Archive for December 2015
A Decade Plus of Vancouver Local Area Planning
As 2015 comes to an end, Eye on Norquay offers up this retrospective — one little history lesson to pin a lot of isolated bits across the framework-of-torture that serves planning hell. Politicians and planners prefer to operate with bits … and especially their analogues, silos and spots. Except when a “plan” makes it possible to grab more, give less, go bigger, and execute faster.
Besides all that, without an occasional “plan” dress-up, the rest of Vancouver’s development would have to stand naked as a silly opportunistic jumble.
yrs-mos Kingsway & Knight Neighbourhood Centre 2-00 July 2002 to July 2004 (plan) October 2005 (zoning) Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre 4-07 April 2006 to November 2010 (plan) • April 2013 (zoning) May 2013 (benefits strategy) West Point Grey Community Vision 4-08 January 2006 to September 2010 Mount Pleasant 3-07 April 2007 to November 2010 (plan) October 2013 (implementation package) Cambie Corridor 1-10 July 2009 to May 2011 (plan) April 2015 to ---- [phase 3] Downtown Eastside September 2005 ... August 2011 to March 2014 (plan) West End 2-04 July 2011 to November 2013 (plan) • January 2014 (zoning) Marpole 2-09 July 2011 to April 2014 (plan) • May 2014 (zoning) Shaughnessy 1-03 June 2014 to September 2015 (heritage conservation area) Grandview-Woodland 4-04+ July 2011 to ????
The timeline above provides a framework for tales of the local areas that have suffered recent onslaught by City of Vancouver “planning.” Let a Q & A approach test your knowledge of the strung out and the done in.
Who got strung out the longest?
Grandview-Woodland will soon overtake Norquay. Downtown Eastside, whose tortuous path is an exemplar of obfuscation, occupies a class all by itself.
Who wrung the clearest concessions out of City Council?
Marpole — likely the poorest and most vulnerable westside local area. Two other westside areas receive mention in the timeline because their areas were dealt with as a whole — not because they underwent anything like a mass rezoning for denser and faster redevelopment.
Where has City of Vancouver grabbed the most the fastest?
Cambie Corridor, no contest. First and foremost, the “corridor” concept served to simultaneously overwhelm three distinct local areas: Riley Park-South Cambie, Oakridge, Marpole. (Those first two have (had?) community visions, for whatever those exercises are now worth.)
Who got the most “consulted”?
Downtown Eastside. See also “strung out” question above. The City of Vancouver delights to boast in its report to Council (p. 7) of intensive engagement with the LAPP Committee with members investing over 470 hours of volunteer time. [Between the lines: Ask a dis-membered former LAPPster how it feels to be “consulted.”]
Whose “plan” has been most disrespected so far?
Probably Mount Pleasant — consider only (1) the override of extreme nonsupport for Rize-Alliance at Broadway and Kingsway (2) the impending encroachment of Westbank-Hootsuite on industrial land at Main/Quebec and 4th/5th Avenue.
Who stands out for NOT being present?
Most of the “community vision” areas, since the City of Vancouver did a 180 during Norquay planning — and left fifteen years of CityPlan smothered in mothballs. Six of these community vision areas (1998-2010) became hands-off to any subsequent local area planning of the mass-rezone variety: Dunbar (1998), Victoria-Fraserview/Killarney (2002), Sunset (2002), Hastings-Sunrise (2004), Arbutus Ridge/Kerrisdale/Shaughnessy (2005), West Point Grey (2010). Even so, significant portions of three primarily eastside areas got steamrolled: Kensington-Cedar Cottage (1998), Renfrew-Collingwood (2004), Riley Park/South Cambie (2005).
Vancouver’s non-mass-rezoned areas contain the great majority of the remaining 68,282 RS (single-family) zoned properties. The value divergence upward for these properties becomes ever more apparent. The two “neighbourhood centre” mass rezonings of 1577 and 1912 properties blitzed immigrant working-class areas in the heart of East Vancouver.
Who suffers the biggest density dump?
