A day after Vancouver city council voted to delay a proposal to allow higher buildings in the Downtown Eastside, housing activists say their fight to prevent towers in the neighbourhood isn’t over.
A motion introduced by Vision Vancouver councillors yesterday was passed just hours before nearly 80 speakers were scheduled to speak on the Historic Area Height Review, which proposes allowing buildings of up to 12 and 15 storeys in certain areas of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
The Chinatown rezoning discussion has now been referred to a public hearing within the next few weeks, while the proposal for higher building allowances in parts of the Downtown Eastside, including the Victory Square and Hastings and Main areas, has been put on hold pending further consultation.
The motion passed by council indicates a community committee will be struck to develop a land use area plan for the region by the end of the year. The issue will likely go back to council for approval sometime next year, according to Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer.
But housing advocates say they would like to see Chinatown included in the area plan, and they intend to bring a list of demands to the public hearing.
“We’re still going to fight very hard to stop the towers in Chinatown,” Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) told the Straight by phone today (January 21).
“We don’t want to leave any of our low-income residents behind in this planning process, and there’s a good chunk of people living in Chinatown that are part of the Downtown Eastside.”
Some Downtown Eastside community groups like CCAP have been opposing the taller buildings proposal since 2008, according to Pedersen. She says highrise towers in the area could have negative “ripple effects” on the low-income community, including driving up land prices, loss of low-income housing, rent increases and loss of low-income stores.
“We need to unite with Chinatown and not let this divide and conquer move force these towers through,” she said.
But Reimer, who was one of the councillors who helped to draft the motion, said the city has heard strong support for highrise towers from Chinatown organizations that are advocating economic revitalization in the area.
“The Chinatown associations and the different people who have traditionally, historically and contemporarily been very involved in those debates felt like they had worked hard to come to agreement, and that this report reflected that agreement,” Reimer told the Straight by phone today (January 21).
“The Downtown Eastside community strongly has said they want a community-led planning process, Chinatown has strongly indicated support for the pieces that are moving forward,” she added. “If Chinatown subsequently has a strong interest and support in being involved in a Downtown Eastside planning process then I think that would be a positive step. But it’s a discussion that hasn’t been happening.”
Pedersen said council’s decision to put off the Downtown Eastside portion of the rezoning proposal is a victory for housing activists.
“This is the second time that we’ve moved council on something in the last few months,” said Pedersen. “I think this is a good sign, and I think people should be encouraged, and they should organize. It’s so important.”
Council's move came a day after a letter signed by 29 academics called on the city not to proceed with the height review until a community based planning process is conducted.
Reimer said the public hearing will likely be scheduled for sometime between mid-February and early March.
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.