Archive for January 2015
2013 Annual Report on Community Amenity Contributions and Density Bonusing
Standing Committee of Council on Planning, Transportation and Environment
21 January 2015 — Agenda Item No. 4
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Comment Presented to Council by Jeanette Jones
We have before us a comprehensive report on the CACs that were collected by the City of Vancouver in 2013. I would like to talk a little about CACs that were NOT collected.
The City of Vancouver advertises waiver of DCL fees as one of the incentives for developers to build secured market rental housing. What is less well known is that the City will probably not be collecting CACs on these developments either. In Norquay, we have just become aware that even projects located in zones that were assigned fixed rate CACs will very likely not be paying them if the developer is building secured market rental housing.
This would be more acceptable if the 886 units of secured market rental housing approved in 2013 were indeed “scattered across the city” as the reports states (p. 8). In actual fact, this is not the case. Nine of the eleven developments listed on page 10 of the report are concentrated in only a few neighbourhoods: Downtown, Downtown Eastside, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, and Renfrew-Collingwood. Non-market rental housing, which is exempt from paying CACs, is concentrated in the same areas.
The Downtown is already notoriously underserved with amenities such as parks, libraries and community centres. This also true of the Downtown Eastside, which along with Kensington-Cedar Cottage and Renfrew-Collingwood is among the poorest neighbourhoods of Vancouver.
Does rental housing in Vancouver need to become more affordable? Of course it does. Should Vancouver have more non-market or social rental housing? Of course we should. I am glad to see that Council is concerned with this problem. Should social housing be built primarily in East Vancouver? This makes sense. But this citywide social good — which is what “affordable rental housing” is — should not be built on the backs of Vancouver’s poorest and most neglected neighbourhoods.
The stated purpose of CACs according to the policy is “to help address growth costs, area deficiencies, and/or other community needs and impacts.” (p. 1 of Community Amenity Contributions Through Rezonings, adopted January 20, 1999 and last amended April 29, 2014.) The first guideline for determining specific amenities states that they “must be located in the community in which the rezoning takes place and/or serve the site” (p. 3). CACs are intended to provide real amenities to the specific community that is receiving the increased density. Current practice means that the City does not even collect many of the CACs that should be funding these amenities. Most of the CACs that actually are collected in these neighbourhoods are being spent to address a problem facing the entire City of Vancouver.
This is not fair. Citywide problems should be addressed with funding from citywide contributions. It is those who live in Vancouver’s most expensive residences who can best afford to help provide homes for those who are having trouble finding a place to live. The burden of funding affordable rental housing should not fall disproportionately on those neighbourhoods that are being rapidly densified, at the expense of the amenities that their new residents desperately need. I encourage Council and Staff to find alternative ways of financing affordable rental housing.
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Comment Presented to Council by Joseph Jones
In February 2014, at a technical briefing on the new plan for Downtown Eastside, my attention fastened on a statement that the City of Vancouver would undertake to monitor new development and to report back to Council.
The build-out in our own local area, Norquay, the heart of East Vancouver, receives no such attention. Nor does the build-out in any of the other new-community-plan neighborhoods. Our Vancouver planning machine is designed to wrap up, move on, and do zero monitoring afterward. Recommendation number one: Require ongoing assessment for all new community plans.
So, Jeanette and I now put in a lot of hours trying to do the monitoring for Norquay. This CAC agenda item provides an opportunity for us to express disappointment at how all-take-no-give the Norquay Plan has turned out so far. We now have four years of evidence. What follows is a case-study on large-site quantification to set alongside the macro problem that Jeanette has already outlined.
A little northwest of Norquay, in the first of CityPlan’s only-two-ever “neighbourhood centres,” stands King Edward Village. What did that massive development bring to the area in 2003? A CAC of $251,328.24. That’s probably less than the price of one of those 400+ condos. The money funded relocation of an adjacent existing library. Existing, so not a new amenity. In essence the library relocation was an on-site in-kind sweetheart deal for the developer.
Now on to Norquay. Our first CAC under the Norquay Plan produced a scrawny $105,846. That entire amount disappeared into some vague attempt to mitigate the shadows that 2711 Kingsway’s new tower cast over the adjacent daycare. All in all, this deal did more to damage the neighborhood than to enhance it.
