Kingsway & Knight

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Vancouver Neighborhoods in Turmoil — What It All Goes Back To …

 
 
Introduction

As four Vancouver local communities hurtle simultaneously toward collision with a set of “plans” driven by the City of Vancouver, a glance in the rearview mirror can exhume a few lessons from previous roadkill.

Let this haruspex probe the scattered entrails for signs of the future. More crudely put, let this battered warrior show you some of the shit that still oozes from the guts of the deceased.

First up is Kingsway & Knight, until now a scattered story, mostly a lost one. This account can serve as a stele, a beacon of warning to beset local communities in the future. As you read along, bear in mind that the City of Vancouver web site makeover of 2012 proclaims that Kingsway & Knight is no longer among the living, no longer among the six active planning processes [1].

The planning was never completed. Even so, the whole area got blitzed out by a fast mass rezoning. That was all the City of Vancouver really cared about.

In the beginning (the beginning of the current City of Vancouver attack on residential neighborhoods) was the Kingsway & Knight Neighbourhood Centre Plan. That’s where it all started, with K&K the first in a line-up of nineteen projected “centres” [2]. These centres were supposed to constitute the implementation phase of the extensive multi-million-dollar CityPlan process that Vancouver launched in 1995. Norquay was the object of the second such assault. And probably the last, because it did not go down easy.

Since the time of Kingsway & Knight (in Kensington-Cedar Cottage) and Norquay (mostly in Renfrew-Collingwood), the City of Vancouver has abandoned the list of 19 projected “neighbourhood centres” and generally avoided messing with the other seven of the nine residential neighborhoods covered by community visions. (For the record, those seven are/were: Dunbar, Victoria/Fraserview/Killarney, Sunset, Hastings Sunrise, Arbutus Ridge/Kerrisdale/Shaughnessy, Riley Park/South Cambie, West Point Grey.)

After Norquay, the City of Vancouver first went after Mount Pleasant in 2007 under the rubric “Community Plans” [3-a]. Around 2008 the Downtown Eastside planning initiative emerged from a morass of undertakings, notably the Historic Area Height Review [3-b]. In 2009 the Cambie Corridor planning set its sights on a long cross-community swath [3-c]. And in 2011 Council declared that Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, and West End should be simultaneous Next Community Plans [3-d].

Ever since the City of Vancouver got involved in bidding for the 2010 Olympic Games, the developer-politician axis has aggressively accelerated both the rate and extent of mass redevelopment — with no respect for existing residents, only respect for possible future residents. Consider these two before-and-after bookend quotations from Vancouver real estate kingpins:

        If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.
        — Jack Poole, Vancouver real estate developer and VANOC chai”
        Frank O’Brien. “Western perspective: Taxpayers reluctant skeleton in 2010 bid,”
        Western Investor (June 2002) A6

        Nobody wants to admit it, but Vancouver has become a resort city where rich foreigners live a few
        months per year … It’s a $6-billion ad buy [with the Olympics]. There’s never been anything like it.
        It will change Vancouver, forever.
        — Bob Rennie, Vancouver condominium marketer
        Miro Cernetig. “The views from on high are nice, but not many can afford them,”
        Vancouver Sun (25 Jan 2010) A1

 
Literal Half-Assed Planning

Now for the Kingsway & Knight Neighbourhood Centre Plan. Oopsie. Make that the Kingsway & Knight Neighbourhood Centre: Housing Area Plan. Only half of the job ever got finished off. Done up and done in on 8 July 2004 — a mass rezoning of “approximately 1,500 single-family houses” [4] with scarcely a backward glance. And certainly no forward glance. [Notice how the planning document rounds the figure down from 1577.]

What about that other half? The shopping area planning? Go back two years earlier to the policy that supposedly guided the process: Neighbourhood Centre Delivery Program — Terms of Reference [5].

Call as witness the second “principle” in that document [item 2.2 on p. 3]:

        Undertake work on Shopping Areas and New Housing Types at the same time. This will help maintain
        the relationship between improving shopping areas and adding new residents in new housing.

The KCC (Kensington-Cedar Cottage] CityPlan Committee had two working groups, amusingly known as the HAWGs (Housing Area Working Group) and the SAWGs (Shopping Area Working Group). Guess what? Only the HAWGs ever got to the finish line. As agents and/or dupes of the City of Vancouver, they helped the developer-politician-planner team to gobble up the locality’s lunch.

