Homeless in Vancouver: Deconstructing the real start date of Broadway subway construction

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      Work on the Broadway subway will begin in 2020 we are told.

      But does that mean construction of the 5.7-kilometre extension to the SkyTrain Millennium Line will begin in less than three months?

      Almost certainly not.

      The 2020 start date for the Broadway subway was again announced at the end of September, when the provincial government opened a Broadway Subway Community Office at 1212 West Broadway. It's in the former location of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon.

      I intend to visit this office at the first opportunity—in search of free Broadway subway keychains and mouse pads, if nothing else.

      The dirt will not start flying in 83 days

      The new Broadway Subway Community Office seen September 4 in the lightning-like flash of my new-old 2008 Sony Cybershot.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      According to the B.C. government’s media release, the Broadway Subway Community Office is open “Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of statutory holidays. Hours will be increased to five days a week when construction gets underway in 2020”.

      Yeah, yeah, there’s that start date again.

      What I want to know is when in 2020 will construction get underway.

      According to an email reply from City of Vancouver spokesperson Dannielle Finney:

      “More details on the timing of construction will be known after the contractor is selected in mid-2020, and will be posted to the Province’s project website…”.

      “Mid-2020” suggests that actual physical construction of the subway will not begin before summer, or fall of 2020.

      On top of that, the very latest sign of Broadway subway activity (the development application signs that have gone up on 1489 West Broadway) further suggests that some major surface work relating to the station construction for the subway may not be able to begin before 2021 at the earliest.

      Waiting for the Broadway plan

      Using a hammer drill to put the last nails in the coffin of the old RBC building at 1489 West Broadway.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      In the last week of September, the City of Vancouver finally received an application (DP-2019-200704) from PCI Developments to knock down and rebuild the two next-door addresses of 1489 and 1465 West Broadway as one five-storey building. The company is hoping for four floors of office space sitting atop ground-floor retail, six underground levels of parking, and the entrance for the Granville subway station.

      Details of this redevelopment were first surfaced on my blog in July, after I found a set of blueprints in a Dumpster.

      But while the blueprints answered the question of exactly where the Granville subway station entrance would be located, they raised other questions about the final height of the new building.

      Not only was six underground parking levels (332 stalls) overkill for a five-storey office building, but the blueprints for the “office” building included a mysterious vertical feature labelled in one cross-section as a “future residential elevator”.

      Happily, the Vancouver Courierin covering the development application, has seeming answered the conundrum posed by the blueprints: why do the present plans for a five-storey office building include a “future residential elevator” and enough underground parking for a 40-storey tower?

      According to the Courier’s Naoibh O’Connor, the answer is that PCI is hedging its bets.

      The developer has submitting an application for the five storeys worth of density allowed under the current C-3A zoning of the site but has, at the same time, included an excess of parking, as well as an additional elevator shaft. That's just in case the City of Vancouver’s not-yet-completed Broadway plan significantly increases the allowed density, as many expect it will.

      As O’Connor explains in the Courier:

      “Through the Broadway Plan, the site might be identified for greater density, which is why PCI’s current development permit application includes six levels of underground parking and extra elevator core for future consideration. Once the Broadway Plan is completed, PCI will amend its development plans to suit the plan’s outcome”.

      However, if its final design of the redevelopment of 1489 West Broadway is waiting on the finished Broadway plan, PCI will have to wait for more than a year.

      The city is not expecting to release the finalized Broadway plan before December 2020.

      There is no reason why PCI may not begin knocking down 1489 West Broadway beginning early in 2020; the last tenant—an RBC bank branch—will be gone well before the end of the 2019. The demolition may even take a while, given the size and likelihood of all kinds of asbestos lurking in the 62-year-old building.

      But given what I understand, I do not believe that PCI will be able to begin actually building anything on the site for over a year and a half.

      The PCI development application and Courier article about it answered another question that I had been putting to the three commercial tenants of 1465 West Broadway since August.

      By then I was being told by a knowledgeable source that 1465 had been sold and that the tenants had been given notice to vacate by December 31. However, the one tenant who replied to my inquiries was unwilling to confirm the building sale, saying only that a sale was being negotiated.

      Now that the development application covering 1489 and 1465 has been submitted, we know that the sale of the building to PCI has been completed.

      The Courier article further quotes the developer PCI to the effect that the tenants have been aware of the plans and that, in accordance with their leases [which I know included demolition clauses] they will be officially notified “within the next 30 days, of lease termination effective January 2020”.

      Early collateral damage of subway construction

      Future site of the Fairview-VGH station: 906 West Broadway, with a glimpse of the apartment building at 916, which will be levelled for construction staging area.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The question of notification of tenants also applies to affected property owned by the city and province along the route of the subway.

      On September 18 the provincial government announced the actual locations of the six underground stations along the line—with maps showing the collateral destruction of adjacent properties to provide space to store construction supplies and equipment.

      According to those maps, most of the 100 block of East Broadway will be demolished to make way for the Mount Pleasant station. In addition, the city-owned Leyland Apartments at 916 West Broadway will fall to provide a construction staging area for the Fairview-VGH station.

      And in the 1400 block—beside the PCI redevelopment, which will contain the actual Granville station—another five properties on the north side of the 1400 block of West Broadway—some owned by the city and some by TransLink—will be knocked down to provide staging area for the station.

      Which is to say that, yes, the entire north side of the 1400 block, save 1401 on the east corner, will fall like dominos because of the Broadway subway!

      My emails to tenants of those addresses marked as construction staging in the 1400 block have all gone unanswered, with the exception of the one sent to the occupant of 1431 West Broadway: the DeSerres art supply store.

      A DeSerres manager replied that: “to date the store has not received notice of the closure from the city”, adding:

      “We are aware that this area will be going through extensive changes due to the transit upgrades to the Broadway corridor, but have not been informed as to when this location will need to vacate. DeSerres plans to stay in the neighbourhood if possible to continue to service the art customers in our area”.

      City spokesperson Dannielle Finney addressed my question about notification of DeSerres as follows:

      “Regarding DeSerres, the commercial occupant of 1431 W Broadway, the City provided a lease termination notice letter to their head office in 2018 in accordance with the terms of the lease agreement between De Serres and the City of Vancouver.”

      The city-owned Tudor-style apartment building at 916 West Broadway, one building west of the intersection with Laurel Street.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      As for the city-owned, three-storey Leyland Apartments at 916 West Broadway, the Vancouver spokesperson indicated that the tenants had been notified and would be assisted in finding new housing, as per the city’s recently enhanced Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy:

      “…the City notified renters at 916 W Broadway in April 2019 that their property would be needed for construction. The City is in communication with the renters and will be assisting them to find alternative accommodation as per the City’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy. They were also notified of the additional assistance available to them through the City’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy, which includes financial compensation and support with moving costs.”

      Journalist that I am, I completely forgot to ask the city anything about 906 West Broadway, the corner property—currently occupied by a psychic and a car rental company—where the future entrance of the Fairview-VGH station is to be located.

      That, I guess, can wait for another post. I, apparently, have plenty of time.