For those who missed my scintillating tweets on Monday night, when I was at the Vision Vancouver fundraiser at Floata, here’s a recap, plus a bit more about the 650-person event, which included some singing by the Jewish contingent and people imitating salmon swimming upstream at a certain point. Designated talking point of the evening seemed to be: “We still have lots to do to make the city better.”
(It used to be, by the way, that civic political reporters always attended these to get a sense of the temperature of various parties. But I was the only one there — possibly because it wasn’t publicized to the media? And no word yet on whether the NPA, which used to have the powerhouse annual dinners, is organizing anything.)
Who was there?
Yes, lots of developers. (And I hear there was a pre-party for VIPs beforehand, where it was almost exclusively developers. One developer there wondered why Vision would even do something like that, given that it already has the rep of being in developer pockets.) The ones I spotted were: Onni, ParkLane/Wesgroup, Century Group, Concord Pacific, Anthem, Beedie Group. Interestingly, the two developer types whom developers themselves consider to be getting the best deals from Vancouver council, Wall Development and Westbank (Ian Gillespie), were not in sight.
Who else was there?
Politicians and political types. NDP MLAs Mike Farnworth and Spencer Herbert, Liberal Senator and former mayor Larry Campbell (sporting a silvery beard), former Christy Clark executive assistant Gabe Garfinkel (now with lobbying firm FleischmanHillard), former Vision president Ian Baillie (now a lobbyist, doing a lot on liquor issues these days).
Various tables were labelled as “Friends of” someone or another — a sign that people were genuinely buying seats because they were friends or someone had bought a lot of seats and these were seat-fillers, I don’t know. Some of the Friends of: Narinder Chinna, Adrian Le, Deal Alexander, Dana and Joel Solomon, Latin Friends of Vision. Also spotted: Liz Evans and Dan Small of PHS Community Services; a table from Perkins + Will architects, CUPE secretary-treasurer Paul Faoro and city hall’s new CUPE 15 president, Leanne Toderian; John Teti of BarWatch; VAG director Kathleen Bartels, at her most warm and outgoing; Cultch director Heather Redfern; and an extremely good-looking guy I met in the elevator who said he works with the Bollywood industry.
Vision seems to have learned that half-hour speeches from the mayor and introducing every single politician doesn’t make for the best evening out. So that was limited and the mayor’s speech was short to the point.
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The city put out the strangest report (approved Tuesday) I’ve seen in a while, where it spelled out what the maximum rents could be for units where developers are getting exempted from the usual developer fees (about $140 a square metre for most of the city; some specific areas have slightly different ones.)
The rents — $1,440 for a studio and up to $2,500 for a three-bedroom — seemed not anywhere near affordable, which the city’s persistent critics have noted. But the numbers in the report on actual completed projects indicate that, of the projects built or planned so far, the rents proposed are far, far below those maximums.
So, of course, the proposed maximums got slagged. And there was no indication, in the report or in the comments from Coun. Raymond Louie in the story I wrote, about whether future projects would likely stay at the same relatively low level of the existing projects cited in the report, which would be an achievement, or whether they’ll now creep up to those maximums.
Certainly didn’t do anything to clarify what’s actually going on with the projects out there. It’s perplexing to cover this issue. Vision Vancouver is staking its campaign next year, in part, on its efforts to create affordable housing. But it can never seem to demonstrate effectively or speak convincingly about what it’s doing.
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Must be some high-fiving along Main about this.
There was an announcement earlier this year that the Biltmore (or, what used to be the Biltmore at 12th and Kingsway and has until recently been a Howard Johnson’s) was going to be transformed into “transitional” housing for Vancouver’s homeless.
At the time, the only queries I got on Twitter were whether that would affect the hipster club that operates in the basement.
But in the last few months, I’ve been hearing increasing rumblings from the neighbourhood about what the Biltmore will mean for them. Concern that it’s only a block from an elementary school. Support from some residents who say that Mount Pleasant has always been home to a big mix and these people belong here. Lots of rumours about who is going to be living there.
Recent news stories about the high number of police calls at the Marguerite Ford social-housing complex in the Olympic village haven’t helped. (Not to mention probably really annoying Marguerite Ford, a former councillor who is still very much involved in city life.)
Here’s my story about the current situation surrounding the Biltmore, with Councillor Kerry Jang, who’s been dealing with concerned parents, saying that the tenants are going to be chosen very carefully, along with an explanation of what the actual allocation is for the building.
