Vancouver West Ender STIRs the pot

Post by Godfrey von Nostitz-Tait in

11 comments


West End residents gather to voice concern over STIR program

Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party was voted in 18 months ago on a series of great goals: ending homelessness, increasing EcoDensity and increasing the supply of rental housing stock throughout the city, to name a few.

To achieve this last objective, Vision pushed the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing program (“STIR”, for short) through council. Essentially, STIR provides a series of incentives to real estate developers to build rental housing and encourage projects where up to 100% of new multi-residential rental housing units are secured for the life of the building. The STIR program also waves development cost levies to encourage the building of rental stock.

Before going any further, let me just say that Vision Vancouver’s serious push to make good on its promise to voters to expand Vancouver’s very narrow rental market is commendable. It is true that Vancouver is suffering from a rental shortage and purpose built rentals is a good way to fix that. But, not to the detriment of community and liveability i.e. not at all costs.

In Vancouver’s West End, several proposed STIR projects (tearing down a church at 1401 Comox and putting up a 22 storey building, adding a sixth tower to the Beach towers complex, to name a couple) would do just that. These projects would entail radical rezonings producing huge increases in population density, traffic, and stress on overstretched amenities. (Incidentally with no development cost levies, dealing with these pressures falls to the taxpayer.) With no indication coming from council that these proposals will be rejected, concern among West Enders is mounting and neighbourhoods are coming together in a lot of creative ways to voice their opposition.

As this forum is not meant for hopping on our soap boxes, I won’t elaborate how much I agree with neighbour Ned Jacobs (urbanist Jane Jacob’s son) that, on top of everything else, the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing program, “offers density bonuses and waives amenity contributions, plus other incentives, in return for market rentals at rates that few Vancouver renters can afford.”

No, no… I prefer to end with showing you in two simple ways how neat it is that our opposition is bringing out creativity, solidarity and pluckiness in all of us, cementing friendships and neighbourliness along the way. Check it out:

We’re getting really good at flyers. And, at colours. That’s right, when something incites opposition to the extent that STIR has in the West End, people get creative and let their collaborative skills shine! And with the joys of the interweb, a colourful document like this gets shared around plenty for input before it hits the websites and supermarket bulletin boards near you.

Last Sunday, with barely any promotional effort on my part, about 90 concerned residents, their families and their pets gathered (see above photo) at the foot of the Beach Towers to share their views about the impending 22 story development there.

It was rainy, it was a Sunday and yet they came. Allow me to be grossly corny, and say that the wall created by our umbrellas was a strong symbol of our opposition to a sixth tower at Beach. Too much corn? Yea. I know. Still, it was a beautiful thing.

I can’t represent it in this blog, but the amount of amazing wordsmithing that has been flying out of West Enders’ outboxes and into the hands of media, city councillors and fellow residents has also been astounding.

My opposition to STIR in the West End started with “not in my back yard” and into a full fledged defense of my community, a rewarding and gratifying experience that goes beyond politics.

- post by Godfrey von Nostitz-Tait. His editorial was originally published on March 22nd  in The Daily Gumboot. We are republishing it here with the Godfrey's permission.

11 Comments

Get off your soapbox and stop the NIMBYism. The church was sold as it no longer had the following it needed to support itself. Two towers, amidst how many others, is not going to make any significant difference. Amenities? How about English Bay, Stanley Park, and the WECC?! Affordable rental units are the "amenities" the community is getting. Sorry, but this is just Vancouver politicking at its worst.

"These projects would entail radical rezonings..."

I'm not sure this is the case. The developments in question fall within the RM zoning category. This category sets an allowable height of 18.3 metres, but notes that height allowance may be increased up to 58.0 metres at the discretion of the Director of Planning. The catch here is that the height increase should ensure that "the liveability and environmental quality of the surrounding neighbourhood is not unduly harmed.

The latter point is worth looking at - as the question of sufficient amenities and benefits is a necessary part of the discussion anytime a new development is proposed.

The bigger question though, is about the longer term plan to provide a greater degree of equitability to the density increases that will be taking place across the city.

