A proposal that could bring mid- and high-rise towers to the Commercial and Broadway area is drawing criticism from residents in the neighbourhood.
Jak King, president of the Grandview Woodland Area Council, told the Georgia Straight that he was shocked when the city released an “emerging land use directions” map for the area, including proposed plans for high-rise and mid-rise buildings next to Commercial-Broadway Station, row houses along Nanaimo Street, stacked townhouses along East 1st Avenue, and increased heights along East Hastings Street.
“We’ve been speaking to the planners for almost the last year, and not once did land-use or rezoning proposals of the kind they’ve just issued come up in any of those discussions, so that when the emerging directions book and the accompanying map showed up on the first of June, it was really quite a shock to everyone, most especially for those who have been involved in the process,” he said by phone. “While we understand the need for some level of densification, this is just really going far too far.”
King said the area council is calling for the draft plan to be significantly delayed to allow for “substantive engagement” with the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, former Grandview-Woodland resident Fernando Medrano, whose children go to school in the neighbourhood, has described the planning process as “a bit stealthy”.
“I think as we’ve seen in the last few kerfuffles around Mount Pleasant and Chinatown, the city is trying to push building heights and densities that are just beyond what the neighbourhoods can tolerate,” Medrano stated.
Chris Roine, who has lived in the community for about 20 years, said he’s concerned about the proposal to allow four- to six-storey buildings in some areas along Nanaimo Street, and three- or four-storey townhouses near parks in the area.
“We think that that’s really inappropriate and we think it would totally undermine and change the character of the neighbourhood,” he said in a phone interview. “City staff have already
acknowledged that we have the lowest amount of green space per resident in the city, and they’re just going to be cramming more people without any plans to increase the green space.”
Roine also expressed concerns about the planning process. The city began holding events associated with the plan last spring.
“They had a series of community meetings over the last year and a half, and they…seemed specific,” he stated. “They wanted to talk about heritage and talk about affordable housing and tons of different issues, and it wasn’t evident from those meetings that what was in the cards was this major densification proposal.”
Resident Kristina Spring echoed Roine’s concerns, calling the process “quite deceiving”.
“They’re saying ‘oh we’ve been consulting with the community for a year’, but the signs they put up said things like come out and let us know how you feel about community gardens…but it didn’t say here’s a map of what our intentions are for rezoning your community, get us some feedback,” she said. “Once they proposed that, they gave us 30 days. And I’d still say probably 10 percent of the community knows about it.”
Matt Shillito, assistant director of community planning for Vancouver, said the city is arranging some “additional steps”, including a workshop focused on the proposed plans for the Commercial and Broadway SkyTrain area on Saturday (July 6) at 10 a.m.
“We’ve certainly heard the concern about the timeline, and we’re looking at what we can do to do some additional steps to make sure there’s enough conversation and dialogue about the plan, particularly around Commercial-Broadway, where the most concern has been raised,” he said in a phone interview.
Shillito said community-planning workshops focused on a range of topics, including housing, transportation, and arts and culture, and looked at various sub-areas where development might take place.
The Grandview-Woodland Area Council is inviting the public to discuss the city’s draft plan in the meeting room above Eastside Family Place (1655 William Street) on Monday (July 8) at 7 p.m. The group is also gathering signatures for a petition calling for a delay of at least six months on the draft plan to allow for public input.
“I think there is a realization we have to densify to some extent, not this sort of extent that the planners are talking about,” King said. “I think had we had the option to discuss different ways of dealing with that rather than been given a plan that’s kind of a take-it-or-leave-it option, that would have been so much better.”