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Can The Drive survive city of Vancouver's Community Plan?


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Beth Taylor | Creative Commons

 

In December, after the November 2014 civic election, the City of Vancouver held a sub-area workshop for the Grandview community plan. It proved to be an exercise in manufactured consent. That charade undermined the Mayor's pre-election day apology and promise; the promise that if he were to be re-elected the city would listen to the community and be more transparent.

Grandview is the neighbourhood centered around Commercial Drive, affectionately known as The Drive. Its boundaries span from Clark Drive to Nanaimo Street and from Broadway north to the waterfront.

The Drive has a lively shopping district along Commercial Drive; spectacular private and public views to the mountains and downtown; and it is well served by transit and by the Britannia Community Centre. The Drive is a great neighbourhood that is still affordable for many.

This community is a model of diversity, with a broad mix of age, of ethnic, and of economic demographics. Currently 50% of the area is made up of the original heritage character built prior to 1920, generally well maintained and adaptively reused as multiple-suite buildings that tend to be more affordable than new. Many streets are entirely intact with the original buildings. The area also has a large concentration of purpose-built rentals and more social housing than any neighbourhood outside of the Downtown Eastside. Development pressures from rezoning would put all of this at risk.

 

PLANNING REBOOT

In 2013 the city came forward with a proposed plan for the area that was broadly rejected by the community. The proposed increased tower forms of development were highly criticized and rejected. The planning process was extended beyond the 2014 civic election. That process included creating a Citizens Assembly requiring residents to apply, who were then categorized based on their profiles. The group was selected from each category by lottery.

I have been actively involved in the neighbourhood as an owner for over 20 years, and have followed this planning process with sceptical interest. It has been a comedy of errors, yet the potential loss is so tragic for the city.

 

THE WORKSHOP

I attended the December workshop on a rainy Saturday before Christmas with a low community turnout.

Topics were assigned to each of the multiple tables. Even though most of the neighbourhood is covered with heritage character housing, the topic of heritage was separated from housing. It was included with the topic of arts and culture at a separate table. Faced with this dilemma, I chose the heritage, arts and culture topic table.

At my table there were three facilitators overseeing only three from the community and two from the Citizens' Assembly. Each table had a large scale map of the area with an overlay on which one of the facilitators was to record the comments of the group. The facilitators would stand up and report their summary of the table's comments to the room where highlights would be compiled by two planners on a master plan on the wall at the back of the room.

With each round, a new overlay was started at each table that made a new attempt at getting the answers the city was after. It took little time before all the tables degenerated to a game of Monopoly.

The facilitator at our table pulled out a copy of the plan previously rejected in 2013. He proceeded to redraw the rejected plan onto our overlay. When questioned about that, he responded that it was "only for discussion purposes". After we had discussed it and again rejected it, just as the community had done in 2013, that facilitator still refused to remove it from our overlay. We had to take the pen and cross it off ourselves. The same thing with other misrepresented drawings by that facilitator on our overlays.

Other tables shared a similar story, where facilitators and development consultants outnumbered those from the community and the facilitators misrepresented the community's comments. One table for instance had four city staff and a development consultant outnumbering two people from the community five to two.

Finally, the only comments that were recorded on the master plan at the back of the room looked very much like the previous 2013 plan, however showing even more high buildings than those the community previously rejected. It can be expected that the city will misrepresent this as the community's opinion on future zoning and development.

 

GROWTH PROJECTIONS

One of the first questions posed by the audience was the most relevant of the day: What is the population growth anticipated for the City of Vancouver and what portion of that would Grandview be expected to absorb?

The planner said the city is expected to gain 160,000 people based on regional numbers and that this had not been broken down by neighbourhoods. However, this misrepresents the facts.

The growth numbers are based on the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) approved in July 2011. The RGS used the 2006 census numbers for population and number of housing units, and estimated how much both would increase over 35 years to 2041. This was an increase of about 140,000 people and 75,000 units.

Then in July 2013, the City of Vancouver raised this 2006 to 2041 estimated growth to 160,000 people and 97,500 units. As a footnote under a high growth scenario, this was further increased to over 180,000 people and 108,500 units.

But there has never been any publically transparent analysis to show how this is growth is determined.

Looking at the census, the actual population growth from 2006 to the most recent census in 2011 was about 25,000 people and 13,000 units. It appears that these figures has been added to rather than subtracted from the RGS 2041 estimates. The adjusted estimate from the most recent 2011 census to 2041 should be only 115,000 more people and 62,000 more units.

