Building Booms in Dunbar South

BUILDING BOOMS IN DUNBAR SOUTH

by Carol Volkart, Dunbar Newsletter Editor


Dunbar residents are beginning to see the effects of new city rules encouraging the construction of more housing in low-density areas like ours.

It’s especially evident in the area of 41st Ave. and Dunbar, where construction cranes and “rezoning application” signs are popping up in leafy neighbourhoods of single-family homes.

Most of the projects are happening under the city’s Secured Rental Policy, which encourages five-and-six-storey rental apartment buildings on arterials in low-density areas close to amenities, and four-storey buildings on adjacent side streets.

But new provincial rules will also affect the area. As a result of transit-oriented legislation passed last fall, the bus loop at 41st and Dunbar became a major public transit hub called the  Dunbar Loop Exchange. Eight-storey buildings are expected to be allowed in the immediate vicinity.

Here are some of the projects expected to transform the south end of the Dunbar neighbourhood in the next while:

  • 3449-3479 West 41st Ave. and 5664 Collingwood St.: Construction is already well underway on this six-storey market rental apartment building at the corner of Collingwood and 41st. Approved by city council in 2021, it will be 72 feet high and provide 114 secured market rental units.
  • 3329-3429 West 41st Ave. and 5649-5683 Blenheim St.: This proposal for a 232-unit seniors’ residence, which has drawn significant opposition from neighbours for its height, massing, and shadowing effects, was approved unanimously by Vancouver City Council after an emotional public hearing April 9. Supporters said more seniors’ housing is desperately needed in aging Dunbar, while opponents, many nearby neighbours, said the height of the building will leave them in near-permanent shadow. Originally proposed at 92 feet, it has been reduced to 85 feet with stepbacks on the two upper floors to reduce the problem. All 50 trees on the 10 city lots the building covers will be cut down, along with six of 11 city trees. Another 24 trees on adjacent private properties are threatened.
  • 5650-5690 Blenheim St.: A rezoning application sign on the lawn of a dilapidated, boarded-up house across Blenheim from the seniors’ residence announces a five-storey rental building under the Secured Rental Policy. It recently received rezoning approval in principle.
  • 5650-5690 Blenheim St.: A rezoning application sign on the lawn of a dilapidated, boarded-up house across Blenheim from the seniors’ residence announces a five-storey rental building under the Secured Rental Policy. It recently received rezoning approval in principle.
  • 6081-6083 Collingwood Place: This is one of two controversial five-storey market rental apartment buildings approved last fall for a quiet cul de sac of single-family homes off Collingwood south of 41st. While supporters argued that more such housing is badly needed, many residents told an October public hearing that the 55-foot-high building, which will provide about 30 units of housing, is incompatible with the neighbourhood and urged a different form of development. A key point was the danger of adding more traffic to the narrow, twisting road that services the cul de sac.
  • 6065-6075 Collingwood Place: The bigger of the new projects for this area, this 55-foot-high building will replace two single-family houses with 94 units of housing. The November public hearing was dominated by supporters who argued that it would provide much-needed housing. To get around the traffic issues for this facility, council decided that all vehicular and loading access would be off West 44th.

Besides whatever happens around the Dunbar loop transit hub, there’s obviously much more development to come in this part of the community. Look south across 41st from the development site, and a land-assembly notice stares back. The next six-storey apartment building may be on its way.

What you don’t know can hurt you

by Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

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 that!”  

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.”

For more information: Vancouver Plan at https://vancouverplan.ca/, Broadway Plan at https://shapeyourcity.ca/broadway-plan

For analysis of what it all means, see Brian Palmquist’s City Conversations Substack at For Broadway Plan, see   For Vancouver Plan,

CityHallWatch https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/ puts out a constant flow of information about city issues.

Hold on tight! Is Dunbar ready for a new 435+-student school across from Chaldecott Park?

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

Facing the potential closure of their small early French immersion school, parents at Queen Elizabeth Annex are warning of the impact of the closure on their own kids, and on the neighbourhood if a much larger school is built in its place. 

QEA District Parent Advisory Council co-representative Nadine Ho, who is helping organize the campaign against the closure, says the timing of the plan is terrible, as it adds to the instability and daily stress that students are already experiencing during the pandemic. And she’s concerned about the short- and long-term impacts on the neighbourhood if a 435-student school for out-of- catchment students is built to replace the 70-student QEA.

There would first be a lengthy construction period, then the noise and traffic of hundreds of additional students coming and going from the now-quiet school site at 4275 Crown, she says. 

The potential for a 435-student school at the site is discussed in a 2018 Ministry of Education document assessing options for the location of a new elementary school on the west side of Vancouver for the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF), the francophone board that serves students whose first language is French. (By contrast, French immersion students are served by the Vancouver School Board.)

There’s been pressure to find a new school site for the francophone students ever since a 2016 court ruling that facilities for them are inadequate on the west side of Vancouver. QEA has been looked at before; in 2019, Vancouver School Board trustees rejected a similar proposal to dispose of it to the francophone board.

