Pacific Centre Rotunda replacement proposed, new retail building – Public input until Aug 28

pacific centre rotunda

(Update – This is an updated version of our original August 9 post. We have added links and excerpts to subsequent media coverage.) A proposal to replace the rotunda entrance to the Pacific Centre and the open space at the northeast corner of West Georgia and Howe Street with a 63′ tall (19.3m) retail building has been submitted to the City of Vancouver.

This is a significant issue, in the sense of the importance of public spaces and their value to society. Vancouver’s public spaces are being eroded. Public input is due by August 28.

The proposed building would contain an additional 31,603 square feet (2,936 m2) of retail space. The design submitted by Perkins + Will Architects contains high floors for the “3-storey” building that has a height of 63.36 feet (or a typical 6-storey height for residential; note that the City does not penalize large floor heights in FSR calculations). Property owner Cadillac Fairview would entirely remove the rotunda structure and provide another entrance to the mall directly off West Georgia Street.

This development application is considered to be “conditional” and approval or rejection will be up to the discretion of the Director of Planning. Comments related to the proposed redevelopment are due by August 28, 2016. Further information on the scheme is on the City’s development applications website. The Director of Planning post is currently filled by Jane Pickering, but Gil Kelley will fill this post starting on September 15, 2016.

Cadillac Fairview recently made another controversial proposal with the development beside Waterfront Station at 555 Cordova (an origami tower dubbed the ‘icepick building’ by detractors, currently on hold). Now the firm is looking at taking away space that functions as a public plaza and an iconic rotunda entrance to the Pacific Centre to build 3-storeys of retail. Is there any balance to public and private interests in planning in Vancouver? Does the space-making role of the plaza and rotunda have sufficient merit to City planners and policy makers? Why has this been largely off the media radar? Why are groups that supposedly advocate for public spaces (e.g., Vancouver Public Space Network, and Spacing Vancouver) not actively trying to raise awareness and protect the public space affected by this proposal? Stay tuned. See further below for recent media coverage.

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Housing supply clarified

Comment: Very few experts have the independence and courage to speak up and challenge the industry-dominated discussions about solutions to affordability crisis. Elizabeth Murphy is one.

Some excerpts… The city is also approving a record number of new development permits. According to a recent city information bulletin, they are building way more than outlined in the Regional Growth Strategy and are leading the region on permit approvals. The city says, “this data demonstrates that new housing supply is at record levels and exemplifies the fact that we are approving significant new housing stock”.

Clearly, we do not have to create more zoning supply in Vancouver to meet regional growth. There may be other reasons to adjust zoning, but there is no rush. It must be done very carefully since upzoning causes speculation that drives land inflation. This has the unintended consequence of making housing even less affordable.

Increasing zoning supply generally won’t reduce prices for the end product either.

… Simplistic supply and demand economics to create affordability may work in a closed economy, but not with the global capital currently flowing into the Lower Mainland, and the City of Vancouver in particular. As long as real estate is disconnected from the local economy, it doesn’t matter how much new stock we build, it will be beyond what most local residents can afford.

The 15 per cent property transfer tax surcharge for foreign buyers may not be the windfall of revenue expected. There are many ways to get around this tax.

… So increasing housing supply and tying it to transit funding are not the solutions to affordability. But there are real solutions, although complex. These will be for a future discussion.

Affordable housing myths and facts

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 19, 2016

The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” Photo Stephen Bohus BLA / PNG

The province is expected to make pre-election announcements starting in September featuring housing affordability fixes. Unfortunately, it looks like the policies they are considering may be ineffective yet problematic. To find the right solutions, they need to be using accurate assumptions rather than myth.

The B.C. Liberals frequently suggest increasing housing supply as the solution to the housing affordability crisis. In the City of Vancouver, there is already ample zoned capacity. The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply…

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Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan (Opinion – Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun)

This opinion was published in the Vancouver Sun on August 8, 2016. Excerpts are provided below. See the link for the full text. Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing.

Read about the process for City Council to adopt this plan, and how a community plan adopted in the West End has had perverse consequences, and something begins to seem stinky with city’s planning processes.


2016-land-use-map Grandview-Woodland

Grandview Woodland community plan

Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan


Vancouver just approved a new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, in the neighbourhood known as the Commercial Drive area. The plan jeopardizes affordability by putting existing affordable rentals, heritage and character at risk in spite of community opposition.

There are references in the plan to retaining existing rentals and protecting heritage, but the adopted policies do just the opposite. Incentives for redevelopment increase land speculation, leading to land, unit and rent inflation with loss of community character.

At the start of the planning process, the planners opened their presentations stating that Grandview needed to increase density to meet projected growth under the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) since 160,000 people were coming to Vancouver.

This was later found not to be the case when the RGS was changed to reflect the 2011 census for a 148,000 population increase from 2011 to 2041. Further, the city’s consultant report from June 2014 confirmed, “The city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” …. Continue reading

“The city picks where they want to throw highrises, and you just get … a lottery ticket… your profits basically double”: Perverse results of rezoning for higher density


Metrotower III Metro Vancouver HQA quote by an industry expert, buried in a Business in Vancouver article today, reveals the perverse effect of upzoning to increase density.

“The city picks where they want to throw highrises, and you just get, you know, a lottery ticket,” Harding told BIV in a phone interview. “Your profits basically double. When you can put a big tower on a little piece of land, it’s obvious that the land values are going to skyrocket. And when you take away all that [rental] supply, obviously people are going to get upset.”
Real estate broker Brandon Harding, quoted in BIV 16-Aug-2016.

