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Council gets letter missiles from both sides on Northeast False Creek debate

November 17th, 2009 · 34 Comments

Council is going to decide today on whether to generally endorse the NEFC high-level review, permitting staff to carry on in the same general direction towards a mixed residential-office zone geared to the “entertainment district” being created down there. I would note, for those who seem to think this is some kind of irreversible decision, that it’s just an endorsement or commentary on general principles, not an ODP or rezoning. The whole issue of the park, which is very contentious, isn’t even in the document, since it’s something that Concord has proposed as a possible solution and that staff haven’t had time to process yet. As far as I know, no one is going to make any decisions about the park today; the door won’t be shut one way or the other.

Given all that, thought I’d share two letters I’ve received about what’s going on down there. One from former head city planner Larry Beasley, specifically advocating for the new park design, and one from nearby resident Fern Jeffries.

Here’s Fern

Your Worship and Council:

Tomorrow you will be asked to determine the future of north east False Creek.
We urge you to send back the staff report for more work.  We urge you not to accept a report that has so many unanswered questions.

Throughout the debate in committee, Councillor Deal has asked staff whether accepting the report binds Council on any particular issue.  Mr. Toderain always answered ‘no’.  But then why is this report being brought forward?  Obviously accepting the report will set a direction for developers and staff, or I’m sure Mr. Toderain would not be wasting your time by bringing it forward in its current format.  If you approve this report, developers will immediately submit their applications.  If there are unanswered questions, why risk this significant waste of time and money?
The motion before you also asks that you approve continuation of the Consultative Committee.  I must point out that no members of the Consultative Committee spoke in favour of the report’s recommendations.  On the contrary, members took time out of busy schedules to attend both afternoon sessions to ensure that you are aware that they do not support this report.  Why continue a committee that is consistently ignored?  If you support the consultative process, then you cannot adopt this report.

As you know doubt know, a coalition of 30 communities is meeting on Nov26th to share experiences about the deficits in in the city’s consultative processes.  Let’s not add this issue to their already long list of concerns.

A park on Lot 9 is part of a contract with Concord for 7650 units.  They have now developed 10,000.  Why allow them more density without more green space?
Surely as the last piece of undeveloped waterfront, Vancouver can do something more exciting than condos and a strip park.  The report links “re-shaping the park” with condos along Pacific Blvd.  Why put yourself in this box?  Lot 9 was promised to the city as park a long time ago. Make this promise a reality and then re-think configuration or land swap.  Why be bound by Concord’s plan when they are already in default of their original commitment to devote Lot 9 to the public?  Council allowed this default in 2004.  Please don’t compound that mistake.
Yes, let’s have more density to support sustainability.  But let’s be smart about it.  Building high density where there are very limited amenities will not create the type of diverse community Vancouver needs.  In your committee debate Mr. Rutgers referenced 2003 population figures.  There was no census in 2003.  Indeed even the 60+% growth in 0-5 child population noted in 2006 for that census tract is now out of date. Shouldn’t you be clear on the ‘amenity to population’ projections before making a decision to build for at least 14,000 more residents? No appropriate family amenities will produce a single demographic community with no families.  Smart growth means a full demographic range with amenities that meet the needs of children and families.  While the current report does designate certain buildings as suitable for families, the area will be so deficient in family-appropriate amenities and so congested that these buildings are unlikely to attract that population.
Your proposal to build market rental housing compounds the problem.  Rental Suites in this area (approximately 45% of all units are currently rental)  typically have a higher population than owner-occupied suites.  4 – 6 young people will often share as roommates in a 1 or 2 bedroom unit, where one would predict 2 adults and 1 or 2 children in an owner-occupied unit.  This is typical in all big cities where there is a lack of affordable housing.  Affordable housing is most certainly needed.  But additional market rental will do little or nothing to address the affordability issue.
As you know, both Lot 9 and 6C are designated “park” and taxed accordingly.  Changing this obviously false designation will bring in some immediate income to offset the cost of any delay.
Council is currently considering the future of the viaducts – a major change that will impact the future of these lands.  Why don’t you wait until you have all the information you need to make comprehensive decision that will stand the test of time?
Please don’t rush to folly.
Fern Jeffries
And here’s Larry
Dear Mayor Robertson and Member of Vancouver City Council:

