This report just came in from transit activist Nathan Davidowicz. We haven’t checked independently, but this will be something to watch. Another impact of the Broadway Subway project. We will add to this post if we get a link to any official announcement or statement.
I went and spoke to the Broadway Subway office at 1212 West Broadway.
There will be No Parking anywhere on Broadway from Arbutus to Main Streets, starting early August 2021.
At present, the no parking is just around the proposed new stations.
There was no proper consultation or notification as usual. I asked for a copy of their plan. They do not have one.
Many bus stops have been canceled on Broadway, making it very hard for disabled passengers
Here is one example: Eastbound on Broadway, there used to be five bus stops between Alder and Willow. Now there are only two (stops at Spruce, Oak, Laurel have been eliminated).
Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects range from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including his 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”
“My friends all think it’s really cool…they’ll just never be able to afford to live there!”
My son was talking about Vancouver House, the newish 500-unit, 49-storey building we were looking at while enjoying breakfast outdoors on Granville Island.
“What if I was to tell you,” I responded, “that some people feel we need 160 Vancouver Houses over the next decade to accommodate expected population growth?”
“I can’t grasp that,” he answered, “How would numbers like that look in False Creek North?” which is where we were about to cycle.
I paused for a moment to do some mental math. “Well, I worked on False Creek North, then known as Concord Pacific Place. It’s grown a bit from the original plan, but it has about 50 high-rise buildings and about 8,000 housing units (Wikipedia agrees). Some folks say we need more than 80,000 housing units in the next ten years. So that’s 160 Vancouver Houses or ten False Creek Norths—16 Vancouver Houses or one False Creek North each year.”
“Dad,” he responded after a moment, “it doesn’t add up. Ten False Creek Norths with each having 50 high-rises would mean 500 high-rises—you just said 160 Vancouver Houses would do the trick!” He looked pleased, since my seat-of-the-pants math is often better than his.
I hated to deflate his win, but answered, “The tallest high-rise in False Creek North is about 32 storeys; many are as low as 12 storeys. You are right—it would take about 500 of that mix to get to 80,000 homes. But Vancouver House is 49 storeys, 50% higher than the highest buildings in False Creek North, four times the height of the “short” high-rises. That 50-300% more up top reduces the number of buildings needed to get to 80,000 from 500 to 160.”
My son decided to think on that as we set off cycling. About an hour later, we were back at our starting point, this time at Bridges for lunch. He picked up our discussion.
“So, Dad,” he continued, “we’ve just finished a great ride around all of False Creek and Lost Lagoon. We kept riding past huge parks in False Creek South, almost as much in False Creek North—then we came to the West End, which has the beach and Stanley Park. How dense is the population now compared to what we’ve been talking about?”
I had also been thinking and computing during our ride. “As of about 2016, when the last census was conducted, The West End had about 100 people living on each acre of land behind the Park and the Beach. If you were to spread all the folks in False Creek North around its 150 acres, that would be about 130 people living on each of those acres, so a little more than the West End.”
“Sorry,” interjected my son, “those numbers still don’t mean a lot to me. How do they compare with other places?”
“Well, let me see.” I was stalling for time to do my math. “Hong Kong overall has 160 people living on each acre, so that’s not too many more than False Creek North. On the other hand, New York only has 42 people on each acre, which sounds low, but it’s very spread out.”
At the Council Committee meeting on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, Council voted for the staff recommendations in the report “Vancouver Plan Update and Quick Start Actions,” except for minor tweaks to one clause. The timing of major decisions like this at the end of July is typically seen as a way to skirt public attention during the summer holiday season.
Even though the public voted in the last election for change by wiping out Vision Vancouver from elected office, most of the current Council is complicitly implementing the Vision policies.
Councillor Colleen Hardwick proposed amendments to address themost contentious items. The amendments were voted down by all other Councillors. She proposed to postpone for further reconsideration the area-wide rezonings, which will impact many parts of the City andare being recommended by staff as“Quick Start Actions,” until after more public consultation is done once the Housing Vancouver targets have been recalibrated based on transparent data. She also proposed to pause the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP) for further analysis of the effectiveness of the program.
