Public Benefits Strategy

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Detailed Comment #4 on Norquay Rezoning Specifications

 
Introduction

Panels 10-17 at the January 23/26 Norquay open houses attempt to outline “amenities and benefits” that might come to the local Norquay community as a consequence both of mass rezoning and of specific site rezonings under new policy.

The Renfrew-Collingwood Community Vision (p. 30) makes this general statement:

        Each proposal for a new housing type has been made conditional … on an increase in community
        facilities and programs needed to serve any population growth.

It seems clear that no such proportionate amelioration has occurred in the past, and that the city’s recent track record is abysmal. Norquay residents become ever more suspicious about vague amenity “promises,” and have thus far seen little benefit materialize at the same time that much has rapidly been taken away.

 
Three Starting Points

One — Before the fantasy of a “Norquay Village” ever wandered into the head of a city planner, the Norquay area was already quite dense in comparison with much of the rest of residential RS zoned Vancouver. This can be seen with a quick glance at the City of Vancouver density map based on 2006 census data with Norquay outline superimposed:

 
covdensitymap

 
Furthermore, tabular data calculated from City of Vancouver figures based on the 1996 and 2006 censuses shows a startling previous growth rate for Renfrew-Collingwood, the neighborhood that encompasses most of Norquay. The area ranked second only to Downtown with a rate of population increase of 17% and a rate of dwelling unit increase of 26.5%. As an immediate target for yet more density growth, both Norquay and surrounding East Vancouver have been abused by the City of Vancouver.

Two — Within the boundaries of “Norquay” lies an amenity desert. As open house Panel 13 so aptly puts it:

        None of the community facilities are located within Norquay Plan boundaries

Our specific walkable Norquay area has none of the following: community centre, neighbourhood house, swimming pool, ice rink, library, or seniors facility.

All that Panel 11 shows for improvements so far are new daycare space at the 2300 Kingsway tower and upgrading to Norquay Park.

(1) The 37-space daycare seems horrendously expensive at an assigned CAC of $2.4 million (rezoned 24 Jan 2006 — see p. 6 of report). The daycare is invisible to the community, and can never serve more than a handful of residents. It seems a particularly unfortunate choice of first “reward” to the surrounding area for an obtrusive, blockbusting tower. The community had absolutely no say in what the “amenity” would be.

(2) The upgrading to Norquay Park occurred within a normal cycle of capital funding. Originally allocated a meager $300,000, the renewal received a boost to $800,000 thanks to federal stimulus obtained during the 2008 recession. The Norquay Park improvement should not be regarded as anything other than overdue maintenance. (The roughly concurrent renewals of both Victoria Park and Grandview Park, the two only a few blocks apart, clearly had nothing to do with an active project to dump new density into that neighborhood.)

Three — The promise of future “amenity” has always seemed cynical and empty.

(1) City staff made it clear to Norquay residents in the 14 May 2009 community workshop how little could be expected in return for massive change. Our written record of the event shows this particular exchange: “There is no requirement that our neighborhood seek this denser development? That’s right.” Experience has proven otherwise. The City lies.

(2) The rezoning of 2699 Kingsway [now marketed as Skyway Tower at 2711 Kingsway] for 12 storeys and 129 dwelling units produced a ridiculous CAC of $105,846 — all of which went into an attempt to mitigate the new building’s unacceptable shadowing of an existing daycare immediately to the north. New damage, no benefit, dubious mitigation.

(3) Panel 16 is appropriately modest about Kingsway streetscape improvements that have been claimed to be a part of the Norquay Plan: “Kingsway streetscape improvements recently completed were funded from the 2012 City Capital Budget.” Like the Norquay Park upgrade, the renovations along Kingway seemed to amount to little more than a routine maintenance that was applied to other Vancouver segments of Kingsway as well.

 
Flimflam

Panel 12 that claims Recent Improvements to Area Facilities is a confused handful of grasped-at straws. This panel markets the odd notion that routine cyclical maintenance should be regarded as a conferred benefit. Facilities wear out over time and have to be upgraded or replaced. That is the nature of most of this purported improvement. Pretty pictures and recent dates convey almost no information. A page of credible accounting for funding sources would be far more useful. Questions follow.

(1) How much of this is addition — something that really is new for the community? Likely the only new thing is the low-impact no-visibility daycare facility at 2300 Kingsway. That leaves nine others that are just maintenance.

