Public Hearing July 13 (Mon): 3090 E54th, 467-495 W King Ed, 1754-1772 Pendrell, 1001-1015 Denman

City Hall at nightCity Hall has some major proposals going to Public Hearing on Monday, July 13, 2015, starting at 6 pm. The agenda is not yet posted online, so full details (e.g., staff report and recommendation, related docs) are not yet available for the public. But at least the rezoning applications page has the basics, so to give residents a heads up, here below is a partial list. Please spread the word to anyone who might be interested or affected. See bottom for info on how to communicate to Council.

6-storey building with 31 social housing units for women and children; a new fire hall on the ground and 2nd levels; a building height of 26.2 m (86 ft.) from grade; a floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.69; and 14 parking spaces.

GBL Architects, on behalf of Mission Group, has applied to rezone from RS-1 (Single Family) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District. The proposal is for one 6-storey residential building and two 2-storey buildings with townhouse units at the rear, including: a total of 61 dwelling units; a floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.38; a maximum building height of 21.3 m (70 ft.); 66 underground parking spaces; and 85 bicycle parking spaces. The application is being considered under the Cambie Corridor Plan.

Henriquez Partners, on behalf of Westbank Developments, has taken over this rezoning application and revised the proposal to rezone the site from RM-5A (Multiple Dwelling) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District. The application proposes the following: 21 storey tower, with a maximum height of 58m (190 ft), 171 rental units, including 43 studios, 51 One-Bedroom, 72 Two-Bedroom, and 3 Three-Bedroom units. A proposed density of 6.55 FSR.

CHW note: This project is even bigger than the proposal advanced in 2008 that attracted over 400 people to a town hall meeting and set off a storm of contention. At the meeting, Councillor Tim Stevenson asked everyone to vote for Vision Vancouver in the 2008 civic election, then in minority on Council, and they would ensure that “they would never let the West End become another Yaletown” (i.e., a forest of towers). What has changed since then?

DYS Architecture has applied to the City of Vancouver to amend CD-1 (427) By-law No. 8978 for 1001-1015 Denman Street to add additional commercial uses consistent with the surrounding C-5 (Commercial) district found along Denman Street. The existing building, which is currently under construction, would be retained at a floor space ratio (FSR) of 1.20. No new floor area would be created as part of this rezoning application.

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Report recommendations on B.C. municipal campaign spending reforms disappoint: High expense limits, no donor caps, no bans on corporate or union donations

Special Committee on Local Election Spending Limits
The recommended changes to local election campaign spending were released in a report by a special parliamentary committee of the B.C. provincial government on Friday, June 26, 2015.

Bottom line: The recommendations in this report are a significant failure for democracy at the municipal level in British Columbia. They could further entrench “regulatory capture” of our municipal governments. But if enough members of the public get active on these issues, perhaps significant improvements are still possible before 2018.

final report spending limitsYears in the making, the recommendations are an epic failure for democracy in large municipalities in British Columbia. In short, if they end up being officially adopted by the provincial government, the status quo will remain unchanged. There would be no limits placed on donations. The proposed rules would not limit corporate or union donations. The main area of study by committee was the idea of introducing “spending limits” (as opposed to donations) for elections.

In the case of Vancouver, the upper spending limits would be:

  • $2.9 million (for a full slate of candidates)
  • $2.38 million (for a slate of 22 candidates, the number for Vision Vancouver in 2014)
  • $2.59 million (for 25 candidates, in an optimized slate with 8 Councillor candidates)

The totals are derived by adding together the individual limits per candidate. The recommendations by the committee are at odds with their stated goals for introducing expense limits:

Expense limits are based on the value of having a diversity of candidates running on a “level playing field” with an equitable opportunity to inform the electorate about themselves and their positions on election issues. Expense limits restrict the ability of candidates and their third party advertisers with significant resources to “drown out” the voices of other candidates with fewer resources. Election expense limits improve the quality of the democratic process by increasing voters’ opportunity to gain knowledge about the full range of candidates, thereby strengthening the ability of voters to make fully informed decisions at the ballot box come election day. (page 4)

The report also speaks of the need for fairness in setting spending limits:

In this report, the Committee has applied the principles of fairness, neutrality, transparency and accountability in its consideration of what levels of spending by candidates and third party advertisers should be permitted. (page 5)

Yet in the same section, the committee contradicts its stated goals:

  • The principle of neutrality means that expense limits should have a neutral effect on whether candidates choose to run as part of an elector organization or not. That is, expense limits should not create an incentive or disincentive to run with an elector organization or to run independently. Therefore, elector organizations will not have a separate limit, in addition to the limit that individual candidates have. Their expense limit is solely derived from the expense limits of the candidates they endorse. (page 5)

Independent candidates have not been elected to Vancouver City Council since 1988. Running under the banner of an Elector Organization is, in practical terms, a prerequisite for candidates to be elected in Vancouver. The proposed formula for independent candidates in Vancouver would allow the following spending limits:

  • $202,275 for a Mayoral Candidate
  • $103,580 for a City Councillor or Park Board Commissioner
  • $104,205 for a School Board Trustee (incl. UBC lands)

The new rules would not remove big money from civic politics. According to official disclosure statements, Vision Vancouver spent over $3.4 million in 2014 (and that doesn’t include money spent in non-election years). Under the new proposed regulations their spending could still be in the $2.38 million to $2.9 million range in the 2018 election.