The only changes to staff recommendations that were approved by Council were small tweaks to the MIRHPP program. Clr. Adriane Carr moved an amendment to remove the proposed reduction of the affordability requirements and Clr. Sarah Kirby-Yung moved an amendment to reflect Provincial annual rental increases and allow them during project development/construction up to completion. Only Clr. Colleen Hardwick raised any concerns about the continuation of spot rezonings under MIRHPP. Others were only concerned that any proposed Council amendments to staff recommendations would compromise or hinder more spot rezonings under MIRHPP.
At the time of this post (July 25), the minutes for the Council Committee meeting were not yet published online. However, those who followed the meeting report that all the staff recommendations in the report were approved by a mostly complicit Council, other than the minor tweak to MIRHPP, ignoring significant opposition expressed by the public.
While staff mentioned there would be further consultation on the Vancouver Plan in autumn 2021, this report and staff recommendations on the Vancouver Plan Update and Quick Starts were approved by the Council majority, to direct staff to continue to consult and write reports for consideration at public hearings, based on the appendixes to the report specifying how the Quick Starts actions would be implemented and with directions on specifics of the rezoning programs.
A huge and fundamental underlying issue is that if the citywide spot rezoning programs are implemented now that Council have added to their momentum, not much will be left for the Vancouver Plan to address. This is all beginning to show signs that the Vancouver Plan will end up as nothing more than a compilation of all the former Vision council’s policies drawn onto one map.
The public needs to continue questioning why the electorate’s clear message from the 2018 civic election, which completely swept Vision out of elected on City Council, is not being respected by the majority on the current Council, and needs to challenge this Council for failing to change the policy outcomes over this current term (2018 to 2022) in terms of city planning.
Related: This important survey ends on July 27. See our story and send in your input if you have not yet done so.
The ‘Voxel Bridge’ installation under the Cambie Street Bridge is starting to take shape. This is being billed as a blockchain-based augmented experience that can be further explored with iPhone and Android apps. The installation is located between West 2nd Avenue and West 1st Avenue, just south of one of the Olympic Village Skytrain entrances. Additional information about the installation is available at www.vancouverbiennale.com.
Some crucial votes are coming up over the next two days at Vancouver City Council, July 20 and 21, 2021. Then comes the two-month summer break for Council. We have received this following statement from Councillor Colleen Hardwick and decided to publish it. She is being targeted and criticized from various sides in various media for her decision to abstain on a number Council votes and decisions over the past year. A number of weeks ago she sent her opinion to the chief editor of the Vancouver Sun. Other members on Council have had their opinions published there. Clr Hardwick received absolutely no response. Therefore, as alternative media, we feel it is crucial to make her explanation available to the public this way. Full text follows.
As a Vancouver City Councillor, I’m often asked to vote on issues before I can get answers to my questions about them.
And that’s why I abstain – not to avoid taking a position but because I have doubts and cannot make an informed and reasoned decision.
Does it drive some in the media and elsewhere to distraction? You bet.
But when one votes, there is the choice to vote in favour/support/approve, to vote in opposition/against/deny – or to abstain. In Robert’s Rules of Order, used in most meetings, to abstain is to not vote at all.
The main reason not to vote, or abstain, is because you have not received adequate information to inform your decision one way or another.
[Oddly, under the Vancouver Charter, the provincial legislation governing our city, a vote in abstention is considered a vote in favour. If there is a tie, an abstention is treated as a vote in favour, rather than being excluded from the vote, as it would be under Roberts’ Rules. When the City Clerk reads out the results of a vote, an abstention would be treated as “none voting in opposition.”]
So, for example, when I ask city staff questions that they do not answer, I have insufficient information to make a decision.
The vast majority of my abstentions have involved rezoning applications. Each rezoning application that relies on the Housing Vancouver Strategy for its policy precedent and justification begs the fundamental question for me: where is the data supporting this policy?