Further, the true number of overall housing units that should be rezoned for as of 2015 would be reduced by the huge amount of zoning capacity that has been approved to date but not yet been built. This includes major projects that were rezoned (e.g. Cambie Corridor, Marine and Cambie, Oakridge, Telus Gardens, Arbutus Mall, False Creek North and South, Shannon Mews, the Rize, etc.) on top of the development capacity under current outright zoning and recently approved community plans in Marpole, the West End, Chinatown, Hastings Corridor and the Downtown Eastside.

The city is actually overbuilding by approximately 2000 units each five year census period. This has increased the unoccupied units to a total of 22,000 as of 2011. The question is not how we force people to rent out units when they don't want to, but why are we overbuilding too many expensive units that are only serving to promote Vancouver as a commodity rather than planning communities.

Creating a heat island with energy inefficient concrete and glass towers, while removing the urban forest canopy, adds to climate change. We need accurate growth projections so that we can plan for growth in a way that will minimize negative impacts.

 

FINANCING GROWTH

What most people don't understand is that all this growth doesn't make the city money. On the contrary, the city must subsidize growth.

The development fees collected by the city only cover a small fraction, about 10%, of the actual costs of servicing the infrastructure for development and the population growth it brings. With all the development that has been completed over that last few decades it has served to increase property taxes and the city's debt, not decrease them.

Of course some growth is inevitable and we have to plan for this. We have done that in spades. But where are the discussions about how much growth we can afford and what the growth limits are to retain liveability, affordability and environmental sustainability?

 

MORE TO LOSE THAN TO GAIN

So getting back to the Grandview plan, the existing Local Area Plan currently allows for a broad mix of apartments, townhouses, duplexes, multifamily conversions and single family while protecting heritage character. Grandview was considered under CityPlan to already meet regional objectives of increased density with a variety of housing types.

Although there may be some opportunities along Hastings Street and Broadway, the vast majority of the neighbourhood would have much more to lose by rezoning that it would gain. Currently there are no programs to replace the existing purpose-built rentals or social housing with equivalently affordable units. As these existing units are demolished, people are displaced, which is one of the main contributors to homelessness.

This farce of a "planning" exercise attempts to manipulate the perception of public support for the unjustified ruin of Vancouver. Professional planning should start with legitimate data and objectives that are to the public's interest rather than turning it into a game of Monopoly.

 

Elizabeth Murphy

Special To The Province | January 9, 2015



Balancing Heritage with Modern Values in the Proposed Vancouver Heritage Conservation Plan


 heritagemodern

Vancouver's plan to update its heritage conservation program is prompting dialogue on architectural innovation and what should be considered a heritage building.

The city is currently gathering feedback on its Heritage Conservation Program, which was established in 1986.

SFU and the Heritage Vancouver Society are co-hosting their own public debates on the issue.

 

Heritage as inhibiting architectural innovation

Alec Smith, a partner at Shape Architecture, was one of the panellists at a recent debate on heritage and new developments.

His firm specializes in modern design. It recently designed new homes around two character houses in Strathcona, a Vancouver neighbourhood known for its heritage values.

"There's a lot of challenges to do more adventurous projects like that in the city of Vancouver," said Smith.

He said he thinks Vancouver's architecture needs to be able to grow and evolve.

"The emphasis for me really needs to be on striking a balance between conservation of buildings that have merit but also not trying to impose an historic style on new developments within those neighbourhoods," said Smith.

He added that many of Vancouver's most iconic buildings, such as the city's provincial law courts designed by Arthur Erickson, were created more recently.

"There was a time in Vancouver's history when it really led the world in its innovative architecture, and that was through the 50s, 60s and 70s," said Smith. 

 

Balancing heritage with modern values

Javier Campos, the president of the Heritage Vancouver Society and a principal with architecture firm Campos Leckie Studio, agrees.

He said although character is important, contemporary architecture also needs to consider current values like density and ecological design.

"We need to identify character but we also need to encompass what we're going to do in the future and how we're going to live in the future," said Campos.

He said character can be as much about fitting in to the overall feel of a neighbourhood as conserving bricks and mortar.

The next SFU talk on heritage and character will be on April 16.

 

CBC News | March 3 2015

 



New reality show aims to save Vancouver heritage homes


Shelley Fralic
Vancouver Sun
June 27, 2014

 

When Blair Reekie and his team at Great Pacific Television sat down last winter to toss around some ideas for a new reality television show, it didn’t take long to come up with something perfectly suited to Metro Vancouver.

It’s called Game of Homes, and while the title is a trendy pop culture play on words, it also reflects an underlying social, even political, message.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

“We were noodling on what’s been done in the world of home renovations and what’s not been done,” say Reekie.

If you’re a fan of cable networks like HGTV, Bravo, TLC and W, you’ll know that’s a well-mined subject, given the dozens of shows past and present featuring home makeovers, house design and real estate tutorials and competitions.

You’ll also know that many of the shows we watch are a direct reflection of the housing culture of the day (Million Dollar Listing), of the socio-economic times (Income Property) and of modern-day decor tastes (Interior Therapy).

For Reekie’s part, he couldn’t stop thinking about two Vancouver-area housing traditions in that meeting. One is the PNE Show Home, which he loves, partly because it attracts so many people that it literally defines “house looking as a spectator sport.”

 

A Vancouver house that is being considered for renovation in the new reality TV series for W network Game of Homes.

 

The other is what’s been going on around town lately, especially in neighbourhoods like the one he calls home: Mount Pleasant. Like so many other residential pockets throughout Vancouver, Mount Pleasant is quintessentially old Vancouver, chockablock with vintage housing stock, including charming cottages, stately Edwardians and roomy bungalows. In fact, most of the area’s homes are pre-1950s, but the harsh reality of our housing times is that with the old comes the quest for new, and that means many homes in Mount Pleasant and similar neighbourhoods are today also being lost to the wrecking ball, buyers opting for big and modern as they reimagine their pricey patches of dirt.

It is an often disheartening and controversial story that has been unfolding across the region for decades, heating up of late with the spotlight on the recent demolition of the historic Legg House in the West End.

At issue is the disposable attitude toward perfectly livable and often better-built older homes that are increasing falling victim to the market lust for monstrous and modern, and it has been troubling to watch our young city’s housing heritage being trucked away, street by street, to the landfill.

City councils, prompted by a growing contingent of vocal protesters unhappy with the physical changes in their neighbourhoods, scramble to find ways to bridge the gap between the status quo and progress — a tussle that includes foreign investors, developers, heritage preservationists and buyers who just don’t like old houses — and it often seems a insolvable conundrum.

Enter Game of Homes.

“People don’t seem to want to live in these old houses,” says Reekie, especially “the cute cottages honouring the architecture of the smaller house on a larger lot.

 



Vancouver's Heritage Action Plan only one step in the right direction


 Many Vancouverites can breathe a big sigh of relief knowing this upcoming Wednesday, December 4, city council will vote whether to adopt a new heritage action plan to update Vancouver’s heritage conservation program. Although, a potentially promising step in the right direction to protect our cities dwindling history, an article from the Vancouver Sun illustrates the doubt that true action will actually occur:

“City staff has put together a “Heritage Action Plan” to address many of the problems. Council will vote whether to adopt the 18-page report on Dec. 4. It is passes, Meggs said many of the recommendations will be acted on within the next year.

The report has 14 recommendations, ranging from simplifying the rezoning process for heritage buildings to increasing demolition fees for pre-1940 houses and extending the existing heritage incentive plans in the Downtown Eastside.

It also recommends that the city update its heritage register, an inventory of historic buildings that was compiled in the mid-1980s and enacted in 1986.

Don Luxton of Heritage Vancouver said the staff report “is all good stuff.” But he cautions that if Vancouver wants to preserve heritage buildings, the city has to actually implement the recommendations, not just talk about them.

“Many of these tools are already available to the city, (but) they have to operationalize them, they have to make them work,” said Luxton.

“One of the ways they’re going to make them work is increased staff time, increased resources. They’re going to have to put some more thought into incentives. But certainly, it’s a really good start, and a really good direction.”

Luxton has been urging the city to update the heritage register for years.

“Three times this has been on the books and taken off,” he said. “This is the fourth time (council has passed a motion to update the register).”

The significance of many buildings was missed when the inventory was compiled in the 1980s.

“Inventory work was being done about 30 years ago — it commenced about 1983, and in 1986 it was adopted, at the time of the city’s centennial,” said Luxton.

“That’s a fifth of the life of the city ago — that’s a long time. The buildings have aged, and we have entirely different parameters for what we consider heritage now. It’s not so much focused on buildings and structures as it once was.

“We think a lot about context, and neighbourhoods, even intangible heritage. These are things we’re talking about worldwide, and Vancouver is not recognizing those trends in its current heritage register. It just hasn’t been updated.”

Meggs said the action plan was spurred by Coun. Heather Deal.

“In May, Heather asked for a series of actions to really step up protection of heritage,” said Meggs. “This is an across-the-board proposal for short- and long-term action that will achieve a lot of those objectives.

“It will provide protection in various areas, including character homes in areas that don’t have protection now or where there’s sort of perverse incentives to take them down.”

Meggs acknowledged the loss of older character homes has upset many Vancouverites. Last year, a small house at 502 Alexander was demolished for social housing, even though it was built in 1888, which made it the second-oldest house in Vancouver.

“We get a lot of mail on this from people, particularly on the west side, where (smaller character) homes are being demolished and replaced with larger homes,” he said.

“We don’t get those calls from other neighbourhoods. That’s partly because, according to a staff report, certain neighbourhoods have better protection that eliminated the incentive to tear down. In other words, it’s more of a wash financially, and it encourages people to protect the existing building.”  (Mackie, http://www.vancouversun.com/Vancouver+plans+action+historic+buildings/9225670/story.html)

The fears of our heritage experts and the evidence from past events are all the more reason to show your support for the plan by contacting city council, registering to speak at the meeting and/or attending it. Please follow the links below to read the full report and to contact city council. Time is not on our side as the number of our heritage buildings being demolished is increasing every year.

Read the report here: http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20131204/documents/ptec8.pdf

If you would like to write to city council, you can address your support and concerns to: [email protected]

 

Heritage Action Plan Preserve and Protect Heritage and Character Buildings

Image: http://www.journalofcommerce.com/article/id36520
2009 – A Clearview Grinding Ltd. crew works at demolishing Little Mountain, the oldest public housing development in Vancouver. The developer replaced Vancouver’d oldest affordable housing units built between 1953 & 1954 to add market housing.



THE OTHER SIDE OF MAIN STREET MAY BE VANCOUVER’S NEXT HOT SPOT


One of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods is comprised of some of its finest old houses and waterfront, and yet, it’s remained a quietly hidden gem for most of the city’s history.

East side residents know about Wall Street, but city wide, it’s largely an unknown. That will change, promises Sotheby’s agent Gregg Close, who, along with his son Mackenzie, has taken on his first Wall Street listing at 2523 Wall St. The Battersby Howat designed house is listed at $1.795-million, which is the highest listing price for any home in the area.

Wall is a long, winding street above a bluff overlooking the workings of an industrial port, the freighter-dotted inlet and the North Shore mountains. It’s a unique view, the urban answer to Point Grey Road’s more sombre, idyllic waterfront.

Mr. Close, who grew up on Point Grey Road and has specialized in selling houses in his west side neighbourhood most of his career, believes that Wall Street is vastly under priced.

“The prices here on Wall are insane,” says Mr. Close. “I’m so used to Point Grey Road, where everything there is cheek to jowl. Here you can look right down the channel. This house will be worth $3-million because this street has nowhere to go but up.”

Of course, the Closes believe in the area because they have a house to sell, but the fact that Sotheby’s has arrived in what was once an intensely working class neighbourhood is a sign of transition. Several years ago, I wrote a story about the first $1-million listing in the city’s other old neighbourhood, Strathcona, and today it’s hard to believe that anyone even found that shocking.

Considering the shortage of waterfront in Vancouver, it only makes sense that a similar hike in property values would happen on Wall Street. For the last decade, the Hastings Sunrise community has attracted professional urban types who prefer the obscurity of their enclave, which is a short walk to Commercial Drive, a five-minute drive to downtown, and a short drive over the Second Narrows Bridge to some of the best mountain biking in the country. Now that long-time residents are of retiring age and looking to sell their seaside properties, the area is opening to a new market that is starting to recognize the east side version of Point Grey Road.

“All that’s missing is a Starbucks,” says Mr. Close.

There are already the early signs of a neighbourhood on the upswing, in the form of a few brave independent retailers. Around the corner from Wall Street, on Powell Street, are a couple of indie craft distilleries, including the Odd Society, makers of gin, vodka and whisky, with a stylish new tasting room – and Powell Street Brewing, makers of an India Pale Ale. There is a movement under way by some businesses to rename and rebrand the neighbourhood, including adjacent Grandview-Woodlands, as “the East Village.”

Omer Arbel is a celebrated designer best known for his furniture and lighting company, Bocci. His 1942 Wall Street cottage-style house, which he purchased for $1.27-million three years ago, was recently featured in Dwell magazine. He’s a recent addition to the neighbourhood, but he’s been aware of it for more than a decade, says Mr. Arbel, who moved from Israel when he was a kid. Mr. Arbel’s home is located next door to the Sotheby’s-listed property, and he has plans for his own major renovation.

“When I could afford to buy and build, there was no question in my mind that it should occur on Wall Street,” he says in an e-mail interview from somewhere in Asia. “I feel much more comfortable in East Vancouver than I do in West Vancouver or the North Shore. I love the view of the mountains and the ocean, and the rawness of the proximity to port lands, the trains and large freighters. People have hang-ups about the noise of the train tracks, but personally I love it. I think it’s romantic, and I miss it when I travel.”

Mr. Arbel is less enamoured of efforts to rebrand the area as a namesake of that famous New York neighbourhood.

“I hate that some misguided individual or group chose to try to rename our neighbourhood. Why replace a beautiful and poetic name [Hastings Sunrise], particular to this place and its history, with a generic name of a neighbourhood in New York? It seems completely against the spirit of the place. Nowhere in the world will you ever find a neighbourhood called Hastings Sunrise. This is something to celebrate, not try to obscure.”

Before it was Hastings Sunrise, the area was set aside by the colonial government in the 1860s, and called the Hastings Townsite. Back then, Vancouver was comprised of individual municipalities, and Hastings Townsite became an annex of the city in 1911, following a referendum, says historian John Atkin.

“Because it was far out from the centre the orphanages and delinquent schools, et cetera, were set out there,” he says. “They stuck similar institutions way out in West Point Grey on Fourth Avenue as well. But it developed just as other neighbourhoods did, with a mix of incomes and people. The opening of the Pacific National Exhibition helped boost the area’s development.”

As for the name, Heritage Vancouver’s Donald Luxton says nobody knows why it was renamed Wall Street in 1911. Prior to that, it was simply Powell Street.

Change isn’t happening instantly on Wall Street. The house at 2523 has been on the market for two years, and is on its third agent. Since Sotheby’s took over in May, they say they’ve had two decent offers, but they believe they can hold out for the asking price.

Last year, the owner of a 1980s-era house on a 66-by-98-foot lot at 2645 Wall listed at $2.450-million without luck. It sat on the market for 126 days.

Elisabeth Obesen, owner of the house at 2523 Wall, has lived there since 2001. She purchased the property and had the house built, but she under built on the property and only allowed for two bedrooms upstairs, which is a setback in terms of its resale, says Mr. Close.

There is still the old, prevailing attitude among locals that the east side should be far cheaper than the west, and that’s an outmoded idea, says Ms. Obesen, who is a doctor.

“Vancouverites have a very crazy notion about the east side versus the west side,” she says. “Suddenly, just because you’ve crossed Main Street, they think a house should be really cheap. Those days are over.”

Ms. Obesen says she can’t afford to live out her retirement years in Vancouver, and so she’s selling her dream home, which includes a garden that cost her more than $150,000.

“I wish I could keep my house and retire here, but I can’t. That’s the reality,” she says. “People have this idea that physicians are rich and living high off the hog, and it’s just not true. The deal is, if I want to stay in my house, I have to work till I’m 75. I’m not going to work that long. So the options are sell this house … and move to Panama. That’s been on my list at the moment.

“I could hang on and wait [for the price to go up],” she adds. “But I just don’t want to.”

Editor’s Note: The print and an earlier online version of this story contained a typo, referring to a “Port Grey Road.” The correct name is of course Point Grey Road. This online version has been corrected.

 

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OLD IS NEW AGAIN


We love order and minimalism in buildings. New, freshly planned, pristine and perfect are great attributes for new structures , yet we also find ourselves drawn to things that aren’t so flawless. Recycled, repurposed, previously loved, salvaged. Buildings that have a previous life carry a character that brand-new ones just cannot master.

 

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SOURCE | The Cool Hunter

 



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