There is going to be more of this kind of reaction and discussion. Another six social housing buildings, out of the 14 promised by the province, are still due to go up. The Ford building has given people a negative impression. (And, I have to say, people in the area also have commented on some of the goings on at the nearby new social-housing project at Second and Main, being run by Lookout.) But there are also some success stories. One of my UBC journalism students wrote this story recently.
(My story, as always, posted below for those without access to the Globe.)
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Interesting to see what’s happening out in Port Moody, where a newly constituted neighbourhood group is now raising questions about the city’s entire Official Community Plan.
I was wondering if there might be some of this starting when I went out to Metro Vancouver a few weeks ago and listened to presentations about “regional context statements” (similar to official community plans) for cities where planners were looking at, in some cases, the doubling of current population in 30 years. (Like in Township of Langley.) At the very least, significant increases.
When the region is simply growing like topsy, with no numbers attached, residents know there’s a lot of development going on but aren’t sure how much. But when the future growth is laid out in black and white, you can see how some people get alarmed at the thought of the change that’s going to come. And then they go into “put on the brakes” mode.
As appears to be happening in Port Moody. Their news release attached here.
PORT MOODY COALITION OF CITIZENS TO FIGHT PROPOSED MASSIVE CHANGE TO CITY
Groups Banding Together To Counter Port Moody’s Draft OCP
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Council approved the West End overall plan Wednesday. There was lots of interesting information to mine in that report — the plan for where new towers will go (on the fringes, away from the interior where residents have objected strongly to any new development), the spending plan for new or refurbished community facilities, the little fact that parking has been put back on the main West End streets during rush hours because the space isn’t needed any more for commuters.
But I was intrigued most by the plan to try to add some density in the interior of the neighbourhood by allowing laneway housing — this time, mini-apartment buildings or stacked townhouses — in behind existing towers or low-rise buildings. Can hardly wait to see the first one of those. I wrote my story focusing on that aspect.
Laneway housing has proven to be hugely popular in Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods in the past few years.
Now the city wants to try the same idea in its oldest downtown neighbourhood, the already dense West End – but with a twist.
Instead of individual residences, the West End would get mini-apartment buildings and stacked townhouses ranging from 3 1/2 to six storeys facing the lanes on available space at the back of existing lots.
That’s one of the more striking ideas in a massive city report going to council on Wednesday that outlines a plan for adding new residents, business space and community services to the area, which became Vancouver’s first dense downtown community in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The lanes in this area are the widest in the city. It was really apparent we can make them greener and there is an opportunity for infill,” said Vancouver’s general manager of planning, Brian Jackson.
Those laneway buildings could accommodate up to 2,000 of the 10,000 new people anticipated in the next 30 years. The city will require that 50 per cent of the new units be geared to families, with two or more bedrooms.
Like almost every new building proposal or plan for density that has come to the city in the past five years of Vision Vancouver rule on council, the idea has fierce opponents and quiet supporters.
It was in the West End that the first anti-development activist group sprang up four years ago, followed by many others in neighbourhoods around the city. Back then, the issue was two controversial towers proposed under the Vision council’s ambitious policy to give developers incentives to build rental apartments instead of condos.
The opposition forced council to slow down and put a planning process in motion.
That group, West End Neighbours, is encouraging its supporters to oppose the plan that includes the laneway proposal, the result of three years of work, and ask for more time before it is approved.
But relatively few people from that neighbourhood have participated in recent general protests or delegations to council meetings organized by other groups objecting to plans and development proposals in their own neighbourhoods.
Filmmaker Aerlyn Weissman, who has gone to some of the city’s information meetings, said she is dubious about the whole plan, including the laneway housing.
“The alleys are already pretty intensely used – emergency vehicles, parking, garbage trucks. How are we going to infill the alleys and have access to all of the services?” Ms. Weissman said. She also said the idea was sprung on people only in the last few months of consultations, which she said has been a bad pattern for city planners in recent years.
But Christine Ackermann, president of the West End Residents Assocation, said residents and the city have been discussing infill laneway housing for years.
She said the new housing would be a valuable addition, especially because it would have room for families.
In addition to the laneway housing, the West End plan proposes limiting new towers mainly to the Burrard and Georgia corridors marking the border between the West End and the rest of downtown.
It also spells out heights and densities that would be allowed in various zones, how much money would be spent for a new library, pool, community centre and parks, and where new housing would not be allowed.