Quoted from “Duelling Supreme Court lawsuits over major Burnaby property deal expose Metrotown land-use bonanza: Businessman, realty firm in court fight after properties sell for almost triple assessed value” (Darryl Greer, Business in Vancouver, 16-Aug-2016). Click for article.

Rezoning actually creates windfall profits for property owners. Municipalities claim that they claw back a major part of that windfall through levies, but CityHallWatch knows that the math is opaque and often highly suspect.

Proponents of higher density  justify the density as the best path to housing affordability.

We have often said that the power to rezone land is a license to print money (see “Rezoning defined“), but who when benefits our mayors and councillors print that money, and who suffers?

The vast majority of elected officials (mayors and councillors) come to their posts with nearly or absolutely zero formal knowledge of urban planning and economics. That is the case in Vancouver, and many other municipalities in Metro Vancouver.

Is it possible that naive politicians listen too much to the development industry. A very industry whose principal players provide millions of dollars for civic and provincial election campaigns? Is this relationship between most of our politicians and their funders an example of “regulatory capture”? Continue reading

Arbutus Greenway paving halted for more consultation: Compendium of coverage, a great case study

Arbutus Greenway route Google Maps Aug 20216

Google Maps version showing Arbutus Greenway route

This post is to pull together some recent coverage on the status of the “Arbutus Greenway.”

This is an interesting case study for multiple reasons:

  • The history of the Vancouver and CP Rail and Arbutus rail line.
  • The $55 million settlement between City Hall and the huge corporation.
  • The vision of a green corridor.
  • The City’s promise of extensive consultation.
  • The rapid progress of rail removal.
  • The rapid paving with asphalt four meters wide (without consultation).
  • The quick action of a small group of citizens (including video, social media, and risky sit-down protest to block heavy equipment) to halt the paving.
  • The quick response by City bureaucrats to halt work and modify plans.
  • And the multiple users/stakeholders and interest groups.

Many groups of stakeholders (e.g., neighbours, gardeners, cyclists of various styles, persons with mobility issues, young and old, ecologists, and many more) have different expectations and hopes for this public space. It is up to the government, public servants, and elected officials to understand them all and develop the best possible plans — short term and long term. An interesting case study, and a test of the various groups to be able to respect each other’s views and needs.

Below is a compendium of media coverage of the past couple weeks on the paving and consultation of the Arbutus Greenway.

The “Greenest City” news from the Mayor’s Office on August 15 reports, “In March, the City reached a historic agreement with CP Rail to secure the future of the Arbutus Greenway – 42 acres of land that connects the Fraser River to False Creek. A section of the Greenway is temporarily paved so residents of all ages and abilities can walk, bike and enjoy it before the City undertakes a full public engagement and visioning process this fall.”

Two-minute video by Mark Battersby comparing before and after paving with asphalt. Entitled “The Arbutus Greenway: Paving Paradise” and set to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Official contact for comments/questions/input:  Continue reading

Crab – Water for Life Society asks Port Metro Vancouver to cease plans for Centerm pier expansion

CRAB Park Water for Life Society logo

We share below a copy of a letter received from Crab – Water for Life Society, asking Port Metro Vancouver to cease it plans for port expansion at the downtown terminal.

This is timed with an official announcement posted on the Port Metro Vancouver website about a new report being issued and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority hosting three public information sessions on the proposed Centerm Expansion Project, as follows:

Tuesday, August 16, 2-4 pm
The Uncommon Café, 477 Powell Street

Thursday, August 18, 2:30 – 4:30 pm
Railtown Café, 397 Railway Street

Saturday, August 20, 2 – 4 pm
Railtown Café, 397 Railway Street

Crab Park

Crab Park

Excerpt of letter from the Society to Port Metro Vancouver

August 15, 2016

Attention: Port Metro Vancouver
To: Robin Silvester
Tanya Howes
Marc Garneau, MP

We take note [that you, the Port, more or less acknowledge] the failure of your first attempt at dealing with the citizens and residents of the DTES. You are making a second attempt to connect to the residents with three coffee talks/meetings to discuss the Centerm Expansion, with short notice and in the dog days of summer.

I am requesting on behalf of Crab-Water for Life Society, which has been active on the Central Waterfront of Vancouver since June 1982, that the Port of Vancouver and the Federal Government, cease their plans to build a seven acre land fill pier extension with DP World, 1,000 meters in front of Crab Park at Portside. Continue reading

Pop-up pool consultation, plans for 2017

popup pool

The Vancouver Park Board accepted a report to Expedite Outdoor Pools at the final meeting before the summer break on July 25, 2016. There is an ongoing public consultation process on the VanSplash Aquatics Strategy. An online survey will be open until September 15, 2016.

The City of Vancouver has a shortage of outdoor pools. There are only 3 outdoor pools to serve a population of over 605,000 residents (by comparison, Winnipeg has 10 outdoor pools while Mississauga has 7 outdoor pools). One of the options being investigated by Park Board is the construction of temporary ‘pop-up’ pools. A number of examples of pop-up pools are illustrated in the staff report. On May 30, 2016, Park Board Commissioners voted in favour of a motion to Expedite Outdoor Pools (6-1 vote with only Vision Vancouver Commissioner Catherine Evans opposed).

Part of the consultation process is to identify locations for a pop-up pool. The material on the Park Board webpage notes: “The pop-up pool would go in an area without easy access to a neighborhood outdoor pool or beach, and have room for up to 200 people.” The first pop-up pool could be in operation for the summer of 2017.