West End by a mile. “New planning” for yet more density-dumping has landed on the doorstep of a local area that in 2011 sported a person-per-hectare figure of 218. Downtown had 146. Shaughnessy had 20. The Vancouver average was 53.
Who only pretended to get planned?
Kingsway & Knight. King Edward Village concurrently blockbusted the heart of the area, separated from the planning process. The eventual mass rezoning affected 1577 properties. Meanwhile, the “shopping area” part fell off the back of the planning wagon that was racing uphill toward Norquay. Populate your nightmares with what may happen at the Rona site, since future development for the entire commercial part of the first “neighbourhood centre” was never defined.
When considered as a part of Vancouver, the Norquay area already seems to have acquired far more than its share of the grassy retail outlets that have sprouted up across our greenest city. As the City of Vancouver starts to look for its cut of this “free” enterprise, questions arise. As always, Why Norquay? Could pot shop sprawl be just another aspect of the “revitalization” touted by mass rezoning? The favorite planner question provides hollow echo effect: “Don’t you want a nicer neighborhood with more amenities?” Data below suggests the emergence of yet one more east-west disparity (7 vs 2) in Vancouver.
One Norquay Development Application So Far
The application for 2768 Kingsway — DE419426 is the only application so far for Norquay. Here is what a viewing of the proposed location reveals:
Specific Dilapidated Storefront
Context: Tear-Down Half-Block East of Earles
Development Application Signage
At Rear of Site: Clean-up of Long-Term Dumping Accumulation on 18 December 2015
The owner of this property has abused the Norquay streetscape and neighborhood for a long time. Should this poor treatment of the local community be rewarded with a new medical marijuana license? Also, after such an extended period of neglect, can the existing building structure really satisfy licensing requirements and inspections — unless perhaps some of the anticipated cash flow gets diverted into purchasing adequate nudge-nudge-wink-wink?
New Development Applications Across Vancouver
The City of Vancouver has begun a listing for “Medical Marijuana-Related Use Development Applications” at the foot of its
Development Application Information Web Page
Here is a listing by date of notification letters for the nine applications listed as of 24 December 2015:
Dec 4 4545 West 10th Avenue Wealthshop Social Society Dec 8 2894 East Broadway BC Pain Society Dec 8 2179 West 4th Avenue Buddha Barn Dec 8 2768 Kingsway Medicinal Express Dec 8 3441 Kingsway Scooter Health Society Dec 8 1193 Main Street Herb Co Society Dec 8 6416 Main Street Healing Centre Dec 9 1316 Kingsway MPN Health Society Dec 15 1404 East 57th Avenue Green Room Society
Addresses above are taken from the notification letters. These often vary from the addresses listed in the link on the application web page. If this routine part of the “process” shows that degree of inconsistency, what sort of schmozz is going on at City Hall?
The Rest of Norquay
Norquay is already serviced by the following half-dozen “operations” — which thus far show no sign of applying for an appropriate business license:
Budzilla at 2267 Kingsway
Canna Mart at 2487 Kingsway
Weeds Glass & Gifts at 2580 Kingsway
Just to the east of the Norquay boundary lie three more establishments:
Eggs Canna at 2076 Kingsway
Green Cross Society at 2145 Kingsway
Eastside Compassion Society at 2127 Kingsway
Lots More Questions
1 — With six non-permitted storefronts already operating in the Norquay area, why would City of Vancouver consider an application for a seventh “permitted” one?
2 — What have these enterprises contributed to Norquay? Business license fees? Activation of retail streetscape? Promotion of walkability? Revitalization of Kingsway? Donations for local school programs?
3 — Since the mass rezoning of 1,912 Norquay single-family properties is supposed to result in a “neighbourhood centre,” why should pot shops be strung throughout Norquay?
4 — The gingko leaf shape is stamped into Norquay sidewalks as a symbol of the recent planning, even though City of Vancouver in the delivery has substituted other trees for what the plan specified. Wouldn’t it be appropriate now to grind away those symbols and replace them with marijuana leaves?