Before that, QEA was also threatened with closure in 2016 and in 2008. 

This time around, parents don’t have long to fight for their school. They were told about the proposal on Jan. 14. On Jan. 17,  seven of nine trustees voted at a special meeting to move the closure recommendation to the VSB facilities planning committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19. If trustees agree to proceed at each stage, delegations will be heard Jan. 24, and there will be another meeting on Jan. 31, leading to a final decision on May 30 of this year. If the plan is approved, the school would close on June 30, 2023.

Regarding the francophone board’s need for a school site, Ho said the VSB is being pushed to solve a Ministry of Education problem on the backs of Vancouver students. Disposing of QEA has also been regarded as a way of raising money. In 2019, then-education minister Rob Fleming said the closure of QEA would allow him to build a long-awaited school in Olympic Village. 

The current staff report recommending consideration of closure says disposal of the annex to the CSF “could realize substantial capital revenue” that the board could use for seismic upgrades or school expansions. It notes the government expects districts will contribute up to 50 percent of the cost of new schools.

Ho says the pandemic raises many issues about the planned closure, especially for a school that has had zero COVID cases to date. Transmission risks are lower at smaller community schools like QEA compared to bigger ones like Queen Elizabeth Elementary and Ecole Jules Quesnel, the proposed alternatives for QEA students.  This pandemic is not over, she notes. Vaccinations are still being distributed for children under 12, and children’s activities are still being cancelled or restructured.

Ho says the closure proposal also raises questions about the kind of longer-term planning the VSB is doing if it gives up a school site that may well be needed in the future. She notes that many major developments are planned for the west side of the city, with the Jericho lands development alone more than doubling the population of West Point Grey. 

District Parent Advisory Council co-chair Vik Khanna says the QEA move is being driven by the need for a new school at the Olympic Village. Originally it was supposed to be fully funded by pandemic recovery funds, he says, but that appears to have changed, and the school board now must come up with 50 percent of the cost. “Pressure is being applied by the Ministry to dispose of QEA.”

Khanna echoes Ho’s concerns about the timing of the closure proposal, saying a pandemic is not the time to be pushing it through. “Our trustees should be ensuring public trust in our public education system and this is super rushed and erodes trust.”

The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council has previously taken a position against school closures until proper planning is done. At a DPAC general meeting on Oct. 28, 2021, more than 33 Vancouver PACs voted 94 percent in favour of a motion that the VSB should hold off on irreversible facilities decisions until December 2023 or until policies and plans can be based on the latest population data and take into account the many new developments planned for the city.

What you can do:

For more information, visit http://www.qea-pac.ca/advocacy/ or contact us at qea.parents@gmail.com.  Please help save QEA by writing letters to the Deputy Superintendent office (dnelson@vsb.bc.ca or communications@vsb.bc.ca) and trustees (listed below).

  • Chair Janet Fraser: janet.fraser@vsb.bc.ca
  • Vice-Chair Estrellita Gonzalez: estrellita.gonzalez@vsb.bc.ca
  • Fraser Ballantyne: fraser.ballantyne@vsb.bc.ca
  • Lois Chan-Pedley: lois.chan-pedley@vsb.bc.ca
  • Carmen Cho: carmen.cho@vsb.bc.ca
  • Oliver C. Hanson: oliver.hanson@vsb.bc.ca
  • Barb Parrott: barbara.parrott@vsb.bc.ca
  • Jennifer Reddy: Jennifer.reddy@vsb.bc.ca
  • Allan Wong: allan.wong@vsb.bc.ca 

Construction cranes at St. George’s Senior School

By Neil Piller, Director of Operations, St. George’s School

After approximately 10 years of planning, consultation and awaiting city approval, the building permit for two new senior school academic buildings and dining/gathering hall at St. George’s School was finally issued by the City of Vancouver in mid-June.

Work is well underway, with two shiny white tower cranes now overlooking the corner of West 29th Avenue and Camosun Street. Most of the bulk excavation work for the underground parking is complete, and shoring and final detailed excavation is expected to be completed by the end of September.

Over the next six months, the concrete structure of the academic buildings will begin to appear, and work on the mass-timber dining room is planned to begin next year. We expect the academic buildings and dining/gathering hall to be complete during the 2023/2024 school year.

These new buildings will surround a large, landscaped quadrangle, which will be the new heart of the Senior School. Future building plans include new athletics and performing arts buildings, as well as student boarding facilities and staff housing. Once those phases of the project are complete, the existing school will be removed, though this will likely be completed in 10-20 years.

There are two truck entrances to the construction site, both off Camosun Street between West 28th and West 29th Avenues. The main route for hauling materials in and out of the site is along Camosun Street to Marine Drive. The City of Vancouver has posted “no stopping” signs along the narrow portions of this street to ensure the safe passage of trucks and other traffic. We appreciate your support and understanding about the added impact of this traffic.