John Weldon: My concerns about planning directions in the West End

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      By John Weldon

      In the general terms of reference for the three community plans in Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, and the West End, reference was made to the fact that the roles and responsibilities of community-liaison groups would be discussed with community stakeholders.

      No such discussion took place in the West End and the watchdog-process advisory role of liaison groups in previous planning processes was eliminated—with the role of the new neighbourhood champions network confined to assisting staff with engagement.

      Only two face-to-face meetings between staff and the neighbourhood champions network have taken place. This is the result of a very top-down planning model with the city controlling the planning process and decision making. 

      A community plan should be bottom up, with the community involved in all stages of the plan—including decision making—especially with conflict between a city housing affordability agenda relying on spot rezoning and the major concerns in our community relating to building scale and height, and neighbourhood character. The present process is not representative of a truly collaborative community plan. It is the city's plan for our community based on a deeply flawed planning model.  

      An increase of 9,000 people representing 20 percent of the population is projected over the 30-year course of the plan. No meaningful discussion has taken place with the community concerning this projection, or with respect to neighbourhood equity relating to environmental sustainability and densification.

      Substantial density is being added to our already dense community, while other city communities are permitted to continue with relatively unsustainable land uses. The West End is not shy in contributing its share to meeting global, regional, and citywide challenges, but when certain privileged neighbourhoods are let off the hook, this can only add to the increasing lack of trust between many neighbourhoods and the city. Work on a citywide plan should not be a prerequisite for this conversation to take place.

      At a recent Urban Design Panel discussion of the West End planning directions, reservations were expressed by panel members concerning the ability of the plan to withstand anticipated strong development pressure in our neighbourhood areas. How can this plan uphold its intention to protect these areas when applications for bonus density under programs such as Rental 100 are so heavily encouraged and supported by council? 1401 Comox is an example of this, a development out of scale with the immediate neighbourhood, where the developer received almost five times the permitted density and was exempt from paying a development cost levy and a community amenity contribution in return for providing market rental housing at rents beyond the reach of most West Enders, who were not in favour of this project.   

      Allowing for an increase of 9,000, why more residential towers? The West End was downzoned in 1969-73 for very good reason because residents felt a need for future development at a more human scale up to a maximum of seven storeys. I doubt very much that residents want to see the possibility of a wall of up to 20 storey towers along west Davie Street as outlined in the plan directions.

      At the same Urban Design Panel meeting previously mentioned, a staff member said that a strategy was adopted to go aggressive in the outer frame of the community and that some finessing was required. I would suggest that more than that would be required to satisfy most residents.

      The 18- to 21-month planning period has been a failure on account of the pressure on staff to complete the process within a timeline that has not allowed for truly collaborative engagement, meaningful dialogue, community capacity building, and effective widespread involvement. This has added to the increasing lack of trust previously mentioned.

      Finally, I request that the process be extended for another six months to ensure that the community and its representatives are given a sense of ownership of a plan that has the approval of most of our residents.

      This is a transcript of remarks made by West End resident John Weldon to Vancouver planning department staff at an August 28 meeting organized by West End Neighbours.




      Aug 30, 2013 at 10:00am

      The plan to downzone the West End is from the late 1980s not 1969-73, I know as I was there. Civic amnesia is standard operating policy for politicians bureaucrats and residents in Vancouver. The last plan was supposed to take us to 2020, provide stability, affordability and livability. West Enders used to joke that the city wanted to ring us in with huge towers and then brick in the gaps. If increased density is good for us then it is good for all the city. Why should our area be targeted again?


      Aug 31, 2013 at 2:32am

      Well said Mr. Weldon. I can only hope more residents of the West End will share their opinions with staff and Council in an attempt to create a community plan that provides some predictability and protects (and enhances?) the existing livable neighbourhood. To date, the public consultation appears to be fluff. Some hard facts are needed.


      Sep 4, 2013 at 11:23am

      Metro Vancouver's projection for 2040 is an additional 1.2M people to the 2006 figure of 2.2M. If the region is getting one-third more, as a region, why wouldn't the West End get 20% more?

      Now, how you get those bodies in, with minimal disruption to the existing users and their quality of life, that is very important. But you know that the West End is going to be getting more people, right? Are you planning to build a wall?


      Sep 14, 2013 at 9:53am

      Vision Vancouver and the planning department have demonstrated to the West End and many other neighbourhoods in Vancouver how utterly futile it is to attempt to influence them in a direction other than endless, reckless and poorly planned density. Besides, they haven’t been following the last plan, what makes anyone think they will follow this one? Site by site rezoning will continue to be the order of the day.

      I suggest that those angry at Vision (and who isn’t at this point?) focus their energies on the next municipal election and kicking this bunch out of office. Nothing less is going to do the trick.