Our second and only other CAC comes from 2220 Kingsway. The $4,011,720 sounds like significant money. But about one-quarter of that total is more in-kind funny-money accounting. Meaning that the stated $1 million plus costs the developer a lot less than book, and at the same time increases value for the project. What’s left over is $3 million cash that vanishes into indefinite sequestration. One thing seems certain. If and when the money re-emerges, it will buy a whole lot less than it would today. Recommendation number two: Require indexing and clear accountability for squirreled-away CACs.
Only ten years ago a community vision promised Norquay that future development would be conditional on “an increase in community facilities and programs needed to serve any population growth generated.” (p. 30, Renfrew-Collingwood Community Vision). We can already see that Norquay is well ahead on the additional population we’re supposed to absorb over a period of thirty years.
Since Norquay Plan CAC is delivering nothing substantial to Norquay, Capital Plan funding needs to fill the gap now. Jeanette and I knocked as hard as we could on that door for Norquay in 2011, and we did the same again in 2014. We still have no idea whether we’re being heard on the other side of that door. I close with recommendation number three: Require significant 2015-2018 capital funding to be directed toward defined Norquay priorities.
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The Situation at 2220 Kingsway
In early January 2015, the City of Vancouver appears to have handed over a large strip of public property to developer Westbank for a stated period of one year. This action was taken with no notification to surrounding area residents.
1 — East Side of Gladstone Ceded to Westbank for One Year
The entire east side of Gladstone Street between Kingsway and East 30th Avenue has been fenced off with a second fence. This includes actual street area. Most of the area consists of grassed boulevard with trees. Protective fencing for the trees went up in late 2014. Even with this measure in place, one tree is already being directly impacted by a large tank.
Even more disturbing than the takeover of public property is its apparent intended use: a location for a remediation factory to process the construction site’s contaminated soil. This massive amount of equipment has suddenly appeared in the neighborhood with no communication to surrounding area residents.
2 — Toxic Soil Remediation Factory
Lots of Questions
Here is a set of initial questions that is being directed to the City of Vancouver. It would be appropriate for the City of Vancouver to schedule a public meeting in Norquay to discuss this situation with area residents.
1. How can a densely populated area zoned only for residential and commercial uses permit this distinct hazardous industrial use?
2. Why would the City of Vancouver allow processing of toxic soil in a particularly high-traffic area (KFC Chicken across Gladstone to west, Dollarama across Kingsway to north), situated along a designated bicycle route and a major foot-traffic route for students who attend Gladstone Secondary?
3. Why is contaminated soil from the Canadian Tire site not being straightaway trucked off-site for processing in an industrial area?
4. Is developer Westbank trying to cut corners and save money by setting up a toxic soil remediation factory in Norquay?
5. What are the precedents for a Vancouver neighborhood to be subjected to installation of a developer’s toxic soil remediation factory? Would this ever happen west of Main Street?
6. Why is the largest remediation tank allowed to push into [photo 7] one of the mature boulevard trees? What impacts would long-term presence of this equipment have on the boulevard trees (shading, vapors, excretions, pressure on soil and root systems)?
7. What is the nature of the 2220 Kingsway Canadian Tire site contamination? Hydrocarbons? Heavy metals? What else?
8. Is the large coiled drain hose [photo 8] expected to discharge effluent into the city sewer system? What assurance would the City of Vancouver have that the wastewater would be as pure as the rainwater that the system is designed to receive? Would the City of Vancouver itself undertake effective monitoring of the water quality?
9. Since site contamination likely includes hydrocarbons, what additional and uncontrollable impact on air quality could on-site processing produce, and how might that affect area residents?
10. How would the extracted, refined, and therefore significantly more toxic elements be handled? How much leakage and spillage [photo 3] would attend physical transfer of the material? What would be the potential for on-site accident with a large quantity of a concentrated toxic substance?
11. If the processing is not relocated off-site, what noise impacts could be expected from the pumping and processing?
12. What payment is the City of Vancouver receiving for this large appropriation of public property, which includes crucial street parking?