5 — Why can’t a business-oriented individual apply for a City of Vancouver “license” to distribute, say, medical ethanol?
6 — In light of the approach toward marijuana purveying over the past few years, why should Norquay residents have any respect for City of Vancouver management, planning, or bylaws?
[Possible answer: Lack of untaxed cash to buy the desired respect.]
If municipal politicians want build-out to the absolute max, big healthy old trees have to die, even when located at the periphery of a development site. After all, in the Meanest-Greenest City, density of profits and property tax revenues matter the most. Even if a bright new building will have mouldered into rotting junk before the killed-off trees would have died in the course of their natural life.
Eye on Norquay heard a cry of despair from a neighbor of the old Avalon Dairy site, and went out to take a look. East 43rd Avenue and Wales lies just outside the southern boundary of Norquay. (Never forget that Norquay was where planners said density should concentrate to form a “neighbourhood centre.” Reality: density will dump wherever it can.) Here is how the stumps looked on the afternoon of 18 December.
This is what the report to Council said about trees at the 8 July 2014 public hearing for the rezoning:
Source: Conditions of Approval of the Form of Development (Appendix B, Page 2 of 10)
The typical weasel words — wherever possible and with arborist consultation — amount to a blank cheque for the developer to execute on-site tree removal.
A glance at the site plan below suggests that a bit of reduction on the north side of Building 2 might have saved those two trees.
For those who can’t easily get out to wander around the scene of devastation for themselves, here are a few other perspectives from the construction site.
The large drilling apparatus pictured below, at the very western edge of the construction site, appears to be encroaching on the neighboring property.
Here’s the gist of what a City of Vancouver building inspector once gave Eye on Norquay to understand:
When the City of Vancouver issues a permit, it assumes no liability for anything a contractor does under that permit. If the owner of an adjoining property experiences a problem, then they would have to lawyer up at their own expense. It’s all a private matter between the two property owners. The City of Vancouver has nothing to do with it.
In Developer City, “protection” from injustice seems to have nothing to do with municipal government, and everything to do with hired-gun lawyers. Welcome to the far-out West.
The picture below is probably the only view of the construction site that the developer would like for you to notice on 18 December 2015:
A Stealth Swath Across East Vancouver?
Over the past six years, Vancouver planners have mentioned “station area planning” in various contexts. In two instances, clear and specific proposals have encountered immediate strong resistance: Broadway and Commercial (2013) and Joyce (2015). Towers of 36 and 35 storeys at either end. The City of Vancouver has shown tendencies to view this large swath as a corridor. Yet so far it only dabbles in piecemeal attempts.
The primary purpose of this review is to put five pieces together, latest first:
October 2015 — Joyce Precinct Review
October 2015 — Changes to Eight CD-1 Areas
August 2014 — Brian Jackson Glimpse of the Future
June 2013 — Grandview-Woodland Meltdown
November 2009 — Norquay Backstory
The only thing that saves East Vancouver from a Cambie Corridor type onslaught is the patchwork of actual development (Collingwood Village, Wall Centre Central Park) and recent planning (Norquay) that now stands in the way.
If Vancouver had undertaken considered development rather than impulsive this-and-that, SkyTrain today would be a subway that runs along Kingsway. That major highway cuts across the grid to follow an early route adapted to East Vancouver landforms. SkyTrain does not. The terrain between Broadway/Commercial and Joyce includes wetlands, a contaminated site, and considerable divergences in elevation. And understandably, no existing local area shopping.
In the end, Norquay planners insisted that the supposed “neighbourhood centre” could not locate anywhere off of Kingsway. The key idea was core density with a walkable radius. To now seek to locate significant new density at the periphery of that radius would dismiss that recent planning as fumble. (Avalon Mews at the south edge of Norquay has already abused the concept.) City of Vancouver abandoned the many millions of dollars and the many years invested in CityPlan. Anything can happen overnight when “planning” turns into subterfuge.
