“Gong Show”: Eyewitness report of Public Hearing of May 24, 2016 (3365 Commercial Drive)

Intro: Four City Councillors walked out of the Public Hearing on May 24, 2016, leaving the meeting without quorum. This may be be unprecedented in Vancouver history. The development application for (search “Cedar Cottage” for recent CityHallWatch coverage) was up for the final vote by City Council. This application and these events are extremely important for public scrutiny, so we will be following the story with a number of posts in the coming days. Here below, with permission, we carry an eyewitness report from Eye on Norquay, entitled “Gong Show.”

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GONG SHOW – reprinted from Eye on Norquay: https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/gong-show/

Among the far too many days and evenings spent at Vancouver City Council proceedings over the years, the 24 May 2016 public hearing on

3. REZONING: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue
http://council.vancouver.ca/20160524/phea20160524ag.htm

rivals 20 January 2011 for weirdest scene ever encountered at City Hall.

The unfolding of the series of events looks like a set of poor drivers taking turns piling into each other. To perceive execution of a clever political script by any caucus or player seems impossible.

What follows is an eyewitness report from recent memory, supplemented by some research. Efforts are made to stick to certainties, and to label speculations as such. City hall video of the evening mysteriously and conveniently “crashed” at 4:05:06.
3365-cutfeed

[Image Credit: CityHallWatch] Continue reading

Malkin Avenue viaduct plans threaten continued operation of Produce Row – impacts on food prices, food security, employment, and more

Malkin Avenue

local grocerThe City of Vancouver is actively considering building a ‘Malkin-connector’ viaduct over the CN railways tracks in Strathcona to connect to Clark Drive. Malkin Avenue is currently a quiet street on the south side of Strathcona Park and adjacent to the Cottonwood Gardens.

Wholesale distributors of fresh produce in the area are a hive of activity, and delivery trucks of all sizes use Malkin Avenue to access loading docks. The distributors move $700 million worth of products annually. “Produce row” businesses also provide a thousand local jobs in Strathcona. Changes the City is proposing could threaten local employment, food prices, food security, small businesses (favouring big box stores), and much more, as the current operations could get dispersed across the region, and out of Vancouver.

local produceThe City’s preferred option of using Malkin as a new east-west arterial street would be “incompatible” with the current use of the street by produce wholesalers. The produce distributors have recently released a letter outlining their concerns regarding the future of Malkin Avenue. The distributors note that small independent grocery stores are now able to buy their produce in one location and thus better compete with large chains.

Local news coverage concerning the future of “Produce Row” include the following articles:

The plans to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are one of the driving forces behind the Malkin Connector. The City of Vancouver seems intent on making a new east-west connector to move additional vehicular traffic.

The City is considering closing Prior Street at the railway tracks crossing (Glen Drive) and constructing a new viaduct at either Malkin Avenue or National Avenue (other options could include widening the Grandview viaduct that connects East 1st Avenue with Terminal, or simply not building a new viaduct). CN is currently upgrading the railway tracks that run parallel to Clark Drive. If the Centerm expansion is approved, more railway traffic is anticipated in the future. This is one of the reasons why the City wants to remove all grade level crossings over the tracks (including Prior and Union Street crossings).

Malkin connector option

For reference, the letter from the BC Produce Marketing Association to its members is reproduced below: Continue reading

Is the City following its own policies? Letters on Cedar Cottage rezoning (East 18th Avenue). Public Hearing Tuesday May 24th

East 18th Avenue Cedar Cottage
A contentious rezoning in Cedar Cottage will be reviewed by Council at a Public Hearing scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Many details on the rezoning can be found on the Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours website and on the City’s website. The following letters were originally posted on Eye on Norquay and are reproduced below (with permission):


Letters of Joseph Jones and Jeanette Jones
To Mayor and Council on 20 May 2016
The following two letters respond to a proposal to approve rezoning of 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue at public hearing on 24 May 2016. Part of Norquay falls within the boundaries of Kensington-Cedar Cottage, the affected Vancouver neighborhood. Beyond this fact, the proposal would set unacceptable precedent for all of the City of Vancouver.
Joseph Jones at 3:33 pm
Public Hearing  —  24 May 2016
3. REZONING: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue

I Joseph Jones OPPOSE the Cressey proposal to develop the northwest corner of Commercial Drive at East 18th Avenue for the following reasons:
1.  The various appeals to a grab-bag of supposedly applicable policies fail to stand up to scrutiny. One immediate piece of evidence for the shaky policy foundation is how the development site has been carved up into kludgy and dodgy subareas.

