In Uncategorized on November 9, 2009 at 11:43 pm

A website BY citizens, FOR citizens on “1401 Comox, Radical Rezoning”

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS, Vancouver, in the next few months, our city is about to take a crash course in democracy, urban planning, rezoning, and community visioning.

On November 3, 2009, Vancouver learned that the West End area was about to undergo a fast-track rezoning of the site where St. John’s church stood as an important part of the community for 100 years. The city staff and developer have provided the required information on the rezoning and development application. Naturally, the community will have a lot of questions. So begins this process. As the world’s eyes turn on Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, all the stakeholders (see “Analysis” page) in this rezoning will be collectively displaying Vancouver’s state-of-the art, 21st century urban planning expertise, vision, and practices. What will they witness? What will be the outcome for the West End?

According to the official plan, people can submit written comments until Dec 22, but the first chance for the community to speak in a public meeting about this rezoning and development will be the actual day that city councilors vote to approve the project, some time in the spring. (Some cities would take a few years of consultations to go through a significant rezoning and development.) The West End’s current community plan is decades out of date, but this project forces a rapid decision that does not fit in with the existing plan. Some people think it’s inevitable that the West End become a forest of 25-storey highrises, but is Manhattan the only possible model for us? What other models are possible? How much “density” should the West End take in the context of increasing density in the whole city? A new community plan is sorely needed here. But the final decision on rezoning and development at 1401 Comox is likely to be made by council within four months. It is likely to set a precedent and affecting the rest of the West End for a few generations in the future. All citizens of Vancouver should watch this case, because the same processes could visit your neighborhood any time.

The community needs more information in an understandable form in order to wade through this process. City Hall has full time professionals working for them. Westbank Developments, Peterson Investment Group, and Henriquez Partners have all the resources (lawyers, researchers, communications experts and so on) of corporations running literally billions of dollars worth of developments (see “Analysis” page). On the other hand, the community has a budget of zero, and individuals living here are busy with their day jobs to pay mortgages and rent. The odds are heavily stacked and needs rebalancing.

On July 8, 2008, the following motion was carried unanimously by City Council: “The City of Vancouver undertake a complete review and reworking of the 1989 zoning regulations and other pertinent regulations governing the residential and commercial districts in the West End in consultation with community groups and organizations, property owners, interested West Enders and City staff.”  We note that WERA has already been calling for such a review for several years, but this review has yet to be scheduled. Is it fair to force through such a dramatic rezoning application on this lot before the review is completed?

This website is dedicated to collecting information from the community, neighborhood and citizen’s perspective, to foster a rational debate in the community. Various views will be presented. Check back from time to time, as the site will be updated as information, opinions, and ideas come in.

  1. Funny how urban density isn’t proposed for Shaughnessy, Point Grey. Instead it’s a necessity for a neighbourhood that is already the densest in Canada.

    If the city wants to short circuit the community consultation process into an orchestrated rubber stamping, then the campaign against Vision Vancouver for the next election cycle begins now.

  2. At the risk of sounding cynical how good are our chance of persuading City Council to vote against the development of 1401 Comox as it now stands at what appears to be a final meeting/hearing. Council would appear to be onside of the development seeing how complete the plans
    for the development are. Also was it the Vision party or the previous
    administration who drew up this “process” of redevelopment application?

  3. Hopefully a concerted effort by West residents can persuade City Council to carefully reconsider how the rezoning application process
    is set up. It should leave room for more community input and concerns
    early in the process.

  4. We must do everything we can to prevent the West End from turning into another Yaletown or Coal Harbour. Increasing density in the densest area in Vancouver and Canada is ridiculous! Any future development should at least be low rise or else we’ll be living in a dark canyon of concrete and glass.

  5. It’s disappointing to hear so many against what is the inevitable and a golden opportunity to excel in the process especially because it IS NOT JUST ANOTHER CONDO FOR THE RICH.
    Building a low level is a relic of the past century. You would need to keep people out of the city period in order to keep such antiquated ideas…

  6. The fast-tracking of this, and other new purpose-built rental proposals is due to the STIR program, which stands for Short Term Incentives for Rental housing. STIR-qualifying projects jump the queue in City Hall, are given bonus density, waived fees, and significantly relaxed parking requirements in exchange for rental housing covenants that ensure the building must remain a market rental building for the life of the building or 60 years, whichever comes first. The City’s rezoning policy of requiring minimum LEED Silver green building compliance applies to STIR buildings and they still must go through the normal approvals process including the Urban Design Panel, Development Permit Board, and Council.

    The almost complete lack of new purpose-built rental stock in Vancouver, and especially in the 25-year draught we’ve experienced in the West End, is due to two main factors.

    The first is changes in Canadian tax law for rental properties that made it unattractive to sell rental building.

    The second was the introduction of the Strata Title Act, which allowed for multiple owners of multi-family apartment buildings. This completely chanmged the land economics of cities and suddenly allowed a developer to make back their investment in four or five years with a healthy profit instead of a decades-long amortization period.

    The proposed building at 1401 Comox will add almost 200 rental units to the West End. For me that’s the ball game.

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