I have repeatedly questioned the veracity of the Housing Vancouver Strategy on which all rezoning applications seen by City Council are based. (January 29, 2019; February 26, 2019; October 22, 2019). I have been told that the housing “targets” are “aspirational” and, by implication, not evidence-based.
CityHallWatch has obtained a copy of a letter from a former banker to Vancouver City Council dated today regarding Recommendation D of the Vancouver Plan Update and Quick Start Actions (going to Council July 21, 2021). This relates to the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP). The writer has three decades of banking experience and was an executive having the highest level of lending authority at one of Canada’s biggest banks.
He opposes continuation of the MIRHPP and asks that Council vote AGAINST this Recommendation D and enumerates five reasons, and provides a detailed appendix. Text of his main letter follows, and then PDF with appendix.
1. Despite what staff may have been told, no bank approves a loan to any business, be it in real estate or any other industry, on the basis the borrower has to provide a budget demonstrating a specified level of profitability such as a minimum return on cost. This appears to be an exercise of trying to justify asking for subsidies by blaming someone else.
Return on cost implies a sale of the asset, and the last thing the City needs is a developer building an apartment with public subsidies, and then flipping it at a profit to a long-term investor; this only increases the cost base and will lead to higher rents.
The problem with “the banks made us do it” approach is that could actually imply a bias in the development of the program. The logical investors in apartments are long term institutional investors such as life insurance companies, pension funds and – apologies – REITS. Long-term investors have different criterion for investing than the active condominium developer the City seems to want to persuade to build apartments.
2. Bank loan approval criterion are significantly different for condos and apartments, meaning a developer can build almost three condos for every apartment project undertaken, and this has a huge impact on developer profitability. The cash investment required is so low for a condominium that returns on investment often exceed 50%. As a result, when developers are required to invest more money to build an apartment, they look to the City to provide a subsidies in the form of DCL and CAC waivers – and additional density – in order to achieve the same stratospheric condominium returns.
3. Investors in assets such as apartments typically evaluate those investments on the basis of an Internal Rate of Return which, interestingly, is the metric which British Columbia Investment Management Corporation uses to evaluate its real estate portfolio. If banks actually approved apartment construction loans on the basis of minimum return on cost, BCIMC might not be able to get financing, given its portfolio returned only 7.6% last year. If the MIRHP program were to be continued, it ought to be revised reflect the needs of long-term investors. The costs in this industry are not state secrets – so it should be possible to develop transparent and value-added incentives.
4. The MIRHP program appears to have been developed to encourage the most expensive housing providers to solve the City’s rental housing crisis. If the City’s goal is to encourage the development of low cost, affordable housing, then surely the focus should be on working with parties with the lowest cost structures and a long term commitment to apartments as a desirable investment, and whose profitability expectations are more down to earth than developers trying to match condominium project returns. Put simply – why devote time focusing on condominium developers when there are groups such as pension funds (BCIMC’s second largest real estate asset class is residential), non-profits and co-ops willing to participate?
Above: Scenes from the site in question, and image of future station.
A staff report is going to Vancouver City Council on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in which they are strongly recommending and seeking immediate Council approval to allow the developer to sidestep normal procedures in order to have the City consider rezoning to allow significantly greater height at a site at Broadway & Granville Streets, as part of station development for the Broadway Subway.
The key point of the report is chief planner’s Theresa O’Donnel’s recommendation (paraphrased): THAT Council instructs her to consider a rezoning application by PCI Developments LP on behalf of 1489 West Broadway Nominee Corp., the registered owner of the land located at 1477 West Broadway … within the Broadway Plan study area, which proposes a mixed-use office, retail and rental housing building at a height and density above what is permitted in the C-3A District Schedule and associated Guidelines, as an exception to the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy.
The site is within the Broadway Plan study area, and is subject to an interim moratorium on rezoning applications.
