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Failing City

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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson stirred up local media with a 1 March 2017 annual keynote address to the Urban Land Institute.

If you had coughed up $125 in good time, you could have gone to the Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront to hear Robertson’s latest wild stabs at gaining favor with the perceived voter. But if you weren’t a developer, you probably didn’t show up at that expensive scene.

Ordinary tax-paying residents are left to sift through skimpy news accounts to try to get a handle on this “preview of new directions the city is planning to take to produce housing for people, not investments.” That just-quoted gist comes from the caption to the story in Metro, a news source which has recently zoomed to the top of the heap for content and reliability.

Three points jump out from that Jen St. Denis coverage on the day of the speech:

     •  Find ways to increase density on lots without land assembly
     •  Attempt to encourage new housing that people will live in — not hold as
         under-occupied investments
     •  Encourage duplexes to multiply into four-plexes

What follows is a seasoned Norquay take on these febrile brain waves. In case you forgot, Norquay was mass-rezoned in 2010 to achieve some of these goals. Singled out. “Planned.” And promised alleviating amenity that shows almost no signs of ever being delivered in the lifetime of existing residents.

First and foremost, why would Robertson jump off in so many directions at once without making any attempt to assess the current state of the Norquay experiment? Our ADHD mayor hotfoots from homelessness to civic logos to EcoDensity™ cubed. Confidence wanes that he has any clue about what he is doing, other than scrambling to front for whatever he is advised to front for. A weird style of “leadership.”

Without Land Assembly

The Norquay mass rezoning set off a speculative wave of land assembly that is still reverberating. At one early stage Klein Group was hawking most of the south side of Duke Street between Duchess and Earles. Robertson imagines he can somehow rezone without rezoning?

One especially nasty early experiment at 2298 Galt Street demonstrated that “four-storey apartment” without land assembly was not a good idea. Planners subsequently recognized that fact in the zoning for RM-9A.

New Housing that People Will Live In

Here is a recent photo of 4565/4571/4585 Slocan Street, three sixplexes built under conditional RM-7 zoning as stacked townhouse.


On multiple recent occasions we have observed this new housing being marketed without advertised open house to sizeable groups of what are almost certainly offshore investors. These smaller investors may feel forced to rent the units to cover mortgage, thus sacrificing the purity of newness. But who can tell?

Double Duplex = Fourplex … On One Lot

The duplex form in Norquay has seen considerable take-up by developers. A new duplex, strata-titled on half the land, is not much cheaper than an existing fee simple house (not so new) on a whole lot. So duplex has not brought the promised new level of affordability. Besides that, as expected, rapid redevelopment has rushed the extermination of older more affordable housing, obliterating what would have been a more organic cycle. If the failed experiment at 2298 Galt is what Robertson means by “four-plex,” start to shudder.

On a less polemic note, Eye on Norquay has undertaken monitoring reviews of two new housing types, Duplex and Small House/Duplex. We know what we’re talking about.

Gregor Robertson is proposing to make a bold move on all of Vancouver — okay, probably never Shaughnessy and certain other special areas, because essential inequities must be maintained — a bold move based on an absolute jumble of notions. Perhaps he and his “planners” should start with a good stare at Norquay in the rearview mirror? But that is not where you can imagine a bright future, like you can when doing ninety miles an hour down a dead-end street.

Never forget the bottom line, whatever emits from Robertson’s mouth. The perennial task is to open up vast new tracts of already built-on Vancouver land for ever-increasing developer profits. And to do that in a tricky fashion, so the new lift value accrues mainly to the developer, not to the current property owner.

