On Saturday, May 7, I joined a rally at Vancouver City
Hall! I gathered with those curious,
concerned, hoping to learn more, or wanting to voice their opinions to the
current Mayor and Council about the Broadway Plan and citizen participation in
Regarding engagement at the neighbourhood level, has
the time arrived for Vancouver neighbourhoods to petition Council on what
change we are prepared to adjust to in housing mix in the traditional
single-family neighbourhoods? For
example, mixed zoning changes one or two blocks off arterials. A housing design
plan that provides for single-family, duplex, fourplex, and sixplex housing –market,
fixed income, rental, and seniors’ housing and supports.
Would this zoning approach protect views, natural light and trees, sustain form and character, and attract the eight-to-80 demographics wanting active and healthy living? Let’s have the conversation at the local level to learn what we can live with as we plan for growth and change. The Broadway Plan rally raised the following questions for me:
Affordability – for who?
Capacity – are City Council and staff locked into building up without considering unrealized zoning potential?
Trust – does getting the plan through before the end of the current Council’s mandate engender trust?
Liveability – has a reliable inventory of what residents define as their neighbourhood values been completed?
Turning to the Vancouver Plan, I ask whether it has created the opportunity for engagement and feedback at the neighbourhood level about residents’ definition of liveability. This would include walkability, retail diversity, accessible transit services, rent controls, green and park space for play, seniors’ housing and supports, and ‘K’ to 12 education.
Does densification of housing supply threaten these
neighbourhood values with the introduction of medium (six-storey) to high (40-storey)
towers to increase housing stock? Common
thought is yes.
Housing is needed, but are taller buildings going to
preserve neighbourhood values defining liveability? As often is the case, we did not know what we
had until it was taken away – irreplaceable, taken-for-granted values, such as
faces at the street level, ambience, mom-and-pop commercial retail diversity, the
I live in a single-family home where we raised a
family. I experience overwhelming gratitude
for living in a friendly, welcoming neighbourhood. I am incredibly grateful for the neighbourhood
values which have meant a positive experience of liveability. I accept that growth and change are
inevitable. I also understand my responsibility
to stay informed, to advocate, and participate in citizen-created forums.
The past two years of COVID ruined opportunities for face-to-face citizen participation. Consequently, news talk radio interviews, mailouts, print media coverage, surveys, and social media have been utilized to educate and message the taxpayer. Has the process been effective? Do you feel you have any agency in this far-reaching government-led neighbourhood planning? Has the City put in a checkmark in the community-consultation box? The jury is out on this decision! Perhaps more to learn in this fall’s municipal elections?
If you don’t know about two massive city-changing
plans that will transform the look, feel and texture of Vancouver over the next
30 years, you’re not alone.
Mention the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan to most
people on the street, and you’re likely to hear, “I didn’t know about
The plans, both expected to be approved by City
Council in the next two months, will densify the city significantly by 2050,
allowing high-rises in many new areas and more intensive building everywhere.
The Broadway Plan, which covers 500 blocks from Vine
to Clark Drive, from 1st to 16th, will allow as many as
three towers per block, some as high as 40 storeys. The overall Vancouver Plan replaces
traditional neighbourhoods with a patchwork of generic neighbourhood types
based on the kinds of buildings each allows. All include more density; some
allow high-rises where none have been permitted before.
Why don’t you know about this? Probably because you
don’t belong to the “stakeholder” groups targeted by the City in the years it’s
been developing the plans. Certain groups, including the building industry,
were heavily consulted, but curiously, neighbourhood groups and associations
were scarcely notified, if at all.
Another reason is the process – top-down, with staff drawing
up the plans, then inviting feedback through online surveys and Zoom workshops.
For non-stakeholders who don’t follow City issues closely, especially during
COVID, it was easy to miss.
Vancouverites are accustomed to a different kind of
planning process; traditionally they’ve been deeply involved in creating plans
for their neighbourhoods. A prime example was the Dunbar Community Vision,
approved by City Council in 1998 after Dunbar residents spent nearly two years figuring
out how their neighbourhood should evolve.