To propose a double-tracking of new development across an already dense East Vancouver further disrespects a region that has already endured more than its share of disrespect. The outstanding characteristic of Renfrew-Collingwood redevelopment over the past two decades has been grudging increase in amenity infrastructure. Increase means provision of new facilities — not refurbishment or replacement or extension of what was already there. Collingwood Neighbourhood House (1985/1995) is what planners love to point to. Twenty to thirty years old is far from new.
Panel 19 for the Joyce Station open house typifies a dismissive give-nothing-more blandishment in connection with proposing to inject thousands of new residents:
Joyce-Collingwood is generally well-served by existing and planned facilities
That statement flies in the face of the promises written into the 2004 Renfrew-Collingwood Community Vision:
Each proposal for a new housing type has been made conditional not only on an increase in community facilities and programs needed to serve any population growth generated by the new housing type but also on an assurance that parking and traffic impacts would be addressed. (p. 30)
Planning in Vancouver seems to have become a mechanistic exercise in rezoning, collecting fees, increasing property tax revenue — and giving nothing back to the affected community. Not even sidewalks and garbage cans.
In fall 2015 the City of Vancouver Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Review became highly contentious. A 21 October 2015 open house unveiled sudden surprises, only in English, to an area that is about one-quarter Chinese. A massive amount of information was confusingly presented in a series of twenty panels.
Astute residents quickly recognized serious problems and formed the Joyce Area Residents Association (JARA). In late November JARA held two grassroots open houses and submitted a formal report to Mayor and Council and to planners.
The prior acceptance of a 29 July 2015 development application for a 29-storey tower at 5050-5080 Joyce Street seems extremely prejudicial to any good-faith planning for the entire area. Setting up a single blockbusting precedent just ahead of local area planning has become a particularly nasty habit of the City of Vancouver — starting with King Edward Village and 2300 Kingsway (at Nanaimo Street) in the middle of the last decade.
On 20 October 2015 a “parking amendments” document —
Parking Amendments to Various CD-1 By-laws for Sites Adjacent to SkyTrain
— went before City Council. The map below shows the eight areas in the vicinity of the Nanaimo and 29th Avenue SkyTrain stations where developers have avoided the difficult site conditions mentioned in the introduction. If they are allowed to avoid excavation into bogs and contaminated sites, who knows what they might be able to achieve at the expense of existing neighbours?
It seems clear that the only consultation that Vancouver city planners anticipate for residents in the areas of the Nanaimo and 29th Avenue SkyTrain stations is a single out-of-the-blue invitation to spectate a done deal at a City of Vancouver public hearing.
A favorite planner phrase is “next steps.” All that the public gets to see here is one giant step. Perhaps the best speculation: look east and west to see the proposals for 35-storey towers that have already raised a ruckus at Broadway and Commercial and at Joyce.
In August 2014 Eye on Norquay provided context for the following comment that Brian Jackson made to Vancouver City Planning Commission. (At the time he was General Manager, Planning and Development Services, City of Vancouver — he suddenly announced his decision to retire on 26 June 2015.)
Our other proposal is for doing some station area planning around two of the Millennium Line stations at 29th and Nanaimo which have development opportunities. … We’ve got a lot on our plate, and it may take us a while to get to those last things, so those things are looking like they’re mid to late 2015.
The specifics of what City of Vancouver top-down planning had in mind for the Broadway & Commercial station area became apparent in the summer of 2013. An “emerging directions” presentation, with a proposal for multiple towers, one as high as 36 storeys, set off a chain reaction. (The southern boundary of Grandview-Woodland is Broadway. Planners chose to bite off extra by reaching into already neighbourhood-centred Kensington-Cedar Cottage.)
Subarea Focus — Broadway Commercial & VCC Clark Transit Oriented Community
The ensuing heat — see Charlie Smith. City of Vancouver seeks input on densifying area around Commercial-Broadway Station. Georgia Straight (26 June 2013) and Yolande Cole. Grandview-Woodland residents rally for more time on community plan. Georgia Straight (9 July 2013) — eventually led into the forensics of an unprecedented “citizen’s assembly.” The results of that long and expensive attempt at decontamination remain unclear at the end of 2015.