The ensuing dog’s breakfast of public realm that spews along Kingsway and up and down Knight Street is what remains of the never-completed planning. (Inordinate scarfing terminates in puke.)

Item:  A lifeless alley cuts through the interior of King Edward Village. (Hey, at least that space is open to public thoroughfare, unlike the privatizing site-swallowing podium destined to encircle 2.3 acres at 2220 Kingsway further up the hill.) You probably could reach back into the archives and gawk at a planner fantasy of people sitting around on a plaza there doing coffee.

Item:  A dead streetscape for a whole block of Kingsway, anchored by TD Canada Trust doing its bit to devitalize that long stretch by turning its back to the sidewalk. Next up, Service Canada deactivates the street with drawn blinds.

Item: A Rental 100 project in the works for the southwest corner of Kingsway at East King Edward. (That giveaway status means not even a pittance of CAC contribution comes in to build up the local public realm.) Another project destined for the block of 1700 Kingsway provides no community “benefit” except rental housing, some of it supposedly to be subsidized.

Item: A “new library” — which in reality is only ten years of no-rent space, with time-outs for three floodings that have led the City of Vancouver to sue the developer [6]. The whole “amenity” never amounted to much more than a real sweetheart deal. The massive project still sits on (and probably writes off) dead empty unfinished retail space that no one wants to rent. Remember too that the library was never new. There was already an existing Kensington branch library on the opposite side of Knight Street. (The City of Vancouver is all about maintenance mode — upgrade, relocation, replacement, renewal. How often is the existing network of amenity expanded by the addition of an entirely new facility? Very rarely. Growth is not really wanted for anything except population and the chain of economic activity that enhances developer profits and municipal tax revenues.)

Without that second piece of the planning for the shopping area, which strangely fell by the wayside, all that ever happens now in the Kingsway & Knight area is … density dumping.

Who knows what development horror awaits the large Rona site at 1503 Kingsway, over to the north? It’ll be open season — wide open, since the City of Vancouver scamsters never completed the planning. Anything could happen there. Nothing is specified.

That’s how the developer-politician axis likes to see its interests executed by a planning regime whose only principles are grab fast and give nothing and stay fuzzy.

 
King Edward Village

        For illustration of following section see thirteen views in a
        companion photo gallery of King Edward Village deadscapes

 
The 403 unit megaproject on the old Safeway triangle bounded by Kingsway and Knight and East King Edward probably has left many with the illusion that “something happened” at the center of the area due to planning. In reality, a one-off spot rezoning infested the heart of the area in advance of formal area planning [7]. Along the long way, the developer cadged more density and more height.

Sidelight timeout for the first two lessons. One. Allow a site to become an eyesore and a longstanding nuisance, and you can get away with almost anything. Force local residents to grasp at any prospect of relief from present conditions. No thanks here to Safeway site abandonment exacerbated by flea-market aftereffects. (The same strategy is apparent at 2300 Kingsway with the Eldorado culture of drunkenness and noise and prostitution that led some residents to prefer anything else.) Two. Be sure to accompany — and usually precede — any new local area plan with some blockbusting megaproject to set the stage and condemn the future. 2300 Kingsway in Norquay, Rize Alliance in Mount Pleasant, Safeway site in Marpole, 1401 Comox in West End, 955 East Hastings in Downtown Eastside (not to mention the Spring 2011 carve-out of Chinatown for a fast condo forest). See a pattern?

To the items already listed above, add this selection of nasty features and further details:

One — “A very important part of the main shopping area.” [7-a-1] That’s why the largest retail space went to a big-box blanked-out-window drive-to Government of Canada office? That’s why TD Canada Trust turned its back to Kingsway? Here’s what the report approved by Council said:

External Design

Grade-level uses fronting on to Kingsway and Knight Street must provide any one or a combination of display windows, individualized tenancy unit design, building articulation, pedestrian entrance definition via a recess or projecting canopy or any other architectural features which facilitate pedestrian interest.

Direct pedestrian access at the fronting street (Kingsway and Knight Street) must be provided at or near grade level to each individual commercial occupancy which abuts those fronting streets.

So much for lofty sentiments that wither in the planning document.

