The tussle over the waterfront hub continues. That is the piece of land that sits between the old train station and The Landing, which Cadillac Fairview wants to develop an office tower on. It’s also meant to be the gateway to a new piece of the downtown that the city has envisioned creating by extending Granville Street (yes, means blowing up the parkade) and the downtown edge to north of the train station.
As you’ll recall, there was a lot of debate over the design and size of the origami tower that Cadillac’s architects proposed late last year.
The re-design for that is apparently coming back in June, according to general manager of planning Brian Jackson. But those who aren’t happy about the way the city is approaching the whole area have decided to take the matter into their own hands. This group, many of them ex-senior city planners, have written their own report (see below) about what needs to be re-considered in this area, complete with references to all existing policies on density, road creation and the rest.
At the same time, Greg Kerfoot, who owns the rights to all the airspace over the tracks from Granville Square to Main Street, has perked up and taken an interest in this area again because of the debate over the tower. If he and Cadillac could work together, people are saying, there’s a possibility the Cadillac tower, which is squished up against the train station at the moment, could be repositioned to a better spot, more public space for looking out over the harbour could be created, and maybe Kerfoot would be inspired to start developing on his air parcel. (My recent story on all of the above is here.)
This will be an interesting saga.
The report from the ex-planners’ group
Waterfront Issues Draft Paper May 20 2015-2
News seeping out this afternoon that TransLink called staff to a meeting to say that two top TransLink planners were gone.
Both were very experienced people at the top of the heap and doing the actual planning. One, Brian Mills, was director of systems planning and research. The other, Tamim Raad, director of strategic planning and policy.
Charlie Smith at the Georgia Straight has an actual news story on this.
Like him, I heard that one speculation was that Raad had never been a fan of a Broadway subway and that, since the people in the Vancouver mayor’s office agitated to get Ian Jarvis removed, maybe they were behind this too since they are so pro-subway.
I’m not sure I think that’s plausible. Vancouver already got a deal with the rest of the mayors to have a subway. If by some miracle those mayors manage to eke out a Yes vote in this plebiscite, would staff really be willing or able to change the parameters of something the public had voted on?
And if the vote fails, it will all be moot for a very long time whether Vancouver gets anything except more 99B buses.
One detail that will make the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation rub its hands with glee (now there’s a visual for you): remaining staff have been told that new people will be hired for those $180,000-a-year jobs, meaning that TransLink will likely be paying both hefty severance and a new set of hefty salaries.
So a little dust storm of media reporting this week, once again, on the foreign ownership issue after UBC geography professor David Ley spoke at a conference last weekend put on by Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies department.
Ley, who has done extensive research on the impact of Canada’s immigrant-investor program and published a book called Millionaire Migrants, is now doing research in five cities with housing bubbles to look at what, if anything, they are doing to try to get them under control.
His point, at the HOUSE seminar, was that others are moving to try to cool down their markets, while Vancouver — largely through inaction by the province and feds — is being left to fend for itself. The four other cities he is looking at are Sydney, Australia, London, Hong Kong and Singapore
Kerry Gold has a story coming out in the Globe’s Real Estate section tomorrow that details more of what he had to say, so you should read that.
I spent the week calling people in Australia, which seemed like the most comparable place of Ley’s four to me.
Hong Kong and Singapore are city-states with much more ability to move quickly and unilaterally than a triple-level-governed city like Vancouver. And London, as experts have told me in the past, is on a different scale and with a different set of circumstances.
Vancouver and Sydney seemed the most alike to me — cities that are far from global power centres, but where house prices have skyrocketed and where there is a lot of attention focused on foreign investors and/or Asian immigrants buying up houses. (There, as here, people don’t always do a good job of distinguishing between the two.)
Economist Philip Soos seemed to have the most comprehensive research of anyone I’ve talked to there (or here). He’s just co-authored an 810-book on the history of Australia’s housing bubbles, with lots of data looking at housing bubbles around the world. He’s also done the investigation into empty houses in Melbourne (which is being hit by the same housing spirals as Sydney), using water data.
His take on the whole situation is in my Globe story here. To sum up: He says the biggest problem is not Asian offshore investment, which is no greater than what American and British offshore investment used to be. but government policies that encourage average middle-class people to take on debt and speculate in real estate. My story is here.
He was also pretty categorical in saying that there is no evidence that foreign investment, at the levels they are currently, is enough to affect housing prices for a whole region. As he said: “No economist can determine what effect foreign investment has on housing prices. You just can’t sort it out from the domestic investment.”
I doubt Soos’s research will end this debate. But he’s an interesting addition to what is a tough conversation, happening in many places around the world. And he’s no defender of the real-estate industry in all this, as some local spokespeople are. He says the real-estate, finance, and insurance industries promote a system that encourages domestic real-estate speculation because they’re making a killing from it.
“They leave just enough for the people in the middle to feel like they’re gaining something,” he says, “but really the people at the top gain the most.”
As downtown office development continues to attract various people, in spite of a building boom that is sure to drive up vacancy rates, two big owners have approached the city about getting extra density for their sites.
