Snapshot of rezoning applications 1-Sept-2015

Rezoning Sign 105 KeeferAs a free public service we take a monthly snapshot of Rezoning Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. Below is the snapshot from September 1, 2015. Listed here are 40 “proposed” (up from 37 listed on Aug 1), 32 “approved” (unchanged), 18 “enacted” (down from 22), 4 “open houses” mentioned (up from 0), and 3 “public hearings” mentioned (up from 0).

If you as a reader see any of these that deserve some public scrutiny, please feel free to send us an e-mail (citizenYVR@gmail.com) with your concerns and we’ll see if we can look into it further.

This list below is simply copied from the City’s Rezoning Centre website. Many links will stop working over time. For the current official list, click: http://former.vancouver.ca/rezapps/.

Also, for anyone interested about the signs themselves, see our August 2014 analysis: A look at the City’s new Rezoning Signs. An improvement? Or a step backwards? (Hint: The old designs gave more info, such as the density permitted at the site, to contrast with what is being requested by the developer.)

Download this list in PDF format: CoV Rezoning Applications snapshot, 1-Sept-2015

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Snapshot of development applications, 1-Sept-2015

3761 RenfrewAs a free public service we take a monthly snapshot of the Development Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. Our count of “DE” numbers for Sept 1, 2015 shows 124 items listed. Of the total, 9 are “concurrent with rezoning,” which probably means they are being fast-tracked under Rental 100. Some may have also had a change of address.

(We also take rezoning application snapshots. Search for “rezoning” and “snapshot” in the CityHallWatch search field.) The following information is simply copied as text from the City’s site. Many links will stop working over time. For current list click http://former.vancouver.ca/devapps/.

Click here for the list in PDF format: CoV Development Application snapshot 1-Sept-2015

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Digital Strategy in Vancouver: Plenty of room for improvement

digital strategy city hallWhat is the current status of the digital strategy at the City of Vancouver? It’s important to consider a number of components: the website, open data, council records, FOI, transparency and the availability of information.

At a Council Committee meeting on April 29, 2015, the City’s Chief Digital Officer Jessie Adcock provided an annual Digital Strategy Update (presentation here, video clip here). Adcock is currently busy running federally as a candidate for the Liberals in Port Moody-Coquitlam.

While Adcock painted a rosy picture of digital access in Vancouver to Council, there is still much work to be done. The City’s website underwent a $3.2 million update in August of 2012. We noted a number of shortcomings at the time (here and here). Many of the issues identified 3 years ago still have yet to be fixed. The changeover of the main City of Vancouver website was done under the watch of Laurie Best, Adcock’s predecessor. Laurie Best was let go by the City later in 2012 without any explanation (she received a $71,464 severance package).

Many of the old links to the vancouver.ca website were simply broken during the changeover in 2012. The old ‘vancouver.ca’ website was moved to ‘former.vancouver.ca‘ and there was no attempt made to automatically map previously working links to the site. Furthermore, new Council documents continue to be published under the ‘former.vancouver.ca’ website in 2015. During the website changeover, City staff have effectively hidden all documents under the ‘former.vancouver.ca’ from web search engines. The robots.txt file will ‘disallow’ the indexing of Council documents by Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. This is a deliberate move by the City to cut off information access. It would take less than a minute to open up the Council documents to web searches, with a simple fix. All staff need to do is to remove the “robots.txt” file.

Hastings Park VoteCity Council records votes during meetings, however, this information is not available online in an easily accessible form. While Councillor Carr put forward a motion in February of 2014 (Improving Transparency and Public Access to Council Voting Records), the motion was effectively buried via an amendment (put off indefinitely for further study by staff). Hence voting records of individual members of City Council are still not available online in an accessible form. The only way to find a record of a single vote is to first locate the minutes of the appropriate Council meeting. Then one must go through the minutes and deduce which members of Council were in chambers to vote in favour of a motion (as affirmative votes are not directly recorded; it’s a lot of work). Why does the City not release all the tabulated votes in an electronic form such as a spreadsheet?

While the BC government posts the results of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests online, the City of Vancouver does not follow this lead. Vancouver’s Freedom of Information department was given an “F” grade for speed of response by the Newspapers Canada’s 2014 national FOI audit. There have been a number of strategies by the FOI department to deny release of information: no response (deemed refusal), high processing fees, or the redaction all or most of the requested records. It is possible to make a FOI request in a digital form; however, it’s important to improve the speed of the response and the quality of the information that is released. While it is possible to appeal a FOI via the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OPIC), there are currently 4 month waits for an officer to be assigned to a case. Appeals can take between 6 months and a year, and the City of Vancouver has a reputation of fighting OPIC every step along the way. The other issue with FOI is that City staff can deny the existence of a record, without any penalty.  We’ve run across this problem on a few occasions (the “non-existent” records turned up at a later date). Surely part of the City’s digital strategy should start with fixing the broken Freedom of Information system.

The agendas for upcoming Council meetings are rarely posted one week prior to the meeting. Links to documents are sometimes only posted after the Council meeting has taken place. This same issue occurs with advisory panels. Agendas for the UDP, VPCP and ATPC rarely appear in time. Reports for the Development Permit Board are sometimes only released one business day prior to the meeting, even in cases when a report was finalized 5 weeks before the meeting. The online reports can contain fuzzy graphics and illegible text. The deliberate denial of timely access to information is a clear failure of the City’s digital strategy. Access to information should not be politicized.