(2) To what extent has local capacity been expanded? Intuition says that the new Trout Lake community centre, while more attractive, may have less usable square footage than the old one did. Without quantification, assessment of gain is impossible.

(3) How much of these fundings were cadged from special one-time external sources (think $500,000 federal stimulus for Norquay Park) rather than being allocated from Vancouver’s Capital Plan or other regular sources?

 
At the “Centre”

The 2010 outcome of the Norquay planning process saw city planners turn their back on the “neighbourhood centre” concept that had been used as a hammer to smash Norquay open for accelerated development. The “centre” for Norquay became the entire one-mile length of Kingsway, a truck route that slices right through the heart of the area. It is the center of a developer’s tasty sandwich perhaps; but not the ballyhooed centre of a discrete walkable revitalized community, with periphery at the outer edge of a circle. Honest language would have admitted from the outset that corridor planning would perpetuate the strip development that already existed along Kingsway, and its drive-to retail.

The only reason that Norquay may ever come to have a semblance of a center is the fact that the City of Vancouver happens to own the three acres that the 2400 Motel sits on. Panel 13 recognizes the opportunity in a roundabout way. The Norquay Plan (Appendix A, Page 28-29 of 40) specified this [emphases and comments added]:

5.  Community Gathering Space (indoor). An Indoor Community Space of approximately 15,000 square feet, to be operated by a third party (Future neighbourhood house [No] or flexible public facility for arts, seniors, youth [Yes]).
6.  Community Gathering Space (outdoor). A Major Outdoor public Gathering Space that is south-facing and shielded from the Kingsway traffic noise. Some of this space should also be set apart from the East 33rd Avenue traffic noise and therefore located at the southeast corner of the site against East 30th Ave. This space should also be activated by the ground floor uses of the Indoor Community Space and the large grocery store, and spatially well-defined by the surrounding buildings. The overall area of this [outdoor]space should be approximately 20,000 square feet in size, and should be proportioned to facilitate large gatherings of people.

and this:

6.3 Community Gathering Spaces
A common theme throughout the planning process was the lack of a place to gather in the heart of the Neighbourhood Centre. In response, this plan identifies the opportunity to locate a new community gathering space within the Neighbourhood Centre boundary as a key priority. Many needs were identified for this type of space, including space for senior’s programming, children’s activities, meeting space, arts space, and community gatherings such as cultural celebrations. In response, the plan has identified the opportunity to include a significant community gathering space in the 2400 Motel redevelopment, should a rezoning be approved for the site. This space should be flexible in nature, to address the diverse needs and priorities of the community. An example of the type of flexible space that would address key needs is a Neighbourhood House. [A better example would be an Arts Community Centre with a sizeable single space usable for performances, lectures, meetings, etc.]

Should a rezoning support a Community Amenity Contribution of space for community gathering, the plan has identified two priorities. First, an indoor public gathering space that provides programming to meet the needs of residents including artists, seniors, and youth. Second, an outdoor public gathering space that is programmable for community events and activities.

Policies

1.  Seek opportunities to create local community gathering spaces for neighbourhood activities. 2. Seek opportunities to provide additional recreational space for residents (e.g. a community gym).

Priorities

1.  Provide an indoor public gathering space on the 2400 Motel site that provides programming to meet the needs of residents including artists, seniors and youth.
2.  Provide an outdoor public gathering space on the 2400 Motel site that is programmable for community events and activities.

Panel 13 and its Facilities and Services Assessment looks like a serious perversion of what the Norquay Plan promises. A tsunami of change is being unleashed on Norquay. Significant new facilities were described for its central site. Into that description was slipped one “example” of a Neighbourhood House.

The message from Panel 13 is that Norquay is now being offered nothing new — only more routine maintenance. It is absolutely disheartening to see little more than specific mentions of replacement of two already existing older facilities that lie outside the boundaries of Norquay. Solving the problems of Collingwood Library and/or Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House is not what the Community Vision meant by “increase in community facilities and programs.” Replacement is no increase.

The City of Vancouver needs to step up to this opportunity. An extensive case — Show Norquay the Amenities! https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/show-norquay-the-amenities/ — has already been made for injection of substantial additional capital into something for Norquay at its center. If the City of Vancouver can pour well over $150 million into amenities over a few acres of vacant land at Southeast False Creek, surely it can do better for thousands of existing residents already living densely on hundreds of mass rezoned acres in Norquay. Perhaps that kind of capital spending and extraction of assets from the Property Endowment Fund are only considered appropriate for fancier neighborhoods where density is not being dumped like garbage?