News Accounts

Frances Bula. The signs of a ‘failing city.’ Globe and mail BC ed (2 Mar 2017) S1-S2

Mike Howell. Housing options coming to single-family neighbourhoods. Vancouver courier (2 Mar 2017)

Matte Robinson. Robertson takes frank tone on housing crisis. Vancouver sun (2 Mar 2017) A3

Jen St. Denis. Emptying neighbourhoods sign of ‘failing city’: Vancouver mayor. Metro (1 Mar 2017)

Jen St. Denis. Can Vancouver avoid empty neighbourhood ‘death’ with gentle density? Metro (2 Mar 2017)


Written by eyeonnorquay

3 March 2017 at 11:21 pm

Posted in Context, News

Alternative Open House

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Eye on Norquay has been hearing recently from a new East Vancouver group called Renfrew-Collingwood Residents. Their activism relates to an area directly adjacent to and east of Norquay. Most of the Norquay Plan area also falls within Renfrew-Collingwood.

Here’s the latest about an alternative open house coming up later this week:

•      •      •      •      •      •


Thank you for supporting and sharing our petition. We have gained a
small victory — the City has extended the comment period to
November 29 and will be meeting with local businesses.

An extended comment period is not enough. We need commitment from
the City that the existing local community will not be displaced and
that our voice will be part of the planning process. We need to
continue this momentum. 

You are invited to our alternative open house and info night [choice
of two dates and times] to learn more about the City's proposal and
contribute to our own vision for the area!

Thursday November 26 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Saturday November 28 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Collingwood Neighbourhood House at 5288 Joyce Street

Feel free to contact us by emailing rencollspeaks@gmail.com with any


•      •      •      •      •      •

The group has earlier circulated notice of this online petition:


The content of the petition is reproduced below for ease of reference and for permanent record:

•      •      •      •      •      •


We, the undersigned, are against the Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Review. We urge the City of Vancouver to pause the precinct review process until comprehensive multilingual consultation with the community has taken place and clear policies are put in place to protect the future of Renfrew-Collingwood, including the vulnerable residents and retailers that we all depend on. We are very concerned about the impacts the developments will bring with such drastic height proposals and we urge the City to conduct a social impact assessment before moving forward. We have the right to remain and the right to decide how our communities will be developed.

This kind of redevelopment is happening across the City of Vancouver with very little efforts being made by governments to consider the needs of local communities. Renfrew-Collingwood is a vibrant neighbourhood made up of many working class immigrant families that we fear will be displaced or negatively impacted. Join us in advocating for accessible consultation processes, policy protections for local residents and retailers, and the building of infrastructure decided by and for the existing community.

Submit your comments by Nov 4!

For more details about the precinct review, see the City’s proposals here:


A 29-storey market condo project is being proposed by Westbank at 5050-5080 Joyce Street and may be approved before the height guidelines are enacted. There are 3 small businesses currently operating on this site that do not want to be displaced. Find out more:


We are organizing on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

Written by eyeonnorquay

23 November 2015 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Context, News


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… as Partial Answer to “Why Norquay?”

A never-answered question for Norquay residents:

        How and why did planners select this particular half of a square mile to become
        Vancouver’s second mass-rezoned “neighbourhood centre” under CityPlan?

In the earlier days, probably in 2007, then Director of Planning Brent Toderian blustered something like this as a response: “Why, neighborhoods are lining up for this opportunity!” Subtext: You should consider yourselves fortunate. Fact content: Zero. Reality: Norquay clearly and consistently did the exact opposite of line up.

At the RM-9A open house on 23 September 2015, this same question was overheard being put to a planner by a very unhappy Norquay resident. “Why us?” Still no good answer.

Back in mid-2011, Joseph Jones attempted a Freedom of Information request for


The City of Vancouver offered to accept $540 “to conduct this search” (estimate only!). What sucker would pay that amount for the likelihood of hearing back some combination of (a) the little already found without assistance, or (b) nothing, or (c) shreds of documents redacted into meaningless unreadability? This is one specific example of how City of Vancouver walls off from public scrutiny what it does in the back rooms.

On 17 November 2015, Jens von Bergmann provided a mapping of 2011 Canadian census data that “shows the percentage of the population that are immigrants” — excluding non-permanent residents. The overlay of a Norquay outline onto a screen grab of Vancouver mapping quickly conveys a lot about our area’s immigrant component and our Vancouver context.


If a bomber pilot were assigned the task of trying to take out as much of immigrant Vancouver as possible with one hit, that pilot could hardly do better than to unload on Norquay and hope for wide radius effect.