Two — “External design regulations to ensure that the grade level is designed to offer pedestrian interest.” [7-a-1] That whole block of Kingsway sidewalk is now a dead wall with a curb cut to access underground parking.

Three — “A CAC of $251,328.24” — That sum might roughly correspond to the cost of one of the 403 condo units? Do the math. This megaproject provided a payback to the local community of less than 0.25% ? CAC is a sick joke.

Four — “Public Benefit: The proposal includes a 690 sq m (7,436 sq. ft.) library space which would be provided rent-free for 10 years.” [7-a-1] The Kensington Library opened 16 Dec 2008. Half of the “benefit” is already history. And for months of that time the location was closed due to three separate floods.

Five — The deal with the developer included these requirements [7-a-1]:

— Provide the premises to the Vancouver Public Library on a “turn-key” basis in accordance with the Library’s specifications for a Neighbourhood Branch Library to the satisfaction of the Vancouver Public Library Board and the Manager of Real Estate Services with improvement costs incurred by the developer to be repaid by Vancouver Public Library over the initial 10-year period following the opening of the Neighbourhood Branch Library for general use by the public; and
— Lease the space to the City for a term of up to 10 years at no cost to the City, with four 5-year options to renew, with the rent during the option periods to reflect market rents.

At some stage in the Norquay planning a city planner claimed that the developer had provided the outfitting for the no-charge ten-year lease of space, a contribution that deserved to be appreciated (from C.4.10 it can be deduced that the amount would be $140,000). However, the record shows that this furnishing of the space was nothing but more money back into the developer’s pocket. To put it uncharitably, planners lie. Or worse, they are ignorant. Into the future, the developer has a very desirable tenant who will be on the hook to pay whatever the market demands.

Six — Appendix C of the 2003 report [7-a-1] maunders on about how the project will “respond” to the Community Vision. Consider only this nauseating extract:

24.1 More Greening in Public Spaces
This proposal would contribute to greening the area by providing double rows of streets trees, including a large, landscaped central courtyard and using alternative paving materials in the courtyard and lane.

This sounds way better than what was delivered. See the photos.

Seven — A text amendment of 2005 grants the developer increase in FSR [7-b]. Additional CAC in cash of $57,228. In what way did that money ever come back to the local community? Here’s betting that little extra wad just snuck its way off into a general pot for export right out of the local community. [Note to self: investigate this one if you want another bruise on your forehead from running into a stone wall.]

Eight — A text amendment of 2006 grants the developer increase in height and FSR [7-c]. Additional CAC in cash of $250,000. The amount to vanish into local street improvements that should have been funded by DCLs, with the remainder getting sucked away into invisible daycare funding. A good description of this little maneuver? Gravy to incentivize a Jim Pattison Price Smart store as “community benefit” that deserves extra reward.

 
Supposed Community Support

Consider the level of community approval that “supported” this abysmal take-out. Here is the bumf from the initial rezoning of the local area [4]:

In March 2004, a newsletter/survey describing the draft Plan in English and Chinese was distributed to approximately 3,300 households, 325 absentee residential owners, 170 commercial property owners, 260 business license holders, and interested individuals and groups. The survey was also available for viewing on-line through the City’s web page. Survey respondents were asked to comment on the new housing zones, possible locations, design guidelines and improvements to linkages and greening.

In total, 345 mail-back surveys were returned representing a return rate of approximately 7%. This is considered to be a good return for this type of survey.

A random sample telephone survey was also conducted at the same time by the Mustel Group. This survey was based on the newsletter survey and had the same questions. 301 random telephone interviews were conducted representing a margin of error of +/-5.7%, at the 95% level of confidence. The results are generally consistent with those of the non-random survey.

Public response to the Housing Area Plan was positive in both surveys. For the proposed Courtyard Rowhouse zone behind Kingsway (CYRH), 65% (mail-back) and 68% (telephone) of respondents felt the area proposed to be rezoned was generally appropriate or should be more extensive. For Courtyard Rowhouses along Knight the figures were 65% and 64%. For the Small House/Duplex (SH/D) zone, the figures were 72% and 66%. The full survey results are available in Appendix B.

During the survey period staff held two open houses to provide people the opportunity to ask questions and to provide additional input. The open houses were advertised in the newsletter/survey and with posters, newspaper ads and banners throughout the neighbourhood. About 75 people attended the open houses.