Unlike the rest of Vancouver, the area would not be permitted under the plan to have condos above businesses in the busy commercial strips. It would largely prohibit new development, except for the infill, from the interior of the neighbourhood.
Mr. Jackson said it was important not to allow a lot of development in the interior because it would endanger the huge amount of low-cost rental if property owners ripped down older buildings to put up taller ones.
Ms. Ackermann said she believes many people support the plan because the city has “made the right choice” by limiting development in the core.
Whether those people will come out on Wednesday in support, she is not sure.
November 22nd, 2013 · 9 Comments
There was news two weeks ago that PHS Community services was having its finances reviewed by BC Housing. Now Vancouver Coastal Health has confirmed that it is also auditing the group. My story here and below.
WARNING: If you have any information you feel you have to share, do it in a private email to me: francesbula at gmail.com. I will not allow libellous comments or unsubstantiated allegations on the public blog.
Posting for a friend: Urban events
PIBC PlanTalk – Availability, Utilization, and Intensification of Industrial Lands – Nov 19
Metro Vancouver Dialogues – Great City Making Demands Innovation – Nov 19 + 22 + 28 + Dec 10
Vancouver Board of Trade – Chair Greg Moore, Long Term Infrastructure Planning: Sustaining a Livable Region – Nov 20
SFU City Program Lecture – The Same, Only Different: Australian Planners Compare Vancouver and Brisbane – Nov 21
ULI BC – Annual Real Estate Outlook – Nov 26
Lots of shock yesterday re Mark Hume’s story in the Globe with a leaked copy of proposed changes to the ALC, which would see it moved inside a provincial ministry and have its mandate altered to take into account economic factors.
Metro Vancouver’s planning committee was already planning to vote on a motion today asking to ensure the ALC is not weakened in any way. The news about the legislation ought to add considerable fuel to that debate.
Richmond Councillor Harold Steves, in the follow-up story Mark and I did for today, also warned that Metro would make sure no agricultural land is let go in the Lower Mainland, using the new, strengthened provisions of the Regional Growth Strategy.
The civic election isn’t until Nov. 15, 2014. But you’d never know it from the jostling going on among parties hoping to harness the resentment they believe Vision Vancouver is sowing. A sign of the times — I wrote an article for Vancouver magazine about the energy people are putting into campaigns early — especially NPA president Peter Armstrong, who has already hired three people and installed two of them in his fantastic office on the 30th floor of the TD bank tower.
At the time, a mere four or so weeks ago, TEAM spokesman Bill McCreery was talking about the triumvirate that had founded this revival of the successful party of the 1970s — himself, Dave Pasin, and former councillor Jonathan Baker. At 5:16 a.m. today, I got a news release from the NPA (Natasha, that is some early hours you’re putting in) saying that Baker has joined the NPA, with various paragraphs outlining his history.
There’s a sign that Mr. Armstrong and company are going to go to the mat over even the littlest things — and that they consider TEAM a threat.
And TEAM, which I understand held a successful fundraising dinner last night (I meant to go but have been laid low with some version of the plague), is a threat. It could strip away the few thousand votes that the NPA desperately needs to win in a tight election. While more sophisticated voters, who understand the overall chess game, will be wary of throwing a vote away on a small party that seems likely to split the anti-Vision centre-right vote, others will not be. I know there are people out there who want to vote against Vision, don’t see the NPA as being any less in bed with developers, and who won’t want to express their discontent by voting COPE.
More of this to come. My opening chapter, in this issue of Vancouver magazine, is here.
By the way, after I had finished writing this story, I did get a face-to-face meeting with Peter in his stunning office, which seems to be a hive of political activity. As I arrived, former NPA council candidate Michael Geller was leaving and former NPA park-board commission Al de Genova was also leaving. The two full-time staffers for the NPA, KellyReichert. the former executive director of the B.C. Liberal Party, and Natasha Westover, former constituency assistant to one-time cabinet minister Kevin Falcon, were hard at work in their offices. Peter appears to be interviewing everyone in town about civic politics, from former mayors to me, where I got a light grilling about my political views. He has even attended a COPE public meeting, where, he says, there are people doing some fine work. Indeed.
Friends and associates are still mystified as to why he has taken this crusade on with such passion. Peter keeps saying it’s because he cares about the city, but I can’t help thinking there’s more. One person suggested it’s because he really didn’t like the fact that Vision councillors passed some kind of negative motion about Rocky Mountaineer during the lockout. Could that be it? Who knows?
At any rate, he is driving this boat full steam ahead.