This is a critical case for everyone in Vancouver to watch — as it shows the workings of City Hall in the face of a major and controversial development application strongly opposed by the community, with the final decision being made internally by employees of the City. It is not an isolated case.
The Development Permit Board on October 9, 2012, voted to defer a decision on the proposed development at Arbutus Ridge until its next meeting on Monday October 22, 2012. The application by Cressey Development is to build a five-storey building with street-level commercial shops and 52 condos on top, and if approved would mean the end of the Ridge Theatre and the Varsity Ridge Bowling Alley. The review on Oct 9 started at 3 pm and went late into the evening to accommodate a long list of speakers (about 100 names were on the list). A petition signed by about 10,000 persons opposes the project. Further coverage of the event can be found on Global TV (excellent video, recommended viewing), The Province, 24 hrs, the CBC, Vancouver Sun, News 1130 and MetroNews. [Update: the DP Board approved a 4-storey development on October 22nd, 2012. For videos and further details see our report here]
A number of local residents and bowlers gathered prior to the meeting at Varsity Ridge Bowling on 15th Avenue and Arbutus before taking to the streets to walk the full 3.5 km distance to City Hall.
Members of the Kitsilano Arbutus Residents Association (KARA), bowlers and local residents addressed the DP Board, many of who had to wait patiently for their turn to speak. Not a single speaker spoke in favour of the proposed development. The potential loss of the bowling centre was one of the recurring themes in speeches from residents of all ages, ranging from a very young boy to a 93-year-old lady. Professional bowlers stated that this was one of the few facilities still left in the city for them train. The importance of bowling leagues was mentioned in fostering development of the sport. Five pin bowling lanes are a rarity; these facilities enable the participation of people who are only able to handle a light-weight ball. The Varsity Ridge Bowling facility is often used for parties, gatherings for the young & old alike. Many of the bowlers praised the proprietors for decades of service to the community and noted that they’ve created a friendly space that helped enrich their lives. The bowling alley has also helped raise millions of dollars for charity over the years. Demolishing a bowling alley which served residents would add to the ‘no fun city’ moniker often attached to Vancouver. Some speakers expressed sentiments that the city has more than enough condos and grocery stores.
KARA members pointed out the complete lack of public consultation during the Development Permit Application process. Many decisions had already been made far in advance during negotiations between the developer and city staff. Outrage was expressed that the applicant has already mounted large signs announcing the condo development on the property. The developer’s sales office and website sales page further raised suspicions about the lack of due process before any approval