Take a look at the detail in Appendix B (link in endnote citation) and ask yourself a few questions.

  Did survey respondents understand what was proposed for their neighborhood?

  How many of those few survey respondents consisted of persons connected to the development industry?

  Did the City of Vancouver cherrypick and spin the data?

  Wasn’t overall “support” decidedly lukewarm, if not negative?

By the time the nitty-gritty of the new district schedules [8] came around a year later, the foregoing blather boiled down to this blithe wave of the hand:

Public response to the Housing Area Plan was positive. The results of the mail-back and random sample telephone survey showed support in the 64% to 72% range for the new housing types and their locations.  [p. 3]

The next such survey, Norquay in 2007, met with strong rejection. Since that time, the City of Vancouver refuses to survey opinion within any consistent and quantifiable framework. They know survey data would only get in the way of planners being able to make subjective assertions about what they know the community really wants.

 
Property Tax Grab

The most accessible and official documentation of this part of the story is 2007 Property Taxation: Land Assessment Averaging Program Amendments [9]. This vague boring title finds explanation in the recommendation:

        … to extend the averaging program to otherwise eligible properties in the Kingsway & Knight
        neighbourhood centre that were excluded because of a change in zoning …

The report admits (p. 4) to recommending an unusual action:

        The use of a retroactive by-law amendment is not common …

What was the net effect of this amendment? The answer is found on page 4:

        On the assumption that averaging is extended to all 1,577 properties identified, the property tax
        levy will be reduced by an estimated $840,000

On average then, the City of Vancouver handed back to each affected resident $532.66 that had been charged on their 2007 taxes. The conclusion section (p. 4) reveals that impacted properties

        experienced increases in property taxes ranging from $250 to $1,400 compared to the average
        $160 increase that would have been common had averaging been available

This additional information shows the range. Amounts returned to individual property owners in 2007 ran from a low of $90 to a high of $1240.

Here’s the backstory, as directly experienced by Eye on Norquay. A conversation occurred during leafleting of the Norquay open house of 14 June 2007. A complete stranger told us about sudden large property tax increases that had resulted from the mass rezoning of the 1577 properties at Kingsway & Knight. Since semiannual property tax payment would be due a few weeks later, at the beginning of July, Norquay residents decided to carry out a series of pickets in front of City Hall, to bring this situation to the attention of in-person property tax payers and passersby. We clearly attracted the attention of city staff, including planners. One city employee paused to applaud our effort, and told us she had been encouraging complainers to seek redress. Just before Council went on August break, it approved a semblance of mitigation which has been spin-doctored ever since.

The kicker is that the averaging brought only short-term and declining relief from the mass rezoning property tax increase. With a basis in current year and two previous years, the 2007 tax increase was reduced by averaging with the pre-rezoning status held in 2005 and 2006. Even with the averaging, 2007 saw some increase due to mass rezoning. At a rough calculation — $840,000 ÷ 2 = $420,000 — the City of Vancouver still reaped an extra $420,000 already in 2007. {{If an $840,000 handback reflects the lesser tax rate for 2005 and 2006, and the new regular rate for 2007, then the effective 2007 regular rate increase, due to rezoning and to ordinary increase in assessment, was $840,000 + $420,000 = $1.26 million.}} The 2008 property tax year would average one year from before the mass rezoning, 2006, with two years after mass rezoning, 2007 and 2008. With the 2009 property tax year, all benefit from averaging would disappear.

This means that a resident living in what had been a single-family house, who had not changed location and who did not elected to use the newly imposed zoning to build out to newly defined maximums, would, going forward from 2009, pay inappropriate tax on land that had been acquired under a different set of expectations. For all years into the future, that resident would be forced to pay for a use that did not exist at time of purchase and a use that was never wanted.

The argument that increased value might be realized upon eventual sale seems very weak. Ordinary residents care more about having a place to live than about the potentials of real estate speculation. They leave that to the flippers. A fair approach would be to grandfather existing property owners under prior zoning, with tax status change triggered by either redevelopment or sale. But City of Vancouver tax grabbers have no intention of being fair. Mass rezoning is a quick way to inflate the property tax base and to increase City of Vancouver revenues.

The report that led to the mass rezoning of Norquay [10] trotted out dubious “analysis” (p. 19-20) to claim that property tax impacts should be slight.

