Vancouver's West End: Residents raise doubts about new development policy
CityCaucus.com welcomes Paul Davey, a Vancouver West End neighbourhood resident, as a guest editorialist...
Earlier this week, Vancouver City Council voted 6-2 in favour of a proposed West End development despite a wave of dissenting residents during two spill-over evenings at City Hall hearings. Presented by Millennium English Bay Properties (of Athletes’ Village fame) and Henriquez Partners Architects, both avid contributors to the Vision Vancouver’s election funds, initially proposed a 210 foot tower, with condominiums and mixed retail and commercial space.
They were advised that in order to have their rezoning application approved, they should add “affordable” rental accommodations to their mix. Remember that the word “affordable” originally appeared in the Olympic Village project, but was wisely removed after the discovery that they were in essence not affordable at all.
The two evenings set aside for comments and presentations by concerned folks were somewhat of a sham. Most of the speakers were not against development in the West End, but they wanted a Community Plan implemented, prior to any developments being approved. It could be sensed by anyone with a minimal amount of grey matter that it was indeed a “done deal.”
While two “Visionaries” twiddled with their computers amidst copious bladder breaks, only one or two councillors had any questions at all. They spoke as if it was already under construction despite misleading architectural drawings and ignoring the fact that the height of the project was more than three times the current height restriction of 18.3 metres.
All of the councillors seemed totally unaware that the “affordable” rentals were quite mouse-like in size (starting at 397 square feet) and priced most “unaffordable” at 1000.00 per month. The councillors (save for two from COPE and the NPA) were under some misguided theory that it was solely up to them to approve these rentals to save the West End from its lack of rental accommodations.
Had they forgotten about the large inventories of rentals coming onto the market from the Coast Plaza Hotel and the YWCA? Were they unaware that due to the economic squeeze, the West End vacancy rate moved up to over 2% this month? No.
The 1215 Bidwell Rezoning Application passed with flying colours, with the Vancouver Vision councillor voting en bloc. No Community Plan. No reasoning for a new tower that was still going to be 210 feet high. And no comments about the demolition of a true heritage building 105-years old, except for a plaque on-site that probably will not include a developer’s statement that it would have been too expensive to retain. Instead, a placatory plaque in its memory.
What these short-sighted so-called representatives of the people didn’t realize that this was a unique window of opportunity. The abhorrent Imperial Towers, constructed over 47 years ago and jutting in ugly fashion over 300 feet high, is soon coming to the end of its life expectancy. The two block area across from English Bay would then be totally clear of visual obstructions to the water with proper planning and terraced-level buildings up towards Bidwell Street, so that all could enjoy the world-class views. (The 1208 Bidwell Building is terraced thoughtfully back towards Cardero Street as the land height increases.)
When completed, the 1215 Bidwell Project will combine with Imperial Towers to block out the sun and all of the views from Cardero Street down to the waterfront. But to hell with planning and the creation of a Community Plan for the second highest density area in North America. Vision Vancouver has no plan here apparently, just approve as-we-go on a patchwork basis.
Their first development approval in the West End sets an extremely dangerous precedent, as developers and architects will surely use the 1215 Bidwell Project as an “approved project framework,” and other towers will be constructed, making the West End village a simile to the towers of Coal Harbour and Yaletown.
When the Vision Vancouver Party was in campaign mode in (2008) pre-election days, one of their keystone platforms was that they were going “to listen to the people.” Well, it seems as though that is all they did, because they ignored what the people were asking….for a plan prior to development.
After dumping this elephant-sized monstrosity into a spot the size of a petting zoo, I hope that the people will remember this non-visionary bunch come next election day.
- Post by Paul Davey
Paul is a satisfied west coast settler transferred from the icy shores of Lake Ontario. He is a former head of a Canadian advertising agency, whose clients include a wide range of local, national and international businesses. He has also worked on the election campaigns of several local and provincial politicians.