The idea of building homes as part of the renewal of the Britannia Community Services Centre remains controversial as ever.
This is reflected in a call by the City of Vancouver for consultations about housing at the site.
“Project partners understand that there is not consensus in the community regarding the addition of non-market housing through the Britannia Renewal,” the city’s advisory stated.
Britannia opened in 1976 as an integrated hub of services in East Van’s Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood.
The seven-hectare location hosts a community centre, childcare, public library, youth centre, swimming pool, ice rink, and public schools.
In 2011, the Straight reported about the results of a local survey that favour Britannia continuing to serve as a community place. The poll did not support housing.
It was then–Vision Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs who pushed for housing as part of the renewal.
In 2016, the Straight reported that city council approved a new community plan for Grandview-Woodland.
City planners suggested that council may want to consider mixed-income, nonmarket rental housing as one possible direction for Britannia.
Meggs proposed an amendment that was adopted. The final plan, as it pertains to Britannia, seeks to “mobilize air space parcels in the Britannia site…for social housing through co-location with other public facilities”.
Later in the same year, the Straight reported about principles drawn up by the Britannia Community Services Centre Society (BCSCS).
The nonprofit manages the site in collaboration with the city, school board, park board, and public library. The city and school board own the land.
The principles laid out by BCSCS in 2016 included one that seeks to prioritize “all parts of the Britannia site, including potential air space parcels, for community centre, school, library, and green/open space use”.
The first round of consultations by the city happens on June 19, June 22, and June 24, 2021. A second round follows in the fall.
The Straight spoke to Jak King, a local historian and community activist, in light of the city’s call for consultations.
King said in a phone interview that he supports housing as long as it is done right. This means that 100 percent of the units would be nonmarket and affordable homes. “You would lose most of us if they try to put market rentals in there,” King said in a phone interview.
The master plan approved by council in July 2018 for the Britannia renewal provides for 200 to 300 units of nonmarket housing.
“Three hundred is probably too many, because I think you have to put eight- or nine-storey buildings to accommodate those,” King said.
Craig Ollenberger is the president of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC), a grassroots organization. He also sits on the board of the nonprofit BCSCS.
Ollenberger emphasized to the Straight that neither GWAC nor BCSCS has taken an official position on housing in Britannia. For the interview, he spoke in his capacity as GWAC president.
He said there are strong reservations among neighbourhood residents about the impact of housing on the site.
“People are concerned that if you put a large amount of housing on the site that that compromises the site as a community-centre site and makes it sort of a dual-focused site, where it may be quite overwhelmed by housing,” Ollenberger said by phone.
He also cited concerns that if air parcels are dedicated for housing, then this would also “compromise the potential future uses of that space for an expanded community centre should the need arise”.
Ollenberger said there are people who are set on the notion that Britannia should remain a dedicated community-centre space.
There are also others, he noted, who are comfortable with the idea of a small number of housing units for individuals who need support from the community centre.
However, Ollenberger added that these same people are “worried that if they say, ‘Yeah, we would take a couple of storeys, maybe 30 units, 40 units,’ whatever, that the city will take that and be like, ‘Okay, green light—let’s do 200 units.’ ”
In other words, he said, “They don’t have a trust relationship with the city.”