One of the great strengths of the West End is, in fact, it's population density... because it's this density that helps to make the neighbourhood as vibrant, walkable and self-contained as it is.

However, it would be nice if we could look at the question of density-distribution on a city-wide basis. This is a discussion that was started with the EcoDensity program and needs to be continued. And it's the sort of discussion that would, in fact, be far more radical than the specific development proposals that Mr. Nostitz-Tait is referencing.

What the article failed to mention is that the 22-storey building proposal is contrary to the community plan for the area -- thus the outrage.

The 1401 Comox site includes a zoning request from the existing RM5 provisions at 1.5 Floor Space Ratio to a new CD1 zone at 7.5 Floor Space Ratio - a five-fold increase in floor area from 26,000 square feet in floor area to almost 130,000 square feet in floor area. So yes, that's pretty "radical" without a community plan framework to rely on. This is not just about height it's also about bulk. (And by the way 1401 Comox proposes to exceed even the conditional 58 metre height limit by approximately 8 metres).

Look at the crowd of umbrellas! For a rainy Sunday, this big of crowd shows the level of concern people have about Vision Vancouver's attempt to radically rezone the West End with inappropriate developments. Perhaps Vision councillors need to stop giving away what isn't their's to give, and consult with the citizens who they are supposed to represent.

In response to Mr.Paul Hillsdon: your post is well meaning, but contains a contradiction. You are hinting at the fact that the increase in supply of rentals will be small ("Two towers, amidst how many others, [are] not going to make any significant difference.")If this is in reference to a total number of rentals, I agree wholeheartedly. Then you proceed to call the new rentals "affordable". But why would such a miniscule increase in supply have a significant downward effect on price?
Maybe you are under the impression that developer has committed to providing these units at sub-market prices. Are you aware of a legally binding document that says so? If so, please post the link, because I am not, after following this issue for several months.
The essence of STIR program is that the taxpayer subsidizes the developer, but the developer does not subsidize the renter.
If you are, however, expressing a common misconception that "in an area with a high density, a little more doesn't hurt", I respectfully disagree. It is precisely in the already dense West End that such increases in density will place the greatest burden aon the social and physical infrastructure that is already operating at capacity. The Lord Roberts school being a case in point, but far from being the only one. At a public meeting in the Empire Landmark hotel, for example, concerns were expressed about the effect on the sewage system. Finally, the very fact that the developers are usually required - but not in the case of STIR - to pay such significant development cost levies shows that the City Hall in the past recognized the fact that incresed density comes at a cost. We need to take that cost seriously.

Paul,

Ian Gillespie the owner of Westbank who purchased 1401 Comox doesn't do affordable.

He says himself, "We build Ferraris".

Raymond Louie has even stated in this article:

--
http://www.straight.com/article-279667/vancouver/program-spurs-rentals

Louie noted that the new rental units are expected to command higher rents than existing ones. However, “as these units degrade and get older, they become more affordable,” he added.
--

So how long before the community gets to enjoy this supposed amenity they won't be able to afford to rent till the building gets "older"? And where in the West End or for that matter the GVRD has anyone seen rents drop in the past 5 years?

The developer will get tax incentives. Renters will pay top dollar.

That's an amenity?

Oh yeah forgot, you know who's building that first STIR tower at 1215 Bidwell?

Millenium - of Olympic athletes village financing debacle fame. Incentives? Hand over fist.

I am totally a NIMBY type. My "back yard" is all of Vancouver. The STIR program lets Mayor Robertson and his thugs trample at will upon good community-accepted zoning guidelines everywhere in the city, increase the burden on civic infrastructure, and let developers off the hook for costs. Wherever they do this, all Vancouver taxpayers foot the bill. The "subsidy" to Millennium at 1215 Bidwell for 49 rentals was nearly $100,000 PER UNIT. I hope that all Vancouverites will tell Mayor Robertson, "Not In My Back Yard." "Not On My Watch." Demand that the STIR program rescinded or amended!

If the NPA had proposed STIR and given developers this kind of a massive tax break, what do you think Vision would have said?

We desperately need rentals in Vancouver and we can increase the density of our city. You don't like the city's idea then come up with something better.

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