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Tower debate on Commercial Drive ratchets up as anti-tower candidates take over Grandview-Woodlands Area Council

March 7th, 2016 · 66 Comments

There couldn’t be a more perfect decisions game than what is going on in Grandview-Woodlands these days.

A respected agency that serves the mentally ill, desperate to find a way to renew and expand, partners with a developer to rebuild at the corner of Venables and Commercial, using its own property, the developer’s two sites on either side, and city land. Thirty units of housing plus a new centre if the developer can get the density to build 200 condos.

On the other side, a core group of opponents in the community who say, yes, we appreciate the work the Kettle Friendship Society has done, but we don’t want anything higher than four stories on the Drive, no matter how many mentally ill people this might help.

The debate has been bubbling for three years. Last week, Kettle jointly released with Boffo Properties a visualization of the project, presumably to demonstrate that a 12-storey project can fit in and isn’t any more obtrusive than the tower nearby.

But the opponents are still opposed. As part of the battle, they developed a slate and got them all elected to the Grandview-Woodlands Area Council on the weekend. And they’ve put out a proposal that the city donate its land (worth $5 million or so) to Kettle so that it doesn’t have to rely on the developer’s condo profit for its housing.

(I’ve included the full proposal from the group below.)

While that seems like one obvious solution, it would be interesting to hear from the group how they think the city would justify that to every other neighbourhood that has found itself being asked to absorb significant new density so that the city can leverage some social housing or rental in the project.

Every one of those neighbourhoods would probably like the city — or someone — to contribute millions so that the proposed tower near them could be reduced: Strathcona and 955 East Hastings, Yaletown and the Brenhill project with its rebuild of Jubilee House, the West End and the several rental towers there, Oakridge and the massive development planned with its seniors and rental housing components, every tower that’s about to be proposed along Burrard, which will have social-housing units as part of the requirement, and the many others out there I am sure you all can help list.


Vancouver. The NO TOWER Coalition is proposing a viable and creative alternative to a massive three-tower development under discussion in the Grandview-Woodland community.

The alternative would see the City of Vancouver provide available land (a city-owned parking lot on the site) to the Kettle Friendship Society as an outright grant. The Kettle would sell its existing building (also on the site) and use the proceeds to construct up to 25,000 square feet of community service and housing space, on the land, provided free by the city.

Estimates put the cost of a 25,000 square foot, four-storey structure, with service space and 30 small units of supportive housing at $5.2 million, excluding land costs. The Kettle’s current building was assessed in 2015 at $2,068,000 million. The city parking lot was assessed in 2015 at $2,259,000.

“We have looked carefully at the footprint,” says Sue Garber, a NO TOWER spokesperson. “The City of Vancouver and the Kettle together own over half the total square footage of the land in question. With the city contribution, this approach could work very well.”

“We think this is a very viable alternative. And it is much preferable to public land being turned over to a developer for tremendous profit, with so many unfortunate impacts on the neighbouring community. These lands are currently in community hands. They should stay that way,” Garber notes.

“This alternative would provide the Kettle what it needs and would spare the Commercial Drive community from the devastating effects of a massive three-tower complex, with associated rising land costs and displacement of nearby rental and non-profit housing.”

The proposal also suggests the adjoining street be permanently closed to car traffic for a pedestrian “piazza” which would extend the low-rise and human scale of Commercial Drive north towards the renovated York Theatre and Hastings Street.

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