An immigrant population offers up to the hierarchy of politicians and developers and planners an especially vulnerable target: inexperience with new culture, uncertainty with foreign language, desire to avoid interaction with government, immersion in attempting to establish a new economic life, etc.

A graphic personal story has already been told at Eye on Norquay as Unheard Voices.

Consider this November 2005 justification for selecting Norquay:

        It also ranks first in terms of need for public realm and pedestrian safety improvements,
        based on a review of data from Neighbourhood Centres across all Vision areas.  (p. 2)

        Planning for Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre

Ten years onward, the City of Vancouver itself has done almost nothing to enhance the Norquay area. Meanwhile, rapid redevelopment slaps us in the face every day with the value extraction (construction nuisance, profits, fees, sequestered levies, increased property taxes) that mass rezoning has triggered.

Written by eyeonnorquay

21 November 2015 at 10:55 am

Posted in Context, History, Maps

Ample Evidence

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The Norquay area of Vancouver has been “planned” in broad and detailed strokes, a process that took seven years. Three Council meetings approved key documents on 4 November 2010, on 9 April 2013, and on 16 May 2013.

Build-out has started. Evidence piles up that promised amenities will never be delivered in any concurrent fashion. The plan’s upgrading of Kingsway could never “afford” to deliver specified street litter bins. The $3 million cash CAC for 2220 Kingsway immediately got sucked off into a vague fund where it will suffer from value-rot. Follow-up on one long-overdue workshop to discuss Renfrew Ravine Linear Park and future plaza areas has already failed to adhere to schedule.

Evidence also piles up that the creep tactic persistently seeks to expand on well-defined parameters for height and FSR and unit size and quantity. A plan seems to turn into a launch pad for further increase. Our long struggle to get good planning now morphs into an endless struggle of trying to monitor how the plan is implemented. In dealing with the City of Vancouver, “trust us” is not a possibility.

These two areas of evidence combine to form a simple slogan. Norquay has been condemned to live under a regime of all take, no give. As they are planned and built out, other neighborhoods experience the same abuse. One notorious icon is the Creekside Park at northeast False Creek, which after decades remains a no-tax piece of land where Concord Pacific reaps large profits — from its continued use, and from perpetual deferral of the remediation costs associated with delivering the amenity. Call that insult squared.

All this is preface to a piece of news. On 4 December 2014 the Vancouver Sun published the following letter from Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. Norquay is indeed a part of the ample evidence.

Coalition seeks better planning process

Re: Four-year council mandates will allow better growth planning, Westcoast Homes,
Nov. 29

Bob Ransford makes incorrect assumptions about the views of Vancouver residents on the
direction the Vision council has been taking the city, maintaining the recent election
reflects general satisfaction among the residents. Election results tell a different
story. Vision garnered only 32 per of the council vote while 68 per voted against Vision.
Adriane Carr, Green Party, led all council candidates with 74,077 votes. Every elected
non-Vision councillor received more votes than any of the Vision candidates. If it
weren’t for splitting of the opposition vote, Vision would not have won as many seats
as it did. Ransford dismisses opponents of the current planning process as a “few
neighbourhood activists.” The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods represents 26
associations from across the city, all of whom have voiced concerns about the way
the city has been conducting business. There is ample evidence in Grandview-Woodland,
West Point Grey, West End, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Norquay, Oakridge, Marpole and
False Creek, to name a few. The record number of court cases brought against the city
indicates an increased level of frustration with how the city handles citizens’ concerns
around planning and neighbourhood livability.

The coalition advocates a better approach to planning. We promote respect for the
city’s official neighbourhood development plans and community visions and call for
collaboration between the city and residents. All major parties except Vision, support
this new blueprint for improved planning processes.


Co-chairs, Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods

For those unacquainted with Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, this Globe and Mail story can provide some background. Here is one relevant paragraph:

The group, which includes members from Dunbar in the west to Marpole in the south and Norquay in the east, says local residents feel “damaged and disappointed” when their hours of input are ignored in current city planning.