During the public consultation phase, the Vancouver Greens proposed spending limits in the range of 25 to 50 cents per registered voter per Elector Organization. “Basically, we’re looking at campaigns that would be not in the $2 million to $3 million range but the $100,000-to-$200,000 range,” they stated.

The proposed rules might actually encourage the formation of Elector Organizations in municipalities such as the City of North Vancouver and also in School Districts across British Columbia. This could spread the undemocratic ills of Vancouver to those municipalities by creating receptacles (political parties) as magnets for large corporate and union donations.

Despite the negatives, there may be a few positive parts in the proposed rules. Third party advertisers would be allowed to spend 5% of the limit of a Mayoral candidate. The rules might work well in elections for areas with populations of less than 10,000 residents; a limit of $10,000 would be put in place for mayoral candidates and $5,000 for other candidates. The formula proposed by the committee, however, works poorly for large cities such as Vancouver and Surrey.

The Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits unanimously endorsed the report recommendations. Consider its composition. Five of the eight MLAs on the committee are from the Lower Mainland: Jenny Kwan & Sam Sullivan (Vancouver), Marvin Hunt (Surrey), Linda Reimer & Selina Robinson (Coquitlam). Thus, they know from close up how large corporate and union donations warp municipal elections. The committee’s report did not look at allowing the issuance of income tax receipts, requiring annual reporting of donations or expenses between elections, or limiting donors to persons from B.C. The committee did consider the topic of “Elector Organization advantage” (flip side: disadvantage of independent candidates), but failed to recommend lower limits for Elector Organizations.

Has the committee allowed Vision Vancouver, the NPA and Surrey First set the agenda for large municipalities in the Lower Mainland? Here’s a quote from the report:

Surrey First Electors Society cautioned against setting expense limits too low because modern-day elections are expensive affairs that provide an opportunity to communicate important ideas to the public and they should not be handicapped to the lowest common denominator. (page 18)

Here’s the final spending limit formula recommended by the committee:

spending limits

The spending limits would be indexed for inflation. The limits are based on a per capita formula (and not per registered voter). If the 2016 census population for Vancouver increases to 630,084 residents at the current rate of growth, then the spending limit for an Elector Organization running a full slate will exceed $3 million in 2018.

The report did not show a calculation of the spending limits for elector organizations or candidates in Vancouver. An example for Surrey was shown, for candidates only (spending limits for Mayor: $188,748 and Council: $96,365). The Surrey First party swept Council in 2014: Surrey First councillors take all the seats, roughly 50 per cent of the votes (The Now, Amy Reid, November 17, 2014). Why is the report ignoring the “elephant in the room”? Why is meaningful finance reform not recommended for large cities in B.C.? The report fails to deliver on one of its stated goals:

Limiting the amount of money that candidates, elector organizations, and third party advertisers can spend on election expenses during a campaign is often a key element in campaign finance rules. (page 4)

In conclusion, the recommendations in this report are a significant failure for democracy at the municipal level in British Columbia. But if enough members of the public get active on these issues, improvements may still be possible. The next provincial general election will be held on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The next municipal elections will be October 20, 2018. Will real leaders step up to the challenge of really reforming municipal election campaign finance?

References

Finance Reform: Green Party on Local Elections Expense Limits (CityHallWatch, June 25, 2015)

BC’s Unfair Elections Act: Top 10 list of what is wrong with Bill 20. (No spending limits, no ban on corporate/union donations, but longer terms for municipal politicians, and more) (CityHallWatch, March 28, 2014)

Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits (website)

Final Report: Report of the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits (June 26, 2015)

Media release: Special Committee recommends local elections expense limit amounts (June 26, 2016)

Love locks at Park Board on July 6th

"Love locks" on Fraser River in New Westminster

“Love locks” on the Fraser River in New Westminster

The Park Board agenda for Monday, July 6th includes a long awaited staff report on a “love locks” concept plan.

love locksCity staff have produced a shortlist of locations for the love locks that include English Bay Beach, Kitsilano Beach and Queen Elizabeth Park; staff also considered Jericho Beach and Prospect Point as potential locations.