Re: Henriquez Design Concept for the Northeast End of False Creek

I understand that you have had circulated to you and will consider on this coming Thursday the proposal designed by architect Richard Henriquez for the open space and buildings configuration for the Concord Pacific lands on the northeast edge of False Creek.  Sadly I will not be able to attend your meeting because of travel commitments but I want to offer my advice to you on this design concept.  As many of you know, I was the Co-Director of Planning during the initial and detailed planning and most of the development of North False Creek and did significant work on the northeast sector prior to my retirement in late-2006.  I also completed a post occupancy evaluation of False Creek North recently in my role as a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning.  I offer my comments from these perspectives but I want to be clear that I represent only my personal view and have no business relationship or affiliation with anyone associated with the Concord lands that are the subject of Mr. Henriquez’s design.  Also, no one has asked me to write this letter.   I offer my comments because I think this is a pivotal site and its design will set the character of this entire part of our beloved city.  To me this is a matter of primary importance.

As the chief planner for this area over many years, I had constant worry about what would unfold here.  The original design from back in the late ‘80’s, reflected in the current Official Development Plan, was not well worked out because of a lack of time and the scale of what we were then dealing with.  Also, many conditions have changed since that time.  The initiative of the Province to facilitate development around B.C. Place Stadium as well as the recent planning work in this vicinity by your Planning Department staff and various landowners have been excellent and have given me some optimism that we will indeed find the optimal scheme for the area.  What has been lacking is an actual design to bring everything together in a clever way while protecting the significant public equity of the waterfront and park that has always been planned for the area.  Mr. Henriquez has now provided that urban design scheme.

Mr. Henriquez’s design concept is extraordinary – it is brilliant.  I urge you to support it fully, direct your planning and properties staff to make it happen and facilitate its realization in every way you can.  Its merits are worth summarizing.

-The scheme maintains the amount of park area originally designated for the neighbourhood but extends the length of the park significantly along the water.  The east end of False Creek will now have a lavish green setting with this concept, coupled with the Science World park, the Southeast False Creek parks and the waterfront walkway/bikeway.

-A connection is achieved between the East False Creek park system/waterfront and the downtown via Georgia Street.

-A major civic plaza for large gatherings is included at the absolutely pivotal location but separated from major clusters of housing.  It ties together the major existing events facilities with new outdoor event potential.

-A new pier will animate the water of east False Creek and provide a base and anchor for the Dragon Boat Festival.

-A beautiful site is maintained south of the Georgia alignment for a major civic institution.  I urge you to see this as a City land-banked site for one of the many future cultural facilities that will be needed as our city grows and matures – and to secure it absolutely.

-A meaningful configuration of housing and enough housing is proposed to create a delightful and complete residential neighbourhood, with the inner basin of False Creek as its respite.  Can you imagine what it will be like if the right component of shops and neighbourhood services are added near the civic plaza?  The potential for housing is maximized at both the Plaza of Nations site and the Concord Pacific site, along with upland sites, which will take some short-term pressures off of downtown sites for this housing.  This is where housing should be because this is where the natural amenity values are highest.

-The scheme shields the not particularly beautiful structures of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, especially if the bases of the towers are lined end-to-end along the shallow crescent with townhouses (what a fabulous family living opportunity would be afforded by those townhouses!).   But the scheme, with minor adjustments to tower locations, still allows significant views to be protected looking north across the lands from the Athlete’s Village.

The design concept incorporates all requirements, trades nothing off that is important and emphasizes the public values of the area.  I think the scheme compliments the work that your planners and others have been doing over the past year – but I think it takes that work much further by giving a meaningful and desirable shape to the future area.  I urge you to approve the work of your staff on the planning side, but don’t stop there or Mr. Henriquez’s design solution might be lost.  I urge you to go further with the following RESOLUTION:

“THAT Council adopt Richard Henriquez’s urban design concept for Northeast False Creek in principle as the basis for further detailed planning and design; and THAT Council direct City staff, in consultation with landowners and neighbours, to bring back a detailed design and a strategy to secure proposed public-use sites reflective of the Henriquez scheme.”

Perhaps this initiative could be undertaken with the actual assistance of Mr. Henriquez.

I implore you not to lose this singular opportunity.  Mr. Henriquez’s scheme is the kind of bold move that has made Vancouver’s core the envy of the world.

Thank you for considering my comments and advice on this matter.


Larry Beasley, C.M., F.C.I.P.

Cc: Richard Henriquez

City Manager

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