Written by eyeonnorquay

5 December 2014 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Context, News

2015-2018 Capital Plan

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In 2011, extensive participation in City of Vancouver capital planning process (see Norquay Residents Submission to 2012-­2014 Draft Capital Plan) resulted in allocations for zero improvements specific to the 2010 Norquay Plan.

Three years onward, the next capital plan is set to run to 2018. If Norquay gets nothing in the current round of capital planning, it is hard to believe that we will ever see any significant local improvements that mitigate our unwanted mass rezoning.

What looks more and more like all-take-no-give density dumping would prove a confirmed fact. Under such conditions, why would any sane neighborhood ever welcome “additional planning”?

During 2014, Jeanette Jones has taken a lead in trying to get engaged with the 2015-2018 Capital Plan. Spending plans solidify out of the public eye, and then emerge as theoretically tweakable concrete at a late-in-the-process “open house.” To make a useful submission within such framework is a painful slog.

Come out August 28 or September 4 and see whether there is anything planned for Norquay. Taking into account planning and priorities and actual Norquay growth, Jeanette has already made the best timely case she could for Norquay to get a downpayment on all the big promises. If you can’t make one of the two open houses, at least send in a brief response saying that significant allocation must go to Norquay.

Also see at CityHallWatch:

Second round of consultation for Capital Plan: $400 million more debt proposed for 2015-2018

•    •    •    •    •    •    •

Here is the 24 May 2014 comment that Jeanette Jones supplied to City of Vancouver — slightly revised for this August 2014 posting, with photo captions added.

Capital Plan Proposal for Brock Park

I have lived in the vicinity of Brock Park for over four decades. When we first moved into the area the park was fairly new and well used. Our three daughters spent many happy hours of their childhoods in the playground with their friends. A cricket team played in the park on Sundays during warm weather. Other teams played soccer. Informal games of soccer, catch, and frisbee took place often. A post and chain fence separated the park from lanes along three sides.

Since then, I have watched the park steadily deteriorate. An underground stream that runs beneath the park contributes to a playing field that is so uneven and full of holes that only dogs would try to run there [photos 1-2-3-4 below]. The cricket team left years ago. No one who values their ankles would play games of any kind on the grass, and the soccer goalposts have long since disappeared. An asphalt path built about twenty years ago provides a place for people to walk for exercise, but the path is now cracked and sagging [photo 5 below]. The posts rotted and the fencing was removed. Quite a few residents of houses that surround the park now use park as their extra parking space [photo 6 below]. A brushy area around the stump of a cottonwood tree that was removed a couple of years ago has become a magnet for garbage dumping [photo 7 below]. The only part of the park that is used regularly for recreation is the playground, which is less attractive now than it was thirty years ago. There are still no washrooms.

In the meantime, many new people have moved into the area around Brock Park. A recently built development at 2300 Kingsway together with the already approved Kensington Gardens at 2220 Kingsway add up to about 800 dwelling units. This already accounts for about 20% of the 5000 new residents that city staff have projected to live in all of Norquay by 2040. In addition, a 4-storey 94-unit apartment building has been completed at 2239 Kingsway. Behind are eight new single family houses and a small “four storey apartment” with four units on Galt Street between Kingsway and Brock Park. (Taken together, these developments occupy the two-acre site of the London Guard Motel.) All of this development is within 400 meters of Brock Park.

The Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan adopted by Council in 2010 provides for new, denser housing forms to replace single family houses. Two large duplexes have almost been completed on Brock Street just east of Nanaimo. A development application for duplex plus infill under the new RT-11 zoning has just been approved for 4517 Nanaimo Street, a property that backs onto Brock Park. The appearance of other nearby sites suggests that redevelopment is imminent. The area near Brock Park is the first part of Norquay to experience multiple major and smaller developments.