When I speak to Council at the public hearing, I will focus on outlining the dubious history of the Interim Rezoning Policy (effective 4 Oct 2012 | amended 2 Dec 2013 and 19 Apr 2016). A mapping of 2012-2016 IRP sites is provided as appendix to this letter.
2.  The off-arterial extension of non-ground-oriented housing form, into the area along East 18th Avenue, fails to respect the Interim Rezoning Policy requirement to provide

Ground-oriented forms up to a maximum of 3½ storeys, which is generally sufficient height to include small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses and courtyard row houses (p. 2 of Appendix A: Affordable Housing Choices Interim Rezoning Policy
http://council.vancouver.ca/20160420/documents/cfsc2.pdf)

A simulacrum end-run that proposes design “to emulate the rhythm and width of town homes” (p. 9) violates the Interim Rezoning Policy and is not acceptable. This aspect would set precedent for the entire City of Vancouver. A “3½-storey rental block” (p. 10) clearly is not a ground-oriented form.
3.  There is almost no local area support for the use of heritage bonusing in this proposal. To this significant degree of non-support add the fact that the limited assessment from the Vancouver Heritage Commission has been unusually negative. Planners have tellingly avoided taking the insufficient revision of the unacceptable proposal back to the Commission. This willful misuse of “heritage” provision amounts to scam.
4.  Discussion with the project arborist at an open house made it clear that keeping the “significant stand of five mature Lawson Cypress trees at the corner of the site” (p. 8) would be an empty gesture. With proposed development, the remaining trees would experience a serious 30% loss of root structure. The trees need more room, and the adjacent Lawson Cypress trees in the grove need to be retained. Unless the trees are given more space, a major existing green amenity will be eradicated (both immediately and by rapid death) from the neighborhood by this development proposal.
5.  The City of Vancouver proposes to hand over to big Vision-Vancouver-donor Cressey a piece of public land owned since 1939 — “nine percent of the total subject site area” (p. 16). To allow this would amount to extraction of value from the local area with no payback. This has become a depressing and regular pattern for how the City of Vancouver deals with East Vancouver.

Perhaps that money would be applied to the $55 million purchase price for the Arbutus corridor on the favored side of town? Despite already owning most of the land needed to deliver a Renfrew Ravine linear park (connecting Norquay Park with Renfrew Ravine), the City of Vancouver continues to fail to provide any part whatsoever of the amenity package specified under the 2010 Norquay Plan. A large area of East Vancouver is undergoing massive and rapid redevelopment with none of the promised corresponding improvement to public realm.
6.  The lengthy process for the site at Commercial and East 18th Avenue has seemed dominated by back room collusion between developer Cressey and the City of Vancouver. Despite extensive efforts made by local area residents to provide input, the end result has incorporated nothing significant from community feedback.

The City of Vancouver insulted a committed group of people with a stealth posting of 3 December 2015 “revisions to the application” — providing no notification to participants. In light of the foregoing comments, consider how little difference the following minor tweaks have made to address severe policy problems:

Revisions to the Application

December 3, 2015: Revised drawings were submitted on December 3, 2015 to address concerns raised by staff and the community. The overall density was reduced from 2.55 FSR to 2.40 FSR with a corresponding reduction in unit count from 118 residential units to 114 residential units. Increased setback and massing changes are proposed to the rental building, a reduction to the size of the proposed infill building on the heritage site, and the location of the underground parking ramp has been moved closer to Commercial Drive. In addition, the Transportation Study has been updated.

http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/3365commercial/index.htm

Appendix: Mapping of the Six Proposals under Interim Rezoning Policy 2012-2016
irp-2016-map-640

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Jeanette Jones at 4:49 pm
Re: May 24 Public Hearing Item 3. Rezoning: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue

I am opposed to the Rezoning Application for 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue for two main reasons.
1.  The 3.5-storey apartment building on East 18th Avenue does not meet the Form of Development/Location criteria set out in the Interim Rezoning Policy.

Within approximately 100 metres of an arterial street (i.e. 1.5 blocks), ground-oriented forms up to a maximum of 3.5 storeys, which is generally sufficient height to include small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses and courtyard row houses  [Appendix A]

The phrase “ground-oriented forms” is commonly understood to mean the housing types listed above. The list does not include low-rise apartment buildings. In the case of this application, the City of Vancouver is implying that the presence of a few units with ground-level entries makes the entire 23-unit, 3.5-storey apartment building a “ground-oriented building form.” This is contrary to accepted usage and to the Interim Rezoning Policy.

Appendix A of the IRP also states:

The intent of this Interim Rezoning Policy is to encourage innovation and enable real examples of ground-oriented affordable housing types to be tested for potential wider application that will provide on-going housing opportunities.

Building anything other than small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses or courtyard row houses on East 18th Avenue would defeat the clearly stated intent of the Interim Rezoning Policy. This application is the first under the IRP to include an area off the arterial street. It will set a precedent for future IRP applications across the City of Vancouver.
2.  The heritage component of this application does not have the support of the Heritage Commission or of the community.

The Vancouver Heritage Commission at its meeting on May 4, 2015 stated:

THAT the Vancouver Heritage Commission does not support the application to relocate and rehabilitate 3365 Commercial Drive due to the relocation of the house, its new siting and its condition;

FURTHER THAT the Commission is willing to consider a revised application that would address the position of the heritage house on the site with a reduced, more compatible infill project adjacent.

The expectation of the community (and very likely, of the Heritage Commission itself) has been that a revised application would go back to the Commission for further review.