(Note that 1489 West Broadway hinted at the name of the company owning the property was the address of the previous rezoning approval, but the new process would be under the 1477 address. It is not publicly known who PCI is really representing now, as the “nominee” company is a front for the real owners. Anyone with information about this pls do send us an e-mail.)
By way of background, PCI Development was granted a development permit in 2019 to build a 5-storey office building on the site. Despite the stated height in the application and permit, the original drawings showed a six-level vehicle parkade beneath the building. An article emerged in The Straight in which guest writer Stanley Q. Woodvine shared blueprints he had discovered by chance and wondered out loud if a future building may reach up to 40-storeys (Dumpster-dived blueprints show Granville subway station in new West Broadway tower, on June 30th, 2019).
Neighbourhood groups already expressed concern that if Council started making exceptions to existing rezoning policies for height and density they would set precedents all along Broadway Street, with developers coming back again and again seeking taller and bulkier buildings (and greater profits). The first blockbuster precedent was came in July 2020 with Council at a Public Hearing approving a special relaxation of policies under MIRHPP to allow Jameson Development to build a tower at 28 storeys, against strong community opposition (example, “Case study of 28-storey tower (Jameson) proposal at 2538 Birch (Council vote July 14),” note that this too was a July rezoning just before Council’s summer hiatus), on a site that had already gone through a rezoning Public Hearing for approval at 16 storeys a few years earlier. During the July 2020 Public Hearing planning staff roundly denied any idea that the 28-storey approval would set a precedent,
The Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy (“IRP”) was adopted to prevent rezoning applications from coming forward during the current consultations for planning of the entire Broadway Corridor. The intent of the IRP was to protect the integrity of the planning process that is underway. The public had to accept that in good faith. The integrity of City hall rests on it. But the City’s planning staff circumvented the IRP, and actually they became advocates behind the scenes for Jameson.
With this paper going to Council on July 21, planning staff led by the newly installed chief planner Theresa O’Donnell are using Policy 3 of the IRP, which allows rezonings to proceed under what we consider to be vague “exceptional circumstances,” to encourage Council to allow rezoning to proceed of the approved low-rise building at Broadway & Granville, and to let PCI come forward with a tower proposal. Staff are justifying this by stating that PCI asked for more height many years back, that PCI has worked in good faith with the subway project, and that staff are concerned about the impacts of extended construction. In effect, Vancouver’s chief planner is encouraging Council to undermine the integrity of planning process for the 30-year Broadway Plan. Continue reading →
In the lead-up to the final Council meeting (July 21, 2021, agenda here) of this session before City Hall’s summer hiatus, Councillor Colleen Hardwick has issued the following statement to media with her views on the situation at our municipal government. After tomorrow, the next Council meetings start on September 21, exactly two months later.
VANCOUVER CITY HALL THE BIGGEST CULPRIT IN MAKING VANCOUVER UNAFFORDABLE
Applications take too long, City fees and charges are out of control, and increased rezoning inflates land values and home prices: Councillor Colleen Hardwick
Vancouver, BC (July 20, 2021): When it comes to making housing unaffordable in Vancouver, the biggest offender is Vancouver City Hall, says Councillor Colleen Hardwick.
“City Hall’s addiction to the revenues generated by rezoning continues to inflate land values, it takes too long to get permits and applications approved, and City charges and fees can add $200 per square foot or more to building costs,” said Hardwick as Council’s Finance Standing Committee reviews the current Vancouver Plan planning process this week. “It’s also been more than a year since I asked city staff in council to provide updated housing data so we could actually make housing decisions based on real numbers and facts, and still, we have no data. Meanwhile the city has charged forward with development and planning policies based on aspirations rather than evidence.”
Hardwick says the city continues to make decisions that are making housing unaffordable, particularly when it comes to the constant rezoning that results in rising land values that push housing costs through the roof.