An upcoming public consultation process will be used to help determine the location for the love locks. The report recommends that a custom sculpture be built to accommodate the locks, following the examples of Toronto, Seoul and Moscow:

“the on-going appearance of love locks in Vancouver presents an opportunity for the Park Board to create a permanent, structurally safe home for love locks in a park setting. To overcome risks, the best opportunity for love locks is to fabricate a custom sculpture built by a local artist or designer.”

Last year, Commissioner John Coupar put forward a motion to ask staff to find a permanent home for love locks (further details can be found in our previous post, Where should the love locks go? July 22, 2014).

Park Board staff will also include an update from the Trans and Gender Variant Inclusion Working Group at the meeting. A report on the renewal of operating agreements with Lawn Bowling Clubs will be examined by the Board. Finally, a report on a YMCA Childcare at Champlain Community School will be reviewed.

For reference, we’ve reproduced the full agenda of the Park Board meeting below: Continue reading

Letter on Heritage Action Plan Update outlines concerns, suggests improvements

Heritage homes

The Heritage Action Plan was reviewed by Vancouver City Council on June 24, 2015 (click link for agenda, staff report, minutes, etc.). Elizabeth Murphy made a detailed presentation with a number of specific recommendations on character home retention, heritage and zoning. As well, she provided comments on how to improve the plan. We’ve included a copy of her letter to Council below. The full video of the staff presentations, speakers and Council debate can be found in the video archives here.


Dear Mayor Robertson and Councillors,

Re: Heritage Action Plan Update

Thank you for the update to this important initiative. My comments below are mainly directed to the character home zoning review. The proposed options in the report under consideration are too narrow and need to be expanded and revised.

Some of the additional options should be:

  1. Include all RS zones: Do not limit the review to only RS3 and RS5. This only covers 9% of the 68,282 lots in the RS zones. Especially RS1 should be considered as well, since it covers most of the city.
  2. Include 1940’s and earlier houses: Expand the definition of character home beyond pre-1940’s to include those built in the 1940’s.
  3. Keep RS zones for non-strata rental: Use strata as a retention tool only for incentives for HRAs or where it is in the existing zoning such as RS7. Strata should only be introduced on a more fine grained approach based on neighbourhood planning with community support.
  4. Increase conditional zoning: Adjust the FSR, height, setbacks, and envelope to favor retention over new development on a conditional basis. The result should be that there is significant economic advantages to retain character homes over demolition and building new.
  5. Laneway housing as an incentive for retention: Reconsider laneway housing as an incentive to retain character houses rather than for new development. Or include the laneway house in FSR calculations for new development and exempt it from FSR in retention.
  6. Add secondary suites as an incentive for retention: Consider adding another secondary suite as a mortgage helper rental or for extended family if the character house is retained.
  7. Property tax incentives for retention: Give tax breaks when character and heritage houses are retained and upgraded.
  8. Design guidelines: Require new developments and renovations to build to design guidelines for quality materials, complementary design to neighbourhood character and excellence in design. Require new developments to be suite ready (owner may choose not to use it).
  9. Standards of maintenance requirements: Avoid demolition by neglect.
  10. Improve building bylaw: Make building bylaw more flexible and reduce permit fees for retention of character and heritage houses.

In addition to enhancing neighbourhood character and liveability, retaining character and heritage homes aligns with the city’s sustainability, affordability and family housing goals.

Sustainability:

The best way to divert waist from the landfill is to adaptively reuse buildings. This also uses less new materials for a renovation than for new development. It has a much lower environmental footprint.

Affordability:

The existing older character and heritage housing stock is generally valued at close to land value. It provides an opportunity for owners to add sweat equity to renovate to adapt to current needs at a relative modest cost.

With incentives such as rental suites for mortgage helpers or for extended family, it can provide economic advantages over owning a single strata unit. However new houses are typically twice as expensive as the older stock. Continue reading

Open House Monday, June 29 for 22-storey tower proposed at 1188 Bidwell

urbanizta:

This is a major project by Reliance Properties in the West End. Neighbourhoods undergoing “planning” processes across Vancouver should take note. This is another example of major tower developments enabled as a result of the West End Community Plan. “Pre-zoning” of large sections of the neighbourhood means that this one can proceed with NO public hearing. Just a quiet meeting of the Development Permit Board, which has probably NEVER seen a development it didn’t like.

Originally posted on West End Neighbours:

1188 Bidwell West Elevation, June 2015As we have reported, a 22-storey rental tower is proposed at 1188 Bidwell & Davie (Reliance Properties). The City describes it as a mixed-use multi-family secured market rental residential building. As the next step, the City staff and applicant team are holding an open house, with display panels as follows:

Open House for 22-storey tower at 1188 Bidwell (DE419087)
Monday, June 29, 2015
5 to 8 pm (drop-in format)
Empire Landmark Hotel, 1400 Robson Street

As we have mentioned, it is WEN’s understanding that there will be no public hearing for this application and no review by City Council.