The City’s VanMap application has been around for many years. A few months ago, the default view of the City removed the outlines of the 22 neighbourhoods in Vancouver. While the VanMap application has 2013 air photo imagery (Orthophotos 2013 under aerial photography), this same information is not available on the Open Data portal. The latest aerial photos are over 4 years old, from 2011. The release of information on the Open Data portal has slowed to a trickle since the retirement of former GIS Manager Jonathan Mark. There’s lots of data that is simply not shared with the public, such as the 3D building model of the city. The City’s view cone height calculator is not available to the public. Perhaps one positive step forward in VanMap has been the incorporation of the 1912 Goad’s Atlas in a geo-referenced format (a project spearheaded by the Archives). The Archives also worked on converting all Council meeting minutes after 1970 into a digital form (a good first step, but this data is needed for Park Board and for Council minutes prior to 1970).

Some records never make it online. There are Development Application signs posted on Renfrew (at 1st and 22nd Avenues), however, neither of these are online. Important decisions are often not explained. For example, City Council went in camera on January 31, 2012 and apparently one of the results was the immediate dismissal of the Director of Planning (details were published the day before in the Globe and Mail). However, no such decision is recorded on the released decisions for this meeting. The City spent $211,828 on a severance package, yet has not provided any information about the termination of the former Director of Planning. Was there indeed an in-camera meeting to discuss this item, and was the Vancouver Charter really followed? We’ll never know.

The calendar of civic events should contain notices of all City Council meetings, Public Hearings, Advisory Panel meetings, Open Houses and so on, rather than focus on other events that are not related to the civic government (see our civic affairs calendar here). There are issues related to surveys and the “Talk Vancouver” system (see Talk Vancouver: ‘power to the people’ or a political ploy? BobMackin.ca). Many additional details of the City’s budget and of the procurement process could be made available online.

There’s much more that can be done to improve the City’s digital strategy. Is there a political will to provide substantially improved access to the City’s digital records?

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” (George Orwell, 1984)

Storms, fallen trees, power outages and resilience

Fallen tree
Tens of thousands of Metro Vancouver residents were left without electricity after a powerful storm passed through the region. It’s worth noting that this storm occurred during the summer and on a weekend, and yet the storm still proved to be very disruptive to many residents. What were the total losses to property damage? (or food spoilage or lost business?) There were a number of issues with the BC Hydro website as the map that displayed outages timed out.

It could be a worthwhile exercise to review the emergency response to the last storm. If a similar power outage occurs during a cold snap in the winter, how will the region fare? Vancouver has not made it a priority to make the City more resilient to severe storms and other emergencies. A number of other cities have buried electrical power cables in order to protect them from being damaged by toppled trees. What are the steps that the City could take to better prepare for the next major storm or disaster?

The hazardous material fire in March of 2015 and the bunker oil spill in April highlight the need for emergency preparedness. How will the City respond the next time there is an emergency?
closed power outage

Access to City Hall – List of “tools” on CityHallWatch menu

CityHallWatch provides tools for citizens and neighbourhoods to engage with Vancouver City Hall, plus understand and influence decisions affecting them. Here is a handy list of selected tools on our “Access City Hall” menu. We hope they will be useful for you, and we welcome suggestions for further additions.

And more from our Access City Hall page: https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/ Continue reading

1193 Granville and 7828 Granville at UDP Aug 26th

1193 Granville 717 Davie

1193 Granville Street proposal (alternate address: 717 Davie Street)

The Urban Design Panel will be reviewing two development proposals on Wednesday, August 26, 2015.

A 7-storey building is being proposed at the northwest corner of Granville and Davie Street. Would it be a good addition to Granville Street? Is it suitable and compatible in style with the surrounding buildings?

A total of 94 residential units are being proposed at 1193 Granville Street, along with commercial uses at grade. A total of 47 underground parking spaces would be accessible via the back lane. Written comments to planning from the public are due by September 14, 2015 and a Development Permit Board review has already been scheduled for October 19, 2015 (additional details are available on the City’s website). The architect behind the proposal is Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership. While the City does not list the owner, the drawings contain the name of Deecorp (Deecorp Properties).

Granville Street hockey

The second proposal at the UDP is 7828 Granville Street. This is being put forward under the new RM9-N zoning for Marpole. An important question to consider is does the proposal meet the intent of the new district schedule?

A total of 40 residential dwelling units are being proposed in a 4-storey form. The information on the City’s website is scant and incomplete. No site plans have been provided by planner Darren Lee. A notification letter does list that the project would have a maximum height of 45 feet, a FSR of 2.0 and a total of 42 parking spaces. This proposal won’t be reviewed by the DPB, as the new zoning was written so that the review will take place behind closed doors by Brian Jackson acting as the Director of Planning. The proposal is being put forward by Gateway Architecture on behalf of the CMP Development Group.

The UDP meeting starts at 4pm with the 1193 Granville item. We’ve reproduced the agenda below: Continue reading

New Brighton Park Habitat Restoration Open House August 29th

New Brighton Park Shoreline
Park Board and Port Metro Vancouver are studying a proposal to restore shoreline habitat at New Brighton Park. The plans include the creation of a Salt Marsh. An Open House is being organized at the following time and place:

Date: Saturday, August 29, 2015, 1-4pm
Location: New Brighton Park, north of the swimming pool (3201 New Brighton Road)

This is the first public review of concept plans for the shoreline. Park Board will subsequently review a preferred concept plan. Detailed design work will likely take place in 2016. Further details can be found on the Park Board website.
http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/new-brighton-park-shoreline-habitat-restoration.aspx

The Park Board and PMV would do well to look at natural sections of shoreline along other parts of Burrard Inlet to help inform this study.
New Brighton Park Beach
New Brighton Park Longshoremen memorial

Oil Products Tanker "Cherry Galaxy" (Tokyo Marine) in Burrard Inlet, north of New Brighton Park

Oil Products Tanker “Cherry Galaxy” (Tokyo Marine) in Burrard Inlet. New Brighton Park in foreground


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