Side notes: (1) This librarian heard VPL director Mort Jordan in the mid 1970s ago say that Collingwood Library had an atrocious location and was the worst situation in the entire system. Collingwood Library clearly needs to move eastward — not westward — to serve the existing and coming densities in that sector. (2) There is something desperate and idiotic in proposing to move Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House eastward out of Cedar Cottage, considering that the first “neighbourhood centre” mass rezoning occurred at Kingway and Knight and produced almost no payback to the Cedar Cottage neighborhood.

 
Housing

Panel 14 makes clear that the extensive mass rezoning of Norquay aims to provide more affordable housing. That is also what was claimed by the City of Vancouver throughout the Norquay planning process. A serious contradiction was admitted to almost from the outset, in the 2007 draft plan that the community decisively rejected:

        “How much will the housing cost?”
        “New units are always more expensive than older ones of a similar type and size.”  (p. 4 doc; p. 5 pdf)

The City of Vancouver chose to target an area for redevelopment acceleration that according to its own 2001 census figures already housed 25% to 30% low-income households.

That is the background. Now, in addition to the original mass-rezone gentrification project, with precursors already popping up on the sidewalks of Norquay, planners propose that “a non-market housing component” should go onto the 2400 Motel site (the shred that remains of the neighbourhood centre concept). This proposal evokes two specific brief comments. (1) Non-market housing is welcome, provided that the funding for it is not extracted from Norquay. As already detailed, Norquay is an amenity desert, Norquay has already been doing a good job of housing lower incomes, and the meager CACs produced so far in Norquay are a travesty. (2) The apartheid of segregated housing that can be contemplated at Woodwards downtown and at the recently rezoned 955 East Hastings is absolutely not wanted. Unless it provides substantial injection of non-CAC outside capital for this non-market housing, the City of Vancouver is in effect saying that it wants to further degrade an already abused local community.

This opinion is borne out by the blue/red straw vote taken on Panel 17 at the January 2013 open houses. The CAC funding that could be available for the number one priority, a significant community space at the center, must not be whittled away at by other priorities (except for the already-decades-old far-too-long-a-promise-only Renfrew Ravine linear park).

 
Parks

Panel 15 remains sadly silent on the Norquay Plan priority of improving visibility of and access to Brock Park and Slocan Park though acquisition of a few mostly irregular bordering properties.

        3.  Seek opportunities to extend General Brock and Slocan parks to provide an enhanced
        street presence and park entrance.  (Appendix A, Page 36 of 40)

A prime opportunity was lost in 2012 to acquire one of the most important of the few properties required. Quick notice to a range of city staff and officials, a fortuitous market downturn, a large time window, a forced sale, a first opportunity since 1955 — these were the circumstances. The apparent commitments of the City of Vancouver evaporated in a rat’s nest of silos and unconcern, leaving a residue of especially bitter cynicism. The case evidence is now graphic that planners and politicians will write nice things into their planning and then do nothing — nothing except make sure that big developers get the height and FSR that have been handed over to them as a new right.

 
Clarendon Connector

The mythic status of the alway-trotted-out Clarendon Connector is rivaled only by that of the Renfrew Ravine linear park. Both are already long overdue. Despite extensive consultations and multiple years on the drawing board, this relative small-scale local transportation improvement seems to have failed to make its way into the 2012-2014 Capital Plan. This is a conclusion drawn from the “maybe” aura that permeates what is said on Panel 15:

        Constructing the Clarendon connector would improve transit, pedestrian routes and reduce
        short-cutting by vehicles.

If this piece of roadway ever materializes, it will amount to nothing more than seriously overdue routine maintenance. The apparent lack of anything whatsoever destined to Norquay in the current Capital Plan demonstrates that the City’s interest in and intentions for Norquay do not go far beyond enabling rapid developer resource extraction.

A strong brief from Norquay in 2011 — https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/capital-plan/ — probably made the City of Vancouver feel good about its engagement practices, but from a resident’s standpoint the effort looked like a total waste of time, and is not likely to be repeated. Officials know what they have already decided on their own, but they think it looks better if they pretend to listen to you.

