Vancouver's artists shortchanged by $700,000

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


empty lot
Council's decision to nix a simple reclassification will cost local artists dearly

The late Abraham Rogatnick must be shaking his head in disgust with a recent decision by Vancouver Council to reduce the amount his estate could have donated to the arts community by $700,000. Rogatnick was a well known architect and professor at the University of British Columbia who recently passed away and decided to leave a major portion of his estate to the Contemporary Art Gallery, Doris and Jack Shadbolt Foundation and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. It was an act of generosity that characterizes Rogatnick’s life. Although he was a prominent supporter of former NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan, he actually supported Vision in the last campaign.

So how did Vancouver Council stick it to the arts community? Well, the arts groups asked council to subdivide Rogatnick’s Westside property into two pieces. By reclassifying the property, it would have added approximately $700K in value, of which 100% would have been directed into the hands of local artists. Seems like a no-brainer for a city looking to increase housing options and supporting increased density as its official policy. Well, not so fast. Everyone except NPA councillor Suzanne Anton voted against the arts community and decided to oppose this unique proposal. It is not an overstatement to characterize this decision of council as short-sighted and an act of political cowardice, and here’s why.

By deciding not to subdivide the lot, there will only be one family living on this prime piece of real estate, rather than at least two. The other family (or families if there would have been a legal basement suite) who may have purchased this property will have to hope some farmland has been set aside in the Fraser Valley for their new urban sprawl dream home. As a result of Council’s decision, Rogatnick’s estate will now be sold off in order to build yet another high-priced and eco-unfriendly McMansion on Vancouver’s westside. Can anyone remind me how this decision helps to make Vancouver the greenest city on the planet?

Subdividing property can be a very controversial issue at city hall at the best of times. In many instances there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of people who come out to oppose reclassification. So how many people came out to oppose the Rogatnick subdivision? Wait for it...nobody. That’s right, the whole neighbourhood was canvassed for their opinion, and nobody bothered to show up to voice their opposition. Five people said they supported it, while three people wrote in to state they had some concerns, but no-one bothered to make an appearance in-person. So clearly the only real opposition to this proposal were the 10 Vision/COPE politicians who quietly raised their hands to vote against giving this funding to the arts.

Rick Scobie, a retired city official who used to be responsible for all reclassification requests, volunteered to work on the project due to the fact all the proceeds were going to support local artists. If there is anyone who should have concerns about this project, it would have been Scobie. However, he understood that few people pass away and decide to leave their whole estate to the community for public good. That said, isn’t this something we should be encouraging as a way to help support worthwhile causes?

In an era when Vision is giving away major benefits to big developers, it strikes me as a bit odd that they couldn’t see the forest through the trees on this one. If this council were as progressive as they claim to be (something that can be clearly refuted), than they would have given serious consideration to this proposal. Rather than all voting like lemmings, perhaps a few of them would have challenged their party whip and spoken out about how the Rogatnick proposal made sense. It is worth noting that Vision Councillor Heather Deal (self proclaimed lover of the arts) actually voted against this creative proposal.

Imagine what might have happened had this council made a bold move and said they were open to reclassification if individuals or companies decide to turn the sale of the property over to local libraries or community centres. Think of the potential new funding that could be earmarked toward playgrounds and afterschool programs – at no cost to the taxpayer.

Sadly, Vision’s decision to vote against this helps to capture the essence of this administration which continues to aimlessly bumble along in the hope they’ll simply secure enough votes to win another majority government.

It a rather ironic twist, I’m told that at the very moment about 20 of Rogatnick’s friends were spreading his ashes into English Bay, 10 visionless politicians at Vancouver City Hall were raising their hands to vote against a proposal which could have left an even greater legacy. What a shame. Like I said, Abe is probably shaking his head about now.

- Post by Daniel


The city recommended against subdivision because it might set a precedent for the adjacent lots to be turned into 33ft wides. Has anyone from the city walked these neighbourhoods? A lot of bigger lots in this very expensive area have been subdivided in the last 5 years or so. This city block where the property is located is one street removed from a vibrant shopping district and minutes away (by bike or car) from schools, parks and rec centres. This increase, and its precedent, would be good because it might bring in younger people who work, shop and hopefully bring the next generation to pay taxes.

The recommendation to oppose subdivision because it might set a precedent for the remaining 66ft lots is not good enough, not in this real estate climate nor in this very affluent neighbourhood, where a 700,000 dollar 33ft lot is beyond the reach of most.

The city report even mentions that some of the lots have not changed in 90 years. Dynamic change in the shape of neighbourhood turnovers and increased density are what is needed to sustain ourselves. We need young taxpaying families using less energy in smaller homes. Plus by funding our cultural institutions at the same time, am I wrong in wondering what city council, no matter what its political stripe, could be considered working in the city's best interest in a decision like this?

The interesting thing about this decision is that 2 weeks earlier council made exactly the opposite decision in a similar application in the same neighbourhood. It is impossible to explain why “yes” in one case became “no” 2 weeks later. In the first case, the argument was made that the family wanted to build near their parents. In the second, the Rogatnick case, the benefit was not private, but public, in that the proceeds would go to the various cultural institutions.

This is not to say that every subdivision application should be allowed. The city would have to go to a more general policy of allowing everything to be subdivided, and I am not aware of any support for that proposition. However, in the Rogatnick case, the request was to subdivide into 33 foot lots in an area with many other nearby 33 foot lots – see appendix A of the report. Having granted an almost identical request 2 weeks earlier, council should clearly have granted this one as well. And the loss of all that public benefit... it is inexplicable.

Council made the correct choice and followed the rules that are set in the Subdivision By-Law.

Charlie, merely following the letter of the by-law is not justification. The spirit of the by-law and particular context should be considered, as well as the public benefits.

Please make a real argument if you have one. Hopefully addressing points of urban planning and public good.

Sandra and Susan made excellent and thorough points before you, how could council refute those points?

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