Laneway housing, new public gathering spaces, and a cultural hub are some of the proposals outlined in a long-term community plan for Vancouver’s West End. The draft 30-year plan is expected to go before city council this month.
Kevin McNaney, Vancouver’s assistant director of planning, noted the city is looking at creating more rental housing for families as part of the plan, including infill housing in laneways.
“Families are really struggling to find housing in the West End, and we saw the laneways as an opportunity to provide that rental housing while providing some beautification as well,” he told the Georgia Straight by phone. “The bulk of the stock in the West End is either studios or one-bedrooms. So it’s a real challenge for families.”
The strategy, which was recently posted on the city’s website, includes a goal to create more than 1,500 new homes for people in need. According to the plan, the West End is home to about 45,000 residents and is expected to grow by 7,000 to 10,000 people over the next 30 years. About 50 percent of the community’s residents are between the ages of 20 and 39, and the neighbourhood has the fourth-highest density of children in the city.
The plan also sets out goals for revitalizing the three “villages” along portions of Davie, Denman, and Robson streets, upgrading aging community facilities, and expanding transit services. Public-realm improvements in the three villages could include more of the kind of public gathering spaces piloted at Davie and Bute streets, where rainbow crosswalks were painted earlier this year in recognition of the area’s LGBT history.
“Particularly in the villages, we are looking at plazas and parks and parklets and lighting and wider sidewalks, because the villages really are the heart of the business in the West End, and everyone’s told us they need some revitalization,” McNaney said.
A section of the plan that focuses on arts and culture proposes a cultural hub on Robson Street between Bute and Cardero streets and suggests that the city explore opportunities to create an arts-and-culture-themed plaza.
“There are a lot of artists in the West End,” McNaney noted. “We’d like to work with the nonprofits and the groups that are already there. Many of them use Gordon Neighbourhood House and the community centre, so we’re looking at improving facilities, and on the public-benefit strategy is a new community centre.”
A new purpose-built facility for B.C. queer resource centre Qmunity is also slated to better support LGBT community members.
The draft West End document is the first of four neighbourhood plans to go before city council. Vancouver granted extensions to the other three in response to community opposition.
John Wheldon, a West End resident for the past 35 years, said he wants to see this plan given an extension as well.
“I would hope that the city would acknowledge the fact that a lot of people are unhappy with the plan and give an extension of at least six months so that we could try and have a more collaborative process so that people would feel a sense of ownership about the plan,” he said in a phone interview.
He criticized what he called a “top-down process” in developing the strategy. He noted he would like to see the use of elected neighbourhood associations who could work in collaboration with city staff.
“People in the community would obtain a sense of ownership in the plan, because now they don’t,” he stated. “It’s the city’s plan for the community.”
Wheldon also objected to the density increase proposed in the plan.
“The West End is already dense enough, and there are other neighbourhoods in the city that have unsustainable land uses and should perhaps be taking growth,” he said.
The plan was developed over the course of 20 months, according to the city. McNaney said 110 meetings were held and the process involved more than 7,300 participant contacts.
“I think it’s a great plan,” he said. “It’s a very strategic plan for the next 30 years to get some affordable and rental housing and social housing built and housing for families in the West End while protecting the character of the neighbourhood.”
McNaney noted that if council approves the plan this month, zoning changes will be referred to public hearings early next year.
The draft plan is expected to go before council on November 20.