One —  The City of Vancouver proposes that “averaging” solves the problem. The specious nature of that particular argument is apparent. Averaging offers no mitigation at all from year three onward.

Two —  Provincial tax-deferral programs offer nothing except for relief from immediate payment, with interest constantly accruing on the deferral of payment.

Three —  It is hard to see how a 2007 handback of an estimated $840,000 squares up with “analysis” that each of the 1577 properties would pay an additional $37 due to mass rezoning {{1577 × $37 = $58,349}}. It does not seem plausible that $781,651 {{$840,000 – $58,349}} would reflect “short-term upward or downward fluctuations” (p. 19).

The City of Vancouver tossed together a flimsy set of ad hoc speculations to put out a fire at Kingsway & Knight, and then reached back to reference the document as proof of what it wanted to assert to Norquay. That 2007 report is now six years old. If the City of Vancouver really cares to alleviate ongoing concerns about its apparent agenda to use mass rezonings to grab additional property tax revenue, it would provide a transparent and detailed report (with dataset made available for independent analysis) on what has happened over the past decade to taxes paid on 1577 properties in the Kingsway & Knight neighbourhood centre. Data now exists.

 
Epilogue

In March 2006 NPA honcho Sam Sullivan kicked off “planning” for adjacent Norquay, along Kingsway to the southeast. This happened only two short months after Council blockbusted the area with a one-off 22 storey tower that became 2300 Kingsway development at the southeast corner of Nanaimo Street. A year after that Sullivan started going bananas at the prospect of taking out the entire city with his fantasies of EcoDensity™.

 
*   *   *   *   *   *

 
References

[1]  Active Neighbourhood Plans: DTES, Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, Mount Pleasant, Norquay Village, West End [as of Aug 2013]
http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/neighbourhood-planning.aspx

[2]  Identified Local Area Planning Needs
https://eyeonnorquay.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/localarea.pdf

[3]  Note: The four sub-entries below intentionally link to information found at the City of Vancouver web site as it existed prior to August 2012. Information on the remade web site can be found easily. What follows, not so easily. All in the interests of providing access to materials that have suffered less ongoing revisionism.

[3-a]  Mount Pleasant Community Planning Program
http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cpp/mountpleasant/index.htm

[3-b]  Historic Area Height Review
http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/hahr/

[3-c]  Cambie Corridor Planning Program
http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cambiecorridor/

[3-d]  Vancouver’s New Community Plans
http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cityplan/Visions/nextplan/index.htm

[4]  Kingsway and Knight Neighbourhood Centre: Housing Area Plan (8 July 2004)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20040708/pe3.htm

[5]  Neighbourhood Centre Delivery Program — Terms of Reference (9 July 2002)
https://eyeonnorquay.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/ncdptor.pdf

[6]  Bob Mackin. “City of Vancouver suing Aquilini over library flood” Vancouver Courier (1 Nov 2012)
http://www.vancourier.com/news/city-of-vancouver-suing-aquilini-over-library-flood-1.381734

[7]  See entries following for reports on King Edward Village:

[7-a-1]  CD-1 Rezoning – 1402-1436 Kingsway and 4050 Knight Street (9 June 2003)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20030624/p2.htm

[7-a-2]  Public Hearing (24 July 2003)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20030724/ph20030724.htm

[7-b-1]  CD-1 Text Amendment: 1402-1436 Kingsway and 4050 Knight Street (24 Aug 2005)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20050913/documents/p2.pdf

[7-b-2]  Public Hearing (6 Oct 2005)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20051006/ph20051006.htm

[7-c-1]  CD-1 Text Amendment: 4028 Knight Street (formerly 1402-1436 Kingsway and 4050 Knight)
(28 Nov 2006)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20061212/documents/p1.pdf

[7-c-2]  Public Hearing (30 Jan 2007)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20070130/ph20070130.htm

[8]  RT-10/RT-10N and RM-1/RM-1N Districts Schedules (13 Sept 2005)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20050913/documents/p3complete.pdf

[9]  2007 Property Taxation: Land Assessment Averaging Program Amendments (10 July 2007)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk//20070724/documents/a20.pdf

[10]  Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan (19 Oct 2010)
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk//20101104/documents/penv2.pdf
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

22 August 2013 at 9:16 pm

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