In the interim, on 10 November 2014, a comment by Senior Urban Designer Scot Hein lifted the veil on the planning shenanigans that led to the debacle.
One of the biggest surprises ever during the years of planning for Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre came on the evening of 2 November 2009. After more than three and a half years, Director of Planning Brent Toderian bombshelled the Norquay Working Group with the news that about one-fifth of what had been outlined as Norquay would be excluded going forward.
Four months earlier, a substantial majority of Norquay Working Group had signed a document in support of the plan that they had developed during a prolonged and intense 2009 process. (Residents in a mid-2007 formal survey strongly rejected cut-and-paste quickie “draft plan” based on the mass rezoning at Kingsway & Knight).
That 9 July 2009 meeting was the last one ever where Norquay Working Group had status as participants. The City of Vancouver went into indefinite recess, and then came back with a brand new set of planners.
What Toderian then called “station area planning” to the north would be put on indefinite hold. This out-of-the-blue severance disrespected the many Norquay residents from that area, many of whom had put in the equivalent of several working weeks of volunteer time.
Norquay resident Marilyn Hogan commented at length on 14 December 2015 on the posting of the City of Vancouver letter about a report to Council on RM-9A zoning. Her full comment is reproduced below. She has raised good points. Eye on Norquay has not addressed those concerns in any previous postings. Our three-point response can be seen below.
Comment by Marilyn Hogan
The problem with the new RM-9A proposal is that it “streamlines” or “fast-tracks” developments. This is not a desirable trend, as it essentially means cutting the public input opportunities out, to a large extent. Under current zoning, development applications must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with notices in the paper, public open houses, opportunities for dialogue with the planning department, and a chance to address city council. Under the new zoning proposals, much of these opportunities for public involvement will be removed unless a person happens to know about a specific development and takes the time to contact the city — and city council may or may not allow people to address the issue at a council meeting.
Essentially, the rezoning will mean that as long as the Director of Planning finds a development to be suitable and it meets basic guidelines, it will likely be approved, even with no public input at all. This is a marked digression from the usual democratic process — which, in my opinion, offers only minimal opportunities for community involvement as it is. The new zoning would cut out public input almost entirely and leave development decisions in the hands of the city planners. This is a bad precedent to set, as the chance for the public to be involved in urban development and to directly shape the direction our cities will take, is a fundamental component of democracy. Are we going to stand back and let this happen?
If we are no longer easily able to know about what is being planned in our neighbourhoods, then that means we are leaving virtually all the control (ideas about design, density, aesthetics, suitability, and whether it fits with the character of a neighbourhood) in the hands of government and city planners, with only a top-down approach to city planning. I encourage people to realize the implications of such rezoning. This is not to say all development is bad, and certainly some development proposals will be justified. But they should still be assessed on a case-by-case basis, which is how things will proceed if the current zoning in Norquay remains as it is.
You can see for yourself the differences between the current zoning and the proposed new zoning in the report that was presented at the 2015 open house. That report states, “By creating a district schedule or zone, the need for a rezoning process is removed.” What it fails to say is that most of the public input would also be removed and this is not right. See page 4 of this 10-page document:
Some argue in favour of the current proposal, because it allows for more structural diversity. While this might very well have merit, my issue (and I know I speak for many) is with how the application process for development in the area will be handled. Anyone who cares about development plans and the democratic process should be watching this issue closely, especially on Tuesday, December 15, 2015, when the report will go before council.
I hope people will plan on attending the Public Hearing, which the application recommends, and which I think will be held in early 2016.
• • • • • •
Response by Eye on Norquay
Thank you for your carefully considered comment. You raise good points. We would like to respond.
1 — The problem with the new RM-9A proposal is that it “streamlines” or “fast-tracks” developments.
It is true that when RM-9A zoning regulations come into effect, development applications in this zone will no longer need to go through a rezoning process. As you say, this process includes “notices in the paper, public open houses, opportunities for dialogue with the planning department, and a chance to address city council,” as well as notification of nearby residents by mail.