Your chances to speak directly to City Council regarding the future of this site was with West End Community Plan was adopted in November 2013, and then zoning was changed in January 2014. All that remains for public input is likely to be a questionnaire at the open house (June 29) and…

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“Pre-application” open house for 1550 Alberni Street, could be 50 storeys: Monday, June 29, 5 pm

Map of 1550 Albernia area

Map of 1550 Alberni area

E-mail notices from the City of Vancouver and developer are circulating about the following:

Westbank/Peterson “pre-application” open house for 1550 Alberni Street (and Cardero)
Monday, June 29, 2015
5 to 8 pm (drop-in format)
Shangri-La Hotel  (Conway Room, 6th floor, 1128 West Georgia Street)

This is a developer-hosted pre-application open house to present preliminary plans. For more information: Sophie Perndl, Brook Pooni Associates (sperndl@brookpooni.com). The developers are Westbank Projects Corp (CEO Ian Gillespie) and Peterson Investment Group (President Ben Yeung), well-known names at City Hall’s planning offices.

Aerial view of 1550 Alberni area

Aerial view of 1550 Alberni area

No other information appears to be available officially available about the specific plans for this site, however, below is a compilation of some observations, from land assessments, Vancouver Sun, and a skycraper-lovers’ blog. It appears a 500-foot height (about 50 storeys) residential tower is possible where now stands an 8-storey office building.

This area appears to have been “pre-zoned” with bylaw changes for the West End Community Plan in January 2014, so it seems no public hearing will be required at 1550 Alberni — just a little internal meeting of the Development Permit Board, consisting of four City employees not directly accountable to the public.

Current 8-storey office building at 1550 Alberni

Current 8-storey office building at 1550 Alberni

And other neighbourhoods undergoing community planning processes, take note. While the City kept the residents of the West End distracted with rainbow-coloured sidewalks during the 2012-2013 West End Community Plan process, it appears City planners were having serious discussions with select developers, including Westbank, Bosa, and Wall Financial — who also happen to be major political donors for the ruling regime in Vancouver. Worth reading: “Real Estate Boom Projected For Vancouver’s West End: A new community plan unlocks value—and development potential … West End” (BIV, Margo Harper, June 17, 2014). Perhaps this is what community plans are really about in Vancouver.

According to Vanmap, significant changes occurred in assessed values at 1550 Alberni from 2014 to 2015. Could the 43% land value escalation been a windfall profit from the newly-adopted West End Community Plan? That would be the land lift from rezoning. The current office building was built in 1972. Continue reading

Full text of Mayor Gregor’s “Housing Affordability” speech to Urban Land Institute (June 17, 2015)

Mayor Robertson in Council ChambersWhen a public official makes a private speech in an official capacity, we believe the public has a right to know what that official said, while being paid by the public dime.

On June 17, 2015, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson gave the key-note address to the Urban Land Institute on the topic of housing affordability. Below is the text of his speech.

Closely affiliated with the development industry — and some might say it is also a lobbying body —  the ULI describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit research and education organization connected to nearly 30,000 members worldwide,” and ULI British Columbia members include “developers, public officials, property owners, investors, financial institutions, architects, engineers, planners, brokers,appraisers, lawyers, accountants, academics and students.”

Before, during and after the speech, the Mayor’s Office was actively tweeting out sound bites, summarized later by his office in this Storify complilation:

https://storify.com/VanMayorsOffice/mayor-robertson-s-keynote-on

The event was sponsored by a prominent developer in the region, Bosa Properties. It cost $1,250 for a table of 10, and $155 for non-members.

Since housing affordability is one of the top civic issues of the decade, and has recently received heightened public attention thanks to the #donthave1million campaign by Vancouverites for Affordable Housing, we wondered what he really was saying, claiming, and promising.

CityHallWatch was interested in getting beyond the sound bites. Was this a non-partisan policy speech of an elected mayor representing the public interest? Or was it a political sales pitch by a mayor to the very constituency that had funded the largest share of his political party’s election campaigns in 2008, 2011, and 2014 — which totaled about $6 million, and an unreported amount outside of election years?  So shortly after he finished his speech, CityHallWatch tweeted, then wrote an e-mail, to the mayor and his office, asking for the full text of his speech. We never received a reply directly. But two days later, noticed that the text had quietly been posted online on Scribd. That was good. In fact, we also asked by Twitter if the mayor would declare a policy of making available to the public ALL of his speeches to ALL audiences from now on. After all, he is supposed to be working for the public, first and foremost. We have not yet received a reply.

But here, for the record, is the text of his speech, as posted on Scribd. What’s there? What’s missing? What is he taking credit for? Who is he blaming? You be the judge. There is lots of talk about providing no supply. Nothing, really, about global money and demand, and nothing about the lack of data on the housing market.  Continue reading