“The volume of rezoning under Vision Vancouver inflated the value of land and the air above it, and today’s council continues to take that same approach, to the detriment of people looking to buy a new home in their own city,” said Hardwick. “Frankly, the existing zoning in Vancouver is more than able to handle the real population growth expected in the future. But City Hall is addicted to the revenues that come with rezoning, and those extra costs are passed on to the homebuyer and pricing this city out of the reach of Vancouverites. If you’re buying a 1,000 sq ft condo you can expect that about $200,000 of the actual cost is directly related to City Hall. Meanwhile, everyone at City Hall says they are committed to affordable housing.”
Hardwick said that when you take the pricing inflation caused by rezoning and add in the growing number of city fees and charges around developments, plus the fact that permits and approvals can take four, five and six years, it’s easy to see why Vancouverites are finding it harder and harder to live in their own city.
“Politicians and staff at City Hall say they are all for affordable housing, but then they do anything and everything in their power to make it less affordable,” added Hardwick. “It reinforces my strong belief that City Hall views Vancouverites as ATM machines and there is no real interest at 12th and Cambie when it comes to making our city more affordable for Vancouverites.”
“If we really want affordable housing we need to focus on three things: sticking with existing zoning for a time, rather than more rezoning that continues to push up the price of land; reigning in and rationalizing the cost of development permits, building permits and community amenity charges, all of which add more and more costs to the final price of a home; and we definitely need to reduce the time it takes to approve projects, because, after all, time is money.”
The final meetings of the summer before the August break will be held this week for both City Council and Park Board. It appears that in-person attendance (with limits) is now again allowed at these meetings, in line with the updated conditions issued by the Provincial Health Officer for Step 3 of B.C.’s Restart Plan (see COVID-19 Update).
The Park Board meeting on Monday, July 19, 2021, will review an update on the Skateboard Amenities Strategy. Commissioner Irwin is introducing a motion called Exploring Capital Funding for an Aboriginal Healing and Cultural Centre in CRAB Park, while Commissioner Barker is introducing the motion Senior’s Safety in a Climate Emergency.
The Regular City Council Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 20th will look at the Equity Framework report to be used by all City departments. The 2021 Social Grants, Community Housing Incentive Program Grants and Vancouver Community Sport Event Grants will be reviewed. The approval to take on $100 million of additional debt will be considered, as part of the 2021 Debenture Program. Also on the agenda is the lease of a City-Owned asset to Atira for a Temporary Women’s Shelter.
At this meeting there’s also a report in which staff are seeking to allow consideration to allow a major, precedent-setting, tower to be built at 1477 West Broadway, despite the entire Broadway Corridor still being in the midst of a comprehensive planning process. Stay tuned for a post on this.
The “Vancouver Plan Update and Quick Start Actions” staff report goes to City Council on July 21, 2021 at 9:30 am. Staff are perpetuating the former Vision Vancouver council’s tradition of bringing the most controversial issues forward during the summer holiday season in July, when the public is not paying attention.
City staff are “looking for direction” from Council to implement rezonings before basic initial planning and meaningful consultation have been done. We take the view that this attempt by staff is entirely premature and the report should be referred back to staff for more work on the Vancouver Plan process. That is supposed to produce a comprehensive citywide plan for Vancouver. Not enough has been done for staff to justify their recommendations for significant zoning bylaw changes that have citywide implications.
So far staff have focused mainly on consulting with what they deem to be “under represented” groups and individuals while ignoring most of the broader population of the city. It is important to make sure all voices are heard, but this approach is, ironically, excluding most of the people who live here.
There are two very important steps that are required before planning can begin, neither of which has happened yet. These steps are needed in order to inform public consultations and any proposed actions.
1. Provide the Data – The City should provide transparent data, as directed by Council over a year ago but still not provided, of how much current housing capacity is in the city, both existing zoned capacity and how many units are in process “in the pipeline.” This data should then be compared to growth projections to determine how many dwelling units are needed, citywide and by neighbourhood.
2. Recalibrate the Vancouver Housing Targets – Council directed that the requested data above be used to recalibrate the Housing Targets declared by the City, 72,000 units, a number that is currently almost three times what would be justified by census data (25,000 units), and over double the Regional Growth Strategy (Metro Vancouver) projections (32,000 units).