However, staff failed to send the revised application, submitted by the developer in December 2015, to the Heritage Commission for reevaluation. The Staff Report states that “staff have concluded that the revised proposal addresses the Commission’s concerns … ” (p. 11) But the only revisions that have been made to the heritage component of the application are that the massing of the “infill project adjacent” has been slightly reduced and the infill project has been moved a little further toward the back of the site. I do not believe that these small changes adequately address the concerns expressed in the Commission’s initial evaluation of May 4, 2015. Only minimal changes have been made to its new siting. The condition of the house remains very poor. The current treed “semi-rural” location of the “heritage house” is responsible for most of the 26 points it was given in the Statement of Significance, barely enough to assure a place on the “C” list. Moving the house will destroy most of its heritage value.

The community does not believe that the applicant should be given any additional density for moving and rehabilitating this house. The true heritage component of this site is the grove of large trees on the corner of Commercial and East 18th Avenue. These trees remain under threat because the proposed building envelope encroaches on the space needed by their rootballs if the trees are to survive.

I ask that you DO NOT APPROVE this application for the reasons given above.
Jeanette Jones

Public hearing May 24th: Cedar Cottage/East 18th Avenue IRP, MEC 101 East 2nd, Floating Billboards

East 18th Avenue proposal

Vancouver City Council is holding a Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 24th, starting at 6pm. The highly controversial development proposed for a heavily wooded site on East 18th Avenue in Cedar Cottage will be reviewed. A new location for Mountain Equipment Co-op at 101 East 2nd Avenue is on the agenda. Bylaw changes to restrict floating billboards will also be discussed. Members of the public can sign up to speak via email ( publichearing@vancouver.ca ) or by calling 604.829.4238.

For reference, the agenda for the public hearing is reproduced below: Continue reading

Taxation office bombshell a fresh blow to Asian buyers & property market (The Australian, 19-May-2016)

SydneyMeanwhile, in Australia… this is what is happening. Perhaps there are some lessons and observations for Canada. Intervention in a bubble market can have many consequences — some predictable, some unpredictable. (See “Unstoppable? Too late to intervene in Vancouver’s housing price escalation?”) In Australia, Chinese purchases of property have plummeted due to new rules and taxes. Meanwhile, buying by locals has increased. So has uncertainty and unpredictability. Robert Gottliebsen writes “… fasten your seats belts for a horror commentary.”

Below are excerpts of two articles in The Australian. Please go directly to the source articles for full story.

ATO bombshell is a fresh blow to Asian buyers and the property market
by Robert Gottliebsen, The Australian, May 19, 2016

  • Thousands of real estate agents and property owners around Australia are about to get a terrible shock when they deal in property valued at more than $2 million.
  • On the day before the Federal election, Friday July 1 2016, the rules for transacting dwellings and commercial property worth more than $2m will change dramatically.
  • In short, all Australian sellers of $2m-plus properties will be classified as overseas investors unless they get a special tax clearance. That means that all buyers of $2m-plus properties must deduct 10 per cent from the purchase price and pay that amount to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) unless the seller has a tax clearance.
  • Chinese and Asian buying of Sydney apartments has already fallen 50 per cent in recent weeks and the trend is spreading to other markets, particularly Melbourne. This new measure, as well as creating chaos for locals, may accelerate the decline in the Chinese buying of apartments (Dramatic shifts herald a new era in residential property, May 12 [excerpts below).
  • The current mess was created when former treasurer Joe Hockey caved into pressures to curb Chinese investment in Australian residential property in 2015. In the process, the treasurer was convinced by the Australian Taxation Office to widen the net to cover local residents.
  • Parliament was being bombarded with tax legislation at the time and the Canberra politicians did not pick up what the ATO had done.
  • So, fasten your seats belts for a horror commentary.

Continue reading

More concerns about risk to heritage at Mole Hill in West End

Reprinting a media release received from Mole Hill Community Housing Society.1150 Comox 2015-05-18 updated rendering

Mole Redevelopment plans finally made public just before decision by Director of Planning

Design encroaches onto neighbouring childcare facility

Architect threatens that the Mole Hill Greenway could be “dramatically changed”.

On May 17th Mole Hill Community Housing Society was contacted by Timothy Ankenman, the architect of the proposed development at 1150 Comox Street. He said the images used on the posters for the 26th May public meeting regarding the future of Mole Hill are incorrect.

Mr Ankernman said the City of Vancouver website is out of date and the current plans have not been made public.

Following an email to the city, the redevelopment plans for the Mole Hill property were finally revealed on May 18th.

It is frustrating and deeply unfair to the community that the current proposal has been kept private until today – only two weeks until the Director of Planning makes a decision, and almost 3 months after being approved by the Heritage Commission.

Mole Hill is a 170 unit social housing development and a model for sustainable community. It’s internationally renowned heritage landscape contains more listed heritage buildings than any block in the City of Vancouver. Awards for Mole Hill include the Heritage Canada Award, the City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Honour, the Canadian Construction Association’s Environmental Achievement Award and a CMHC Housing Award for Best Practices in Affordable Housing. Continue reading