Larger developments within the Kingsway Rezoning Policy Area will still require rezoning. This situation is not expected to change.
Buildings in the RM-9A zone will be smaller 4-storey projects, generally fewer than 30 dwelling units on three or four parcels of land. Typically, small developers undertake these projects. The additional costs of a time-consuming and expensive process of one-by-one rezoning would make the apartment units even less affordable.
2 — Under the new zoning proposals, much of these opportunities for public involvement will be removed.
It is true that residents will need to take efforts to become more aware of development proposals in their neighbourhood. The City of Vancouver will continue to post a development application notice at the physical location. As well, considerable detail about the application will be posted on the City’s Development Applications web site at
Concerned residents will still be able to contact the project coordinator by phone or email if they have questions. They may also submit written comments that will be considered — and in our experience, can have impact. Eye on Norquay plans to initiate a separate listing for active development applications in all of the zones: RM-7, RM-9A, RT-11. Since 2013 Eye on Norquay has monitored and commented on development applications in RM-7 and RT-11. Except in a few problem instances that we attempted to publicize, we are not aware that anyone else has ever taken any advantage of this opportunity for input.
Norquay residents often fail to take advantage of existing opportunities for public input on small projects. Poor attendance characterized the three Apartment Transition Area open houses that Eye on Norquay participated in over the past 18 months. No speakers showed up for the only public hearing. (Unable to be present, Eye on Norquay wrote a letter to Council — the only letter on record.)
3 — Development decisions [will be] left in the hands of city planners.
It is true that applications will be dealt with by the Planning Department and not by Council. However, Council relies on the planning staff recommendation that accompanies every rezoning application, and almost never modifies what is recommended. Beyond that, planning staff can and will make substantial changes to a development application in response to perspectives that have basis and genuine support.
We encourage the many who are said to be concerned about opportunities for public input to make fuller use of the existing opportunities.
The mapping below of 2010/2011 data on toddler-and-infant (ages 4 and under) distribution in Vancouver raises a big question for Norquay (outlined in purple).
Why did City of Vancouver planners repeatedly put this mantra question to Norquay residents:
Don’t you want YOUR neighborhood to be affordable for young families?
Our never-answered question back was:
Why us? Aren’t there other areas with less demographic and social mix
and density that need this mass rezoning way more than we do?
This map makes it clear that Norquay already occupied the heart of family-friendly Vancouver territory.
Deliberate acceleration of the rate of redevelopment in one of Vancouver’s most affordable areas was a tactic (1) to make money for developers (2) to hasten elimination of the existing older affordable housing that makes it possible for young families to remain in Vancouver.
File this posting under: What Planners Like to Tell You
Note: Mapping of 2010/2011 Statistics Canada by Jens von Bergmann on 18 September 2015.
Original version at
Will the City of Vancouver Charge Westbank?
On 8 November 2015 Eye on Norquay took a series of photographs documenting Westbank’s direct dumping of construction site wastewater into the storm sewer system at the corner of Kingsway and Gladstone Street. The fact of unpermitted bypass was later confirmed in conversation with City of Vancouver officials.
Five weeks later, on 13 December 2015, Kingsway is flooding because of a blocked storm sewer:
At the same time, a single green drain hose leads from the wastewater processing equipment into a nearby sewer opening:
These two photographs show what the 2220 Kingsway site excavation looks like on the same day:
One Week Ago
At some point during the past week, Westbank’s contractors eliminated at least the overt evidence of ongoing double bypass. These three hoses were photographed entering the sewer on 5 December 2012.
The two red hoses appeared to run straight back into the excavation —
— and the green hose back to the wastewater processing equipment. At a rough calculation, only one-third of the wastewater was being processed.
Here are two questions that a Freedom of Information request well might stonewall as “too private” for a municipal taxpayer ever to know anything about:
How often does Westbank fail to comply with City of Vancouver standards and requirements?
Does the City of Vancouver ever hold Westbank financially responsible for the negative impacts of their activities on public infrastructure?