 
The CAC Scam

Dispersed throughout the foregoing commentary is data on the demonstrated inadequacy of CAC funding to achieve much benefit for a neighborhood inundated with ever greater density, compounded by planning whose overriding priority is to accelerate new development. Little has accrued to Norquay so far, and little is ever expected. CAC seems to be a smokescreen for saying: “We’ll never have any money that will make much difference, but we have to pretend that we will so you can think you may get something out of being swallowed up.”

Case in point: the purported “new Kensington library” boasted of on Panel 12 is in reality a puny CAC of $251,328.24, generated by 404 dwelling units plus commercial space, that amounted only to the following description of a sweetheart deal with the developer — a developer who still has commercial space that has never rented yet, a developer who is being sued by Vancouver Public Library because the space has flooded three times:

The developer has offered to provide the library with rent-free space for a period of ten years and then continue providing the space with renewable options (4 times at 5 years each) at market rents. The developer has also agreed to finish the space to the library’s specification, with the library repaying the improvement costs over the initial ten-year period.  (Report to Council of 9 June 2003)

The essence of the general CAC scam is multiple: (1) Miniscule payback on supposed recapture of 75% of lift (2) On-site payback in kind that costs the developer far less than the value asserted (3) Good deals with a secure government tenant that adds real gravy to the developer’s bottom line (4) Use of on-site CAC to enhance the value and marketability of what the developer is selling. No wonder developers moan in public about CAC — they need to divert attention from the goodies that they are grabbing through that mechanism, on top of everything else (like fake FSR, always a figure far less than what is actually built).

Even though CAC, when examined, is a tiny joke, it remains unacceptable that Panel 16 proposes a CAC ratio of approximately 1 to 1 for CAC allocation to community facilities and to housing. Housing is not a benefit that rewards an impacted neighborhood for suffering accelerated development. Like daycare, it remains invisible to all but a few direct beneficiaries. Housing must find another funding source.

 
Conclusion

This paragraph expresses a general conclusion. Norquay residents have been shut out of local planning since February 2011. Everything presented in the January open houses came straight out of a back room. No draft district schedules were provided for inspection. While panels provide highlights, the devil lurks in the unavailable details. All panels were kept under wraps until the open houses. The space of only one working week has been allowed for the production of this and the preceding three comments on different housing types. The deadline for submission is 4 February 2013. The City of Vancouver really does not seem to care much about providing reasonable time for review and informed comment. For legal reasons it has to go through the pains of pretending to engage with the taxpayers that fund it.

With respect to a “public benefits strategy,” the strategy so far has been to do nothing except approve new development applications. Over two years have passed since the City of Vancouver let loose a land rush on Norquay. Now we are told that a strategy can begin to be developed? The concluding Panel 18 says that planning “requires an engaged community” and “we need you to get involved.” Really? Out of forty or fifty people that played some part in Norquay Working Group from 2006 to 2011, I only recognized six who showed up at the January 2013 open houses. The City of Vancouver has done a great job in Norquay of burning out the enthusiasm that it still pays lip service to.

In closing, the following items stand out as crucial in the current public benefits proposals:

One — Primary focus must be placed on the top priority, an entirely new community space, indoor and outdoor, at the 2400 Motel site. What is outlined in the Norquay Plan must not be diverted into a convenient opportunity to sneak in an upgrade to an existing library or neighbourhood house that already serves a different geographic area which would stand to lose what it now enjoys.

Two — For what is being done to Norquay — not to mention what has not been taken care of in the past — it is unrealistic to expect that all of the funding can be extracted from Norquay itself. If the Olympic Village, much smaller and with far fewer inhabitants, can be given well over $150 million of special fundings directly from city coffers, surely Norquay merits a third of that amount for the three top priorities identified in the Norquay Plan (p. 15): community gathering spaces, Renfrew Ravine linear park, park extensions.

Three — Priority must now be given to visible benefits that enhance the quality of life for the entire Norquay community, not just the lives of a scattered few individuals. Allocation of further funding to daycare, which has consumed all of the benefit so far, into the millions of dollars, does not seem reasonable or equitable in the near future. Daycare has had its share. Non-market housing is desirable, but it must be funded from a source other than CAC. In no way should the housing priority be allowed to compete with the recognizably public benefits outlined in the Norquay Plan.
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

2 February 2013 at 11:45 pm

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