Increasing densification of the area does not only bring many new residents. It also transfers many activities that have traditionally taken place in backyards to city parks. The new housing forms (duplex, rowhouse, stacked townhouse, small houses on shared lots) leave very little room for open space on the property. City parks are becoming the “shared backyard” where residents look to play, exercise, garden, and socialize. We expect picnic tables, exercise and play equipment for all ages, landscaping, and open space where we can run and play.

The Norquay Public Benefits Strategy (Report to Council of 22 April 2013) defines this priority:

Given its location nearer areas with anticipated greater population growth, General Brock Park
is considered to be the first priority for upgrading in the first 10 years of the Strategy.  (p. 9-10)

The Strategy assigns $2M to the “renewal of existing facilities and infrastructure” in Brock Park, Slocan Park, and Earles Park (Appendix A, Item D). The area near Brock Park is experiencing far more rapid development than the areas around the other two parks in Norquay — indeed, more than most other areas of the city at the present time — and it seems likely to continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

The City of Vancouver has repeatedly assured Norquay residents that development of parks will accompany the development of new housing. The renewal of Brock Park must be included in the 2015-2018 Capital Plan.

     No. 1  —  Baby Sinkhole. Break a Leg!

     No. 2  —  Fit for a Dog?

     No. 3  —  Even the Park Board Mower Avoids This Iron

     No. 4  —  Plywood Treatment for Bog Spot

     No. 5  —  Greenwash Could Call This “Rewilding”?

     No. 6  —  “Park” It Is!

     No. 7  —  They Cut Down Our Big Tree & Then … Did Nothing

Written by eyeonnorquay

23 August 2014 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Context, Events, News, Photos


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Most of Norquay lies within the boundaries of the Vancouver local area called Renfrew-Collingwood.

The City of Vancouver has repeatedly stonewalled requests for information on how the first two “neighbourhood centre” planning areas (Kingsway & Knight and Norquay) were selected. Both were subjected to mass rezoning of hundreds of acres of single-family areas. The two lie side-by-side in the heart of East Vancouver.

Norquay itself is a demonstrated amenity desert: no community centre, no swimming pool, no ice rink, no library, no neighbourhood house. Despite promises, already dense population gets added to, with no corresponding increase in amenity.

There is far too little City of Vancouver comparative data that spans all 22 local areas. A recent report on Vancouver trees shows that Renfrew-Collingwood ranks near the bottom on that scale too.

Source: http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20140415/documents/rr1presentation.pdf

One more piece of data to correlate City of Vancouver density-dumping strategy with existing subpar local conditions in Norquay. Bleed green while building out inequities.

Written by eyeonnorquay

19 April 2014 at 4:10 pm

Kingsway & Knight

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


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.


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™.

*   *   *   *   *   *


[1]  Active Neighbourhood Plans: DTES, Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, Mount Pleasant, Norquay Village, West End [as of Aug 2013]

[2]  Identified Local Area Planning Needs

[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

[3-b]  Historic Area Height Review

[3-c]  Cambie Corridor Planning Program

[3-d]  Vancouver’s New Community Plans

[4]  Kingsway and Knight Neighbourhood Centre: Housing Area Plan (8 July 2004)

[5]  Neighbourhood Centre Delivery Program — Terms of Reference (9 July 2002)

[6]  Bob Mackin. “City of Vancouver suing Aquilini over library flood” Vancouver Courier (1 Nov 2012)

[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)

[7-a-2]  Public Hearing (24 July 2003)

[7-b-1]  CD-1 Text Amendment: 1402-1436 Kingsway and 4050 Knight Street (24 Aug 2005)

[7-b-2]  Public Hearing (6 Oct 2005)

[7-c-1]  CD-1 Text Amendment: 4028 Knight Street (formerly 1402-1436 Kingsway and 4050 Knight)
(28 Nov 2006)

[7-c-2]  Public Hearing (30 Jan 2007)

[8]  RT-10/RT-10N and RM-1/RM-1N Districts Schedules (13 Sept 2005)

[9]  2007 Property Taxation: Land Assessment Averaging Program Amendments (10 July 2007)

[10]  Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan (19 Oct 2010)

Written by eyeonnorquay

22 August 2013 at 9:16 pm