13. What recompense could the local neighborhood expect to see for loss of use of existing community green space and on-street parking? This area clearly is not required for access to the construction site.
A Little Backstory
On 27 October 2014 some unusual activity was observed and photographed at the rear of the Canadian Tire building.
3 — Waste Spillage Occurred on 27 October 2014
It appears that wastewater collected from on-site environmental test drilling had been collected in barrels and was being removed from the barrels by a tanker truck. Note the spillage occurring in this small operation.
Two years earlier, a never-explained burst of activity in the same area was reported at Eye on Norquay as Stealth Remediation?.
4 — Massive Soil Replacement Occurred in October 2012
As I recall, a City of Vancouver inspector eventually told me that I might be able to get additional detail on what he had concluded by doing an FOI, but that he himself could not tell me anything about what had been going on.
5 — Toxic Soil Remediation Factory — North End View
6 — Toxic Soil Remediation Factory — South End View
7 — Toxic Soil Remediation Factory Tank Impacts Boulevard Tree
8 — Coiled Drain Hose = Contaminated Water into City Sewer?
The single greatest surprise ever experienced by Norquay residents probably came on 2 November 2009, when then Director of Planning Brent Toderian came back at Norquay with an entirely new team of city planners.
For four months, the City of Vancouver had left the Norquay Working Group dangling and wondering … “What next?” An awkward 9 July 2009 meeting had ended with City of Vancouver grudgingly receiving a plan that was supported by a two-thirds majority of members present. This happened only after city planning pursued every possible maneuver to avoid any acknowledgment of a resident-produced plan. Well-informed external observers provided crucial support at that meeting.
The shocker after four months of silence? Going forward, the northern area of Norquay (you can see the map) would be excluded from the planning process. (As would any further “participation” by Norquay Working Group.) This large irregular SkyTrain area stretched from Nanaimo Street to Rupert Street, an area where a substantial number of the Norquay Working Group happened to live. After over three and a half years of “planning,” the City of Vancouver lopped off about 28% of the designated Norquay area. Whack!
Why This History Matters to Grandview-Woodland
Grandview-Woodland planning is right now entering the eye of the hurricane. A “Citizens Assembly” restart process has been grinding along since September 2014. Two “sub-area workshops,” Cedar Cove on 29 November 2014 and Britannia-Woodland on 6 December 2014 —
Image from Vancouver Courier, 21 November 2014, A13
Two more sub-areas, Grandview on 10 January 2015 and Nanaimo Street on 17 January 2015, are in the process of getting the gears.
Image from Vancouver Courier, 9 January 2015, A13
Notice this. Of the four sub-area workshops scheduled so far, all of them deal with areas lying north of and outside of the primary site of contention.
Meanwhile, just-released previous plan sketches for the most contentious area have emerged from the dark archives of city planning and been rendered comprehensible by CityHallWatch analysis.
To repeat that well-worn question … “What next?”
Odds look ever stronger for instant replay of the carve-out tactic. City of Vancouver might say something like this:
It has become clear that Broadway/Commercial SkyTrain and the adjoining Safeway site need to be integrated into a transit corridor planning that stretches eastward to include the next two Millennium Line stations, Nanaimo and 29th Avenue. In the interests of timely completion of a new Grandview-Woodland Local Area Plan, this sub-area will be carved out.
Well, they won’t say “carve-out.” But this may very well be what they decide to do.
After all, they did a carve-out on Norquay after three and a half years. And General Manager of Planning and Development Brian Jackson said last year that return to Norquay sits high on the “planning” agenda.
All of this could be just the next scenario in an already delineated series of eerie parallels between Norquay and Grandview-Woodland.
In between Norquay 2009 and Grandview-Woodland 2015, City of Vancouver on 20 January 2011 went into panic mode — they themselves called it “emergency” — and did a fast carve-out on the Downtown Eastside. After years and years of planning.
Those politician-ridden planners wield a nasty, unpredictable knife. And a local area plan always has to become the arena for a fight. That’s just how Vancouver local area planning consistently fails to work, at least for its existing residents.