Show Norquay the Amenities!
• To lob four-storey apartments into single-family neighborhoods
• To canyonize Kingsway with ten-storey condos
Although that pseudo-consultation part of the exercise is meaningless, there are at least two things that Open House visitors might achieve. One is to insist that an attempt to beautify the median of Kingsway should not waste valuable pavement that could provide a bicycle lane.
The other is the subject of all the prose that follows. The Norquay Working Group (NWG) identified a full-scale Community Arts Centre as the primary desired amenity. The geographic heart of East Vancouver provides an ideal location. The city already owns the land, presenting a rare opportunity. To create a neighbourhood centre literally out of nothing, a price tag of $30 to $40 million seems quite reasonable. Especially when 10,000 people already live in Norquay, and city planners are out to add even more density.
Setting the Stage
Jesus offers good advice on not looking stupid: For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
On 4 November 2010, Vancouver City Council ran cart before the horse to approve the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan (guaranteed to raise property taxes for all residents). Recommendation C directs:
THAT Council instruct the Director of Planning, the General Manager of Community Services Group, and the Director of Finance, and [sic] to bring forward for Council’s approval, a Public Amenities and Infrastructure Financing Strategy to identify and recommend strategies for funding amenities and infrastructure upgrades in the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre area.
Translation of that incoherent planner phrase: Let’s do up a plan right now and then look around for some financing.
The Norquay Amenity Situation
During five years of jousting with city planners, the Norquay Working Group continued to insist that the area must not be forced to accommodate additional population without simultaneous defined improvement to amenity and infrastructure. Demonstrated existing deficiency requires additional catch-up. City data derived from the 2006 census shows that Renfrew-Collingwood 1996-2006 experienced a rate of both population and dwelling unit growth second only to Downtown Vancouver. That growth came on top of a density already greater than that of many other Vancouver neighbourhoods.
While Norquay and its surrounding neighborhood has accommodated this density increase, there was little addition to amenity, and area retail seriously declined (loss of grocery store, post office, bank, hardware store, etc.). At the Norquay Community Workshop #5 on Assessing Options (14 May 2009), four senior Vancouver staff demonstrated that Norquay itself is a public amenity desert — no community centre, no neighbourhood house, no swimming pool, no ice rink, and no library. One measure where Norquay manages an average grade is park space. (To the credit of the Norquay plan, “key priorities” (p. 15) include increasing the street presence and park accessibility of Brock and Slocan Parks, and greater emphasis on the long-promised greenway from Renfrew Ravine to Kingsway.)
How the Norquay Plan Calls for Funding
Under this heading fall two concerns:
• Mixing up infrastructure with amenity and benefit
• Tentative, hesitant, conditional funding language for a definite mass rezoning plan
Only with sharply separated discussion of and accounting for the two can Norquay assure itself of honest payback to the community.
At three key points the Norquay plan touches on funding. Under the heading Infrastructure Capacity (p. 17), strategy is invoked to finance upgrading of capacities for water, solid waste, and storm and sanitary sewer. Norquay residents would contend that this financing should in no way burden Norquay itself, or reduce or compete with funding for the amenities and benefits that enhance liveability. If the City chooses to impose additional density, it should outright fund that density support from general revenues and capital with no claims that Norquay has gained anything special.
At the second point, under the heading Public Amenities and Infrastructure Financing Strategy (p. 23), the Norquay plan makes general reference to the financing provided by Development Cost Levy (DCL), Community Amenity Contribution (CAC), and Capital Plans. The generality of this statement amounts to empty tautology.
At the third point, under the heading Financial Implications (p. 23-24), the Norquay plan says that “public realm improvements” [translation: minimal one-time spending on streetside superficialities — lampposts, garbage cans, street furniture, tree planting, median establishment — to make it look like the new plan made something happen, with no upkeep afterward] and Clarendon Connector (existing long-term project rolled into the plan) depend on funding being sought through cost-sharing from TransLink and ICBC and through the 2012-2014 Capital Plan. Beyond that, an estimated $4.1 million of Infrastructure is also left to strategy. This does not include unspecified requirements for sewer upgrades which may be covered by existing Sewer Separation program.
What Norquay Needs and Deserves
What follows is single focus on a major neighbourhood-centre-defining amenity. (Silence here about other needs of Norquay should in no way be construed to recommend their neglect.)
For the 2400 Motel site, the Norquay plan specifies (Appendix A, p. 28) outdoor community gathering space of 20,000 square feet and indoor community gathering space of 15,000 square feet. (Planners told the NWG that this would be space only, without finish or furnishing). These capacities were determined by planning staff alone on the undemonstrated basis of narrow economic considerations. Nowhere thus far has Norquay planning incorporated the social assessment that a comprehensive long-range approach demands.
The Norquay amenity situation, described above, makes clear that scrabble-financing tokenism at the neighbourhood centre is not likely to produce a happy or sustainable result. Two well-qualified members of NWG spoke to City Council on this specific point before the Norquay plan was approved. Keith Jacobson, president of the Killarney Community Centre Society, characterized 15,000 square feet as “woefully inadequate” — Norquay needs a full-size community centre. Area resident Scott Kennedy, architect for the large 2239 Kingsway development, emphasized the importance of the 2400 Motel site and called for area-based charges to recognize and support that significance.
Expert city staff input to Norquay Workshop #5 left participants with no doubt that DCL and CAC funding are inadequate to support the ambitions of the Norquay plan. If Norquay is not to become the second and last neighbourhood centre — a failed winding down of the overarching CityPlan in progress since 1995 — the Capital Plan and/or Property Endowment Fund (PEF) must step up to the challenge. Does Vancouver say that $10 million plus can go to Woodwards, $150 million plus to the Olympic Village — but absolutely nothing to Norquay, already inhabited by 10,000 people? The PEF already holds the 2400 Motel site (acquired in the late eighties for $2 million plus).
All of Norquay — and the rest of Vancouver — need to keep an eye on what happens with this situation.
The City of Vancouver issued on 26 January 2011 an odd-duck news release about a February 1 annual report to Council on Development Cost Levy collection, allocation, and remaining balance. Taking care of ordinary business is not newsworthy.