The sites? Sinclair Centre, home of the 1910 post office in one of its corners, and the 1958 modernist central post office on Georgia.
Apparently the idea with the Sinclair Centre would be to put a new tower in the middle of the four designated heritage buildings on that block, where the atrium is now. For the Georgia Street building, some kind of tower on the back end built on top of the existing building.
Got to tackle the land-assembly craze that people have been noticing around the city lately, as signs have sprouted all all over the place with whole blocks for sale.
As any number of land-assembly specialists told me, this is all about people stampeding to redevelop when a community plan changes to allow for more density.
Or in Surrey, I was told (didn’t get to include this in my Globe story attached here), it happens when a new piece of infrastructure goes in, i.e. a pumping station, that makes intense development possible.
This kind of land assembly was happening in parts of the downtown the last two decades — we just didn’t notice it because it was older commercial buildings and/or vacant lots.
But with the signs all through Vancouver’s central neighbourhoods — Main, Cambie, Oak, 25th, 41st, 49th — it hits us in the face that the city is changing.
My online Globe story has a bit more in it than the print version, because I went and dug out the numbers on two different projects on Cambie — what the residents got, what the city got, what the developer got. Enjoy.
Gotta say, I still don’t understand what just happened.
There were increasing complaints from the public every month since federal law on medical marijuana changed last April and marijuana dispensaries suddenly bloomed like a thousand flowers in Vancouver. City types kept saying there was nothing they could do because the federal law had created a gray area.
But today, it appears there is something they can do. To wit: charge dispensaries $30,000 for a permit, make them get a business licence and a development permit, tell them they can’t be within 300 metres of a school, community centre, neighbourhood house or other marijuana business, forbid them from selling edible marijuana stuff, and more.
The city report is here. Next week, council will vote on whether to send it to a public hearing. No speakers allowed at that decision point, folks, but you can all line up for the public hearing, which I suspect will be scheduled faster than a Wall Development rezoning.
In the meantime, great fun to be had getting the kinds of quotes one can only get in Vancouver about this kind of thing. My favourite, to date, from Kerry Jang in my Globe story: “We have more of these shops than Tim Hortons.” I haven’t had a chance to check other people’s stuff yet, but I bet it’s rich.
On the off chance that this savvy crowd missed this on Friday: Supreme Court Justice Elliott Myers dismissed the petition from Randy Helten and others to have the mayor and councillor Geoff Meggs removed from office for conflict of interest or accepting gifts (those were the two provisions of the Vancouver Charter the case relied on). Immediately, the mayor made nasty remarks about the group of residents who filed this and they made nasty remarks back.
My story here and the judgment here. I notice my resident legal expert IanS weighed in elsewhere, saying he doesn’t expect the decision on costs to be a big deal.
This just out
Vancouver – The Vancouver Police Board announced today that they had chosen a new chief constable to lead the Vancouver Police Department. He is 28-year veteran VPD Deputy Chief Adam Palmer.
“The Police Board was very pleased that we had two outstanding internal candidates as finalists. Just before the final interviews were conducted, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard decided to withdraw and support the selection of his colleague Adam Palmer. Following the final interview completed today, the Police Board decided unanimously that Adam was the right person to lead the VPD,” said the Chair of the Vancouver Police Board Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“We are confident that Chief Constable Adam Palmer will continue the progress of his predecessor Chief Constable Jim Chu, striving to make Vancouver the safest major city in Canada and further enhancing the reputation of the VPD as an excellent police service.”
Retiring Chief Constable Jim Chu says he is looking forward to a smooth transition.
“I am very pleased that we were able to choose a new chief internally and grateful to the eight members of the police board for their careful deliberations. I will work with the new chief with the goal of making the transition as smooth and soon as possible. I would like to thank Deputy Chief Doug LePard for making a difficult personal decision to withdraw and I know he was putting the interests of the VPD first.”
A date for a formal change of command ceremony will be announced shortly.
Deputy Chief Adam Palmer was born and raised in the Vancouver area. Prior to joining the VPD, he studied business administration at Simon Fraser University and worked as a correctional officer. Deputy Palmer began his career with the VPD in 1987 and since that time has worked in a variety of operational, investigative and administrative areas.
He spent the first 13 years of his career working as a patrol officer in East Vancouver. He has also worked in the Jail, the Crowd Control Unit, the Gang Crime Unit, the Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia, Police/Crown Liaison and the Planning, Research and Audit Section.
As a sergeant, he was extensively involved in the development of the VPD’s Strategic Plan and managed a long-term review of policing operations at the VPD. The Operational Review project examined topical policing issues including the use of overtime, the civilianization of sworn positions, shared services with the City of Vancouver, and the deployment of patrol, investigative and administrative police resources. The Operational Review resulted in improved departmental business practices and the addition of 194 police officers and 95 civilian staff positions between 2005 and 2007. This research has attracted interest from across North America and abroad. Deputy Palmer has been invited to speak to other police agencies and international police conferences on the methodology and findings of this project.
As an inspector, he was the officer in charge of Patrol District 2 which includes the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Gastown, Strathcona, Grandview-Woodlands and Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhoods. He was also responsible for port and marine policing for the City of Vancouver, the largest port in Canada. During the 2010 Winter Olympics Deputy Palmer was seconded to the Integrated Security Unit as the Venue Commander for the Pacific Coliseum where he oversaw the security for the figure skating and short track speed skating events.
Upon promotion to Deputy Chief in 2010 he was assigned to the Support Services Division where he was responsible for Planning, Research and Audit, Professional Standards, Human Resources, Training, Recruiting, the Jail, Information Management, Information Technology, Communications, Fleet, Facilities, and Finance. He is currently assigned to the Investigation Division where he is responsible for all investigative areas of the VPD including Major Crime, Special Investigations, Organized Crime, General Investigations, Forensic Services, Tactical Support and Youth Services.
Deputy Palmer has completed numerous policing and professional development courses throughout his career. He holds a B.A. (Hons) and has completed two executive leadership programs with the FBI: Leadership in Counter Terrorism and the National Executive Institute. Deputy Palmer sits on the Metro Vancouver Transit Police Board and the Criminology Advisory Committee for Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is the recipient of nine VPD commendations and is a former Police Officer of the Year. He has been invested as a Member of the Order of Merit for the Police Forces by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada.
This memo from city manager Penny Ballem just in from the troops. I’d heard about Peter Judd from hallway gossip this week, but the rest is news to me and I’m not totally sure what it all means.
Since the start of the new Council term, I have been working with various members of the Corporate Management Team to restructure a few of our portfolios to further enhance our ability to achieve the ambitious goals of Council. I thought it would be useful to summarize these in one message – some of these will occur in the short term and others will take a few months to put in place.
As you know, Peter Judd is retiring this month and Jerry Dobrovolny has agreed to step in as Acting City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services. A national search will be undertaken to replace Peter. We will also be establishing a Deputy City Engineer/Deputy General Manager position for Engineering, given the size and complexity of that portfolio, and will be recruiting for that position over the coming months.
I have asked Sandra Singh, Chief Librarian at Vancouver Public Library, to take responsibility for the strategic leadership at CMT for the City of Vancouver Archives portfolio. Archives will continue to report to the City Clerk and be part of the City Clerk’s Office but Sandra will be responsible at a senior level for working on the strategic opportunities and plans with senior staff at the Archives. The alignment of Archives along with Sandra’s leadership, particularly in the context of the Digital Strategy, will allow the ongoing development of a strategic plan to enable the full opportunity of public access to our Archives, something which has been part of their vision for a significant period of time.
I have spoken with Patrice Impey, Chief Financial Officer and General Manager of Financial Services, and Paul Mochrie, General Manager of Human Resources and Digital Strategy, and we have agreed to move the Information Technology team, under the leadership of the Chief Information Officer, to Paul Mochrie’s portfolio which will now be called Human Resources, Digital Strategy and IT. This will bring together the CIO and the IT group – key enablers of the Digital Strategy, the Chief Digital Officer and the Web Team, and 311 all under one General Manager, aligning key skills and resources as we move into the next phase of the digital strategy and through it, further transforming the City. This change will also enable Patrice and her team to further develop our investment and work over the past few years in a City-wide Finance organization, the Risk Management portfolio, lean Process Management, Supply Chain Management and, as well, broaden the impact of Business Planning and Capital Project Management to enhance value for money and business performance across the City. Patrice’s portfolio will now be called Finance, Risk and Business Planning to reflect this new emphasis.
Finally, over the last few months, there have been a number of organizational changes in the Community Services portfolio – Housing policy has been moved under the Chief Housing Officer and Building Inspections under the General Manager of Planning and Development Services. Brenda Prosken will be leaving the City after six years in the Community Services portfolio, first as Deputy General Manager and then as General Manager for the last two and a half years. Brenda has made a significant contribution to the City since coming to us from the Vancouver Public Library in 2008 and will be missed. I have asked Teresa Hartman, Director of the Vancouver Services Review, to step in and lead this portfolio over the coming months, working with me on a review of the Community Services portfolio and related opportunities to align its many functions to support the various policy initiatives of Council, many of which are underway. Following on that, the GM position will be posted and a search undertaken. I know you will all join me in thanking Brenda for her service to the City and wishing her the very best.
Our organization will continue to change in response to the numerous strategic initiatives underway. I would like to thank all the members of CMT who have worked with me on these shifts and changes. Our goal is to work hard to ensure that those impacted by these changes have appropriate information and support as we move through these changes. Thank you for your patience.
People wanting to jolt themselves out of a state of contentment may want to watch the angst-ridden proceedings tonight aka the public hearing for 508 Helmcken, the current site of Jubilee House social housing and the future site of a 36-storey tower.
I did a story in the Globe today summarizing the surge of pros and cons over the deal, with those opposing saying it’s another snake-oil deal by the city that will jam a too-tall tower into a too-small space, while those in favour will say it’s a rare chance to build some social housing that’s desperately needed.
A few hours after I filed, I also got this letter (508HelmckenUDP) from a group of prominent planners, begging the city to take this project back to the urban design panel because it is too big for its setting.