Vancouver City Hall sometimes deals with the most contentious planning issues during the summer. In 2011, the Vision Vancouver–controlled council pushed through a massive rezoning of Shannon Mews near the corner of Granville Street and West 57th Avenue on July 29. This allowed the number of housing units to more than quadruple on the site.
Last year on June 27, the Vision-controlled council voted in favour of a controversial rezoning of St. John’s Church at 1401 Comox Street. It allowed 186 rental units against the objections of many residents.
This summer, the focus is on Grandview-Woodland, which is bounded by Clark Drive on the west, the waterfront on the north, Nanaimo Street on the east, and Grandview Highway to the south.
The city is laying a foundation for intense densification around the Commercial-Broadway Station. According to one map on the city’s website, there could be one building up to 36 storeys on the Safeway site. That’s in addition to four nearby towers between 22 and 26 storeys, and another six between 18 and 22 storeys.
On city-hall watchdog Frances Bula’s blog, former Vancouver planner Frank Ducote claims that “this vision truly boggles my mind.”
“Circa 2000 or so some then-councillors considered this area, with its abundance of transportation investment, to be ripe for densification, up to and including towers,” he writes. “However, it would have [been] suicidal to try and impose those kinds of pro-development ideas then, completely against community values. What has happened since to so embolden staff and, presumably, the public consultation process, to bring forward such a fundamentally transformative set of ideas and policy directions now?”
The city’s assistant director of planning, Matt Shillito, told the Georgia Straight by phone that Broadway and Commercial is an “important transit-oriented development area”.
“We’ve heard concerns, in particular, about the form of development and the extent and the height of the tower forms that we’d identified,” he revealed.
In response to that, Shillito said that the city will hold a free, registration-only workshop between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. next Saturday (July 6). As the Straight went to press on June 26, the location hadn’t been disclosed.
Shillito emphasized that this will be “a practical exercise where we work through different ways of achieving the objective of introducing higher densities in that area with different forms of development”.
“It’s one of the most important regional nodes of transit already,” he added. “So there’s an existing planning rationale for increased density in the area. But certainly the potential for future expansion of that transit is an additional reason to look for increased density in the area, but it’s not the only one.”
The Grandview-Woodland Area Council plans to hold a community forum on the city’s draft community plan at 7 p.m. on July 8. It will take place in the community room above Eastside Family Place (1655 William Street).
The city has forecast that Grandview-Woodland’s population, based on existing zoning, could conceivably rise from 28,380 to 37,370. The document states that this “assumes the maximum residential floor space could be built on each site”.
However, this doesn’t take into account rezonings, in which council grants developers greater densities in return for community-amenity contributions.
The city’s draft community plan proposes focusing the majority of new development around the area’s two transit stations (Broadway-Commercial and VCC-Clark) and along arterial streets such as Hastings, Dundas, East 1st, Nanaimo, and Broadway.
The document states that building heights will remain the same along much of Commercial Drive. However, it recommends increased heights at “key locations”, defined as the intersections with Hastings, Venables, East 1st, “and selected sites” south of East 5th. And it raises the possibility of “modest increases to retail and commercial space…at key nodes” along Dundas, Nanaimo, Broadway, and East Hastings.
The draft plan also mentions the possibility of “long-term expansion of key facilities (including Britannia Community Centre)”, but there’s no suggestion of adding any housing on that site.
According to the city website, staff will finalize the plan this fall and winter before presenting it to the mayor and council for approval.