Dunbar has already been affected by the early approval
of one aspect of the Vancouver Plan. The “Streamlining Rental” initiative passed
last December allows six-storey rental buildings on Dunbar and four-
to-five-storey apartment buildings on adjacent blocks.
As for further impacts, a muddy Vancouver Plan map shows
Dunbar divided into at least three neighbourhood “types” – “Rapid Transit”
along 41st (meaning towers); “Neighbourhood Centre” along Dunbar (meaning
an emphasis on shops and mid-rise construction); and “Multiplex Area” for the
rest (purpose-built rental housing and “missing middle” ownership.)
While the City calls the Vancouver Plan an essential long-term strategy to support future growth, local architect and planning critic Brian Palmquist isn’t impressed. He says it will mean a continuation of the “years-long practice of spot rezoning a pox of development across our city, so that no resident of any neighbourhood will know how long their neighbourhood, their street, their view, their green space, their access to light will be preserved, or even respected.”
2022 began, I reflected on the DRA’s 2021 accomplishments and the path forward.
Much of last year’s focus will continue to influence our agenda this year. That
includes an increased emphasis on collaboration with the Dunbar Village
Business Association and with Dunbar residents through the newsletter, list
serv, and home page. As 2022 is a municipal election year, we must ensure candidates
understand that protecting liveability and maintaining stability are priorities
for our neighbourhood.
One of the DRA’s major and increasing concerns is what is
happening to our once-vibrant retail district. You only have to stroll between
West 16th and West 41st Avenues to see the difference
between what Dunbar was just a few years ago and what it is now. While some new
stores are opening and new apartment buildings are going up, many stores are
closing or at risk, and there are far too many vacant blocks and storefronts
along our main street.
lobby and petition city council to help us protect and attract retail diversity
on Dunbar. It makes no sense to be densifying our area while our retail
district disappears and transit is cut. While residents succeeded in convincing
TransLink not to go ahead with plans to cut 40 percent of the bus stops between
16th and 41st in January, we still lost five on Dunbar,
and many on West King Edward and Macdonald that once served Dunbar residents.
Another concern is how little attention the city pays to the voices of communities like ours. Councillors are elected to represent the residents, the neighbourhoods called Vancouver. But as we saw with the Streamlining Rental plan, which allows four- to five-storey apartment buildings in residential blocks adjacent to arterials, the concerns of many of our residents who opposed this were ignored. We know when it comes to development issues, the deck is often stacked by developers who recruit speakers and generate multiple emails to support their case. Residents are considered obstacles to development.
me to the Vancouver Plan, where once again the DRA has not been consulted, let
alone notified. The Vancouver Plan is described as a single, city-wide plan to guide future growth.
Council initiated the plan in 2019, and is scheduled to make a final decision on
it this summer.
According to the city website, the plan will “guide future growth in line with the key priorities the community has identified including: housing, climate action and sustainability, employment and economy, environment, transportation, social well-being, arts and culture and infrastructure.”
I have had no details or timelines about the planning process touching down in neighbourhoods such as Dunbar. The DRA did not know! How many Dunbar residents were involved, or even knew this plan was happening?
We have been upgrading our communication tools such as the DRA newsletter, the list serv, our website, and we have started a Facebook page to increase awareness and feedback on issues like this, but it’s a work in progress. Meanwhile, the mayor, council and city staff must be clearer about the process if any neighbourhood is to add value to initiatives such as the Vancouver Plan!
Dunbar residents may be
relaxing after TransLink rescinded plans that would have cut 40 percent of the No.
7 bus stops between 41st and 16th in January, but the
larger battle is far from over.
The status of some of the
saved Dunbar bus stops is unclear, as TransLink’s website says the plan is to
“revisit” some of them in the spring “in partnership with the community and the
City of Vancouver.”
And now concerns are
being raised about the large number of stops being cut elsewhere on the route,
while Dunbar lost only a few. The CityHallWatch website noted Feb. 22 that
Nanaimo Street lost a total of 12 stops in mid-January, one directly in front
of a school at Cambridge and Nanaimo, while only three out of a planned 15 were
removed along Dunbar and Alma at that time. (https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2022/02/22/many-bus-stops-removed-on-nanaimo-st/)
Regardless of what
happens on this route, many other communities will be facing similar
controversies in the future, as TransLink plans to expand its Bus Balancing
Program throughout the region, removing or relocating stops on four to eight
routes a year.
And Vancouver City
Council recently kicked things up a notch by weighing in on TransLink’s
undemocratic governance structure and asking the provincial government to
“I think we have a
problem with TransLink the way it is,” Councillor Jean Swanson told a Feb. 9
debate on a motion about transit governance. She said the city needs a
convenient, easy-to-use transit system that encourages people to get out of
their cars as part of the battle against climate change, “but lately TransLink
has been cutting bus stops, reducing frequency of service and raising fares.
These are all things that reduce ridership.”
At the core of the
motion, initiated by the city’s Seniors Advisory Committee and Transportation
Advisory Committee, is the lack of democratic representation on the TransLink
board that approves initiatives like Bus Balancing. Nine of the 11 board
members are unelected, and there is no guarantee of Vancouver representation,
even though Vancouver has the highest transit use in the region, with 50
percent of transit riders.
TransLink governance has
been an issue since 2007, when then-provincial transportation minister Kevin
Falcon – now leader of the B.C. Liberals – rejigged it to take power away from
a board of elected mayors and councillors and put an appointed board in charge.
The elected officials had run afoul of Falcon by opposing (before finally
approving) plans to build the Canada Line.
Regional mayors, who now sit on a 21-member body called the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, have been pushing since 2015 for a review of TransLink’s governance structure. The NDP promised in the 2017 and 2020 election campaigns to do so, but so far has taken no action.
City council’s motion
was the latest stab at the issue. It asked the mayor to write the provincial
government urging it to reconfigure the board so the majority are local elected
officials, with positions allocated according to the populations, ridership and
transit infrastructure of the member cities.
Connie Hubbs, a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee, told council that TransLink is perceived as undemocratic, opaque and unapproachable, with few public meetings or opportunities for speakers to address it. She said the majority of the appointed board are corporate executives who may do a good job of fiscal responsibility, “but may do less well in making transit more attractive to users.
“Raising bus fares in a pandemic and cutting over 100 bus stops, doubling or tripling the distance people must walk to a bus stop, discourages transit use,” said Hubbs. “How is making transit less affordable and less accessible consistent with the Vancouver Climate goal of cutting our carbon in half by 2030? Obviously, it is not.”
Marc White, co-chair of the city’s Seniors Advisory Committee, criticized TransLink’s “current over-emphasis on satisfying the needs of regional customers and rapidly reducing the number of local bus stops, mostly ignoring the needs of seniors and people with disabilities and ignoring the real benefits of having a robust transportation system.”
During debate on the
motion, Swanson said council has passed motions about TransLink initiatives
that discourage transit use, but nothing happens “because we don’t control
transit, TransLink does. The hope is that if the folks on the board are
elected, they will be more representative and maybe we can get a better system.
We need a connection between the transit users and the decision makers.”
Hardwick said an open and democratic process is “key to the success of our
institutions. . . . I’m much more comfortable seeing elected members sitting on
the TransLink board than I am seeing appointeds, many of whom are political
appointments.” Councillor Pete Fry, who introduced the motion, said because
TransLink is a taxing authority and collects money from residents’ tax bills,
“there is a direct line for accountability with the public that pay for that.”
The main opponent of the
motion was Councillor Christine Boyle, who along with Councillors Sarah
Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh, voted against it. Noting that many elected
councils, including Vancouver’s, are behind on their climate targets, Boyle
said she’s not convinced more elected representation on TransLink’s board will
be the solution. “I agree we need more advocates, transit users at the table,
but I’m not sure elected representatives will get us there.”
Kirby-Yung said the
TransLink board can’t be considered in isolation, as it’s part of a complex,
interconnected system. The goal of the motion may be laudable, she said, “but
this is not the way to get there.” She said one of the problems with giving
control to elected representatives is that they tend to focus on the moment,
while transit must be planned for the long term.
The motion passed, with
Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors Lisa Dominato and Melissa De Genova
absent for the vote.
TransLink says its Bus
Balancing Program, launched in 2020, is aimed at improving speed and reliability
by removing or relocating stops considered too close together. This year’s cuts
to the No. 7 and 4 routes followed earlier rounds affecting the No. 2, 17 and
As for how Bus Balancing made its way onto the streets of Vancouver, TransLink official Sonia Takhar emphasized that the TransLink board and the Mayors’ Council have been in sync on the issue. The program was “initially endorsed by a joint TransLink board of directors and Mayors’ Council New Mobility committee in a closed-door meeting in 2020. This was then taken to the Mayor’s Council in July 2020 for public endorsement of the program,” she wrote in an email. Since then, it has had continued support through the TransLink board of directors’ 2021 and 2022 business plans and the Mayor’s Council Rapid Response plan in February 2021, she said.
When it comes to
balancing individual routes, she described an intensely consultative process involving
close work between TransLink and the city, with input from bus operators, key
community stakeholders and the public. “We share the proposals with senior
leadership of each organization and city council.” Each round of balancing is
presented to three city committees, followed by a six-week public notification
process that includes signs at every bus stop. After that, the stops proposed
for closure are removed for six weeks while public response is monitored.
surrounded the closures on Dunbar, the first many residents knew of them were
signs on bus poles announcing stops would either be closed or kept.
Dunbar Residents’ Association
president Bruce Gilmour, who is blind and navigates the transit system with a
guide dog, first learned about bus balancing during the 2021 cuts to the No. 25
route. When he bumped into a cardboard sign at one of the dual No. 7/No. 25
stops on Dunbar, he had to have a passerby read him the contents. He was
shocked to learn that stops were being removed; he hadn’t been contacted in
either his capacity as DRA president or as a member of the blind community.
DRA board member Angus
McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, also criticized the
consultation process. When people encounter a sign saying their stop will be
closed, “that sounds pretty final,” he said. It’s
“confrontational, even nasty,” to come into a community and “put up all these
signs and get everyone upset,” he said. “What about some engagement first, and
then see what happens?”
Gilmour and McIntyre were
both surprised at the success of the Dunbar residents’ campaign against the
bus-stop closures, which involved letter-writing, phoning, media appearances
and a pre-Christmas walkabout with TransLink and city officials.
Expectations had been low given that TransLink had restored just
two stops on two previously “balanced” routes and six on another. “Dunbar is
the first group in two years to win the battle against TransLink on bus stops,”
said Vancouver transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz after the decision was
announced in January. “It’s a big win.”
Welcome as the result was, the process left Dunbar residents scratching their heads. Why were so many stops originally planned for removal? What and who was behind the dramatic reversal? It’s all a mystery that other communities will soon be tackling for themselves.
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Consultation lacking in City’s plans for rental apartments in large areas of Dunbar, says DRA
By Carol Volkart, Newsletter Editor
The Dunbar Residents’ Association has spoken out against a city plan that would open big swaths of Dunbar to four-, five- and six-storey rental apartment buildings, townhouses and multiplexes if approved by city council this month.
“We urge you to vote against it and work with communities like ours in finding better ways to bring needed housing to Vancouver,” the DRA said in a submission to a public hearing now being held on the controversial “Streamlining Rental Rezoning” plan.
The hearing began on Nov. 2, but so many speakers signed up that it was continued Nov. 4 and resumes Nov. 9 with speaker No. 50 out of 97. About 600 pieces of correspondence have been received so far, nearly evenly split between “support” and “oppose” factions. The numbers may still grow, as people can still sign up to speak or send in correspondence until the public input part of the hearing ends and council members begin deliberations.
The DRA’s major concern about the plan, according to the letter by president Bruce Gilmour, was that neighbourhoods and their residents had not been consulted or properly informed about a proposal that would dramatically affect them. “The DRA has not had the courtesy of even an official notice of this plan, and we know many of our residents are unaware of it.”
The plan is aimed at dramatically increasing the supply of rental housing – although not necessarily affordable housing – along designated arterials where there’s easy access to amenities like stores and schools. It’s a city-wide initiative, focused especially on low-density areas such as Dunbar.
Under the plan, the entirety of the block on and adjacent to a designated arterial would be eligible for the new, higher-density forms of housing. Six-storey buildings would be allowed on the main arterial, with four- and five-storey rental buildings permitted in the rest of the block. Projects would require rezoning, neighbour notification, a public hearing and council approval, but the plan is expected to increase rezonings and result in full-block land assemblies.
Since one of the designated arterials is Dunbar Street, from Fourth in the north to Southwest Marine Drive in the south, the implications for Dunbar are significant. For example, apartments would be permitted in an area stretching from Highbury on the west side of Dunbar Street to Collingwood on the east.
Adding to the impact is the designation of stretches of arterials that intersect with Dunbar, such as West 41st, King Edward, West 16th, West 10th and Fourth, meaning that eligible areas run not only north-south but east-west as well. A summary of the proposal is at https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/streamlining-rental-summary.pdf.
Commenting this fall before the public hearings began, DRA board members questioned how such a sweeping plan could have come this far with so little public information, notification or consultation.
Gilmour noted that it took a Dunbar listserv posting by civic commentator Elizabeth Murphy for the DRA to learn some of the plan’s details and ramifications.
The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, which includes many of the city’s residents’ associations including the DRA, called the city’s consultation process “extremely flawed” and designed to ensure a predetermined outcome. The process emphasized special-interest groups, “and avoided most of the population of Vancouver,” the coalition said in a July 2021 letter to council.
Elizabeth Ball, a former Non-Partisan Association city councillor who serves on the DRA board and whose home will be affected by the plan, said: “There has been absolutely no consultation whatsoever with us.” She said council appears to be relying on online “push-pull” polls to tell people what it’s up to – “the polls where they tell you what they want you to say so that whatever you answer is a trap.”
DRA board member Bill Rapanos, a longtime Dunbar resident and former city planner in Burnaby, criticized the plan’s top-down, “big-bang, one-solution” citywide approach that ignores the peculiar characteristics of neighbourhoods. “What does the city have to lose by consulting with the people who live in Vancouver neighbourhoods instead of just the developers?” Smaller, more widespread solutions might be found through consultation, he said. “There is no one big solution to providing rental housing but there are many small steps that together could do more than the six-storey blockbuster approach.”
He suggested tax incentives or density bonuses to encourage duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes instead of single-family ultra-luxury homes. Tax incentives for small rental suites in all new detached buildings should be provided through zoning regulations, he proposed. He said current policies encourage “reverse affordability,” because older houses with secondary suites are being torn down and replaced by luxury houses for one family only. “I walk the neighbourhood and I can see how the new buildings are being built. They’re not putting suites in the basement. If you’re building a $5- to $6-million house, you’re not going to fool around with tenants.”
Rapanos predicted the plan will result in long stretches of neglected arterials because an oversupply of rezoned land will encourage land speculators to buy it up and wait for developers to buy them out. “You need only look at the south Cambie redevelopment corridor to see how the formerly well-kept homes on this arterial street now look like hell.”
Another board member said she understands the need for more housing “but I feel like we’re moving very fast without consultation. They don’t seem to be listening to the neighbourhoods.” A six-storey 109-unit rental project at 41st and Collingwood proposed under an existing plan, for example, “is not liveable housing, it’s very tiny spaces” and the building design doesn’t fit with the neighbourhood, she said. “We did meet with the developer but he wasn’t interested in listening to us. He just wanted to move ahead with his proposal.”
Architect and author Brian Palmquist, a Dunbar resident whose “City Conversations No One Else is Having” series on the CityHallWatch website https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/ frequently targets the disconnect between the city and its residents, said there’s already enough zoned capacity to meet housing needs for the next decade, based on the census and Metro Vancouver housing demand estimates. The problem is not lack of zoning, he said, but the slow pace of development for smaller projects, as the city prioritizes megaprojects over smaller, less-lucrative ones.
Palmquist agrees with the current zoning allowing four-storey condo buildings along arterials, and thinks six storeys for rental-only projects along arterials is reasonable. He suggests their impact could be tempered by rezoning one or two lots across the lane – not the whole block – to allow four-storey buildings, but “the farther we carry four- or six-storey development along side streets, the more we simply goose the land values. They will not create more affordable housing; it will just be condos that march down the street.”
Rapanos and Gilmour emphasized that changes are needed and that Dunbar is not opposed to adding people or housing. But the new housing shouldn’t be the ultra-luxury type that is turning Dunbar into another Shaughnessy, says Rapanos. Instead, it should be a variety of small-scale, relatively affordable housing types that will help shift Dunbar back to the diverse, busy neighbourhood it used to be, with kids, families, students, seniors and a mixture of low- and high-income earners popping in and out of thriving local stores.
Gilmour stressed the DRA is not against density “or saying change and development is forbidden.” Residents want a thriving, diverse community, but they also want to be consulted in how that is achieved, he said. “It is a process requiring planning and the identification of concerns and the remediation of those concerns – what all parties at the table can live with.”
This summer, my family and I enjoyed the pleasures of country life in the south Cariboo. However, with my ear to the ground, I was also learning about trouble brewing back home in Dunbar. It came out in dribs and drabs because the city did not bother officially informing the Dunbar Residents’ Association about big changes planned for our community. Now the story is less about being asked to the table and more about struggling with what we learned after the fact! As explained elsewhere in the DRA’s fall newsletter, the city is planning to allow four-, five- and six-storey rental buildings on blocks along arterials. Anyone who lives on a block adjacent to Dunbar Street might see four- or five-storey rental apartment buildings going up next door, with six-storey buildings on Dunbar.
The city says this is necessary because of the urgent demand for more rental housing. But I think the real need is affordable housing that meets the variety of needs in our community, from the young family starting out, to long-timers having to make changes as they age. The city’s failure to talk to residents means its plan does virtually nothing to ensure the resulting housing meets the needs of all ages and abilities, or is affordable. The new buildings will be mostly market rentals, which will be ridiculously expensive in a place like Dunbar. When land prices are sky-high, rents will match, and who will really be served by this plan except the builders, developers and rent collectors?
Lots of people will be hurt, though. People who have lived in these areas for decades, upgraded their houses and planned to retire in them, may find a four-storey apartment going up next door. There are better, less-disruptive ways of adding the kind of inclusive, affordable housing our area needs, and the city should be working with us in creating it without losing what has attracted us to this community in the first place.
Consultation is key. The DRA has had no official notification of updates to the neighbourhood plan, an engagement process, or timelines. Nor have residents in affected areas been told how to contribute to the plan. Apparently, the city now thinks that online surveys that most people don’t even know about are sufficient to check the communication box!
What can we do? Although public hearings on the plan began Nov. 2, there were so many speakers that they have been extended, with the next hearing Nov. 9. There’s still time to write council and speak out for the liveability that must be the starting point of any conversation about rezoning.
Let’s insist on a local process for creating housing that fits the size and scale of our neighbourhoods and adds to its inclusivity and affordability. Speak out to preserve retail character and diversity, green space and walkability, pedestrian safety and community gathering spaces, parks and playgrounds, traditions and heritage, and housing forms and character. Liveability is built from active and healthy neighbourhoods with affordable and inclusive housing for its residents!