as a separate entity in order to avoid criticism and input. According to Harold Lavender of CCAP, ”I live in Chinatown and they just broke the DTES into artificial pieces based on the priorities of developers. If I had a say, I could have influenced their decision. This process is a travesty.” If the city is actually serious about hearing from the downtown eastside, they will stop condo plans for chinatown until at least December 31, 2011.

Bill McCreery 1

Jan 20, 2011 at 10:06pm

Agreed PR, the process is not only a "travesty" but a shambles as well. I have never witnessed a completely out of control management of public affairs as this one today. Vision originally brought the "EMERGENCY" motion at 12.45pm to defer, sort of, partly, the HAHR motion scheduled to be debated at the 2pm session of Council. After feeling the heat of the opposition Councillors and the gallery, within 30 minutes the Mayor said that "someone [Councillor Huie, when he introduced the emergency motion in fact] had said this motion was an emergency, but it really wasn't, it was just urgent". That one just sun off the chart.

I spoke to several people who arrived in the meantime expecting to speak. They went home shaking their head, as I'm sure all Vancouverites are doing today.

On the technical side, 2 respected and learned groups have condemned this report as well as several respected architects and planners.

The related High Buildings Downtown motion and the attached reports are no better. Both reports are missing important analysis and information, and are presented in misleading ways. This entire, so called planning process is being done piecemeal. It's not surprising that from a fragmented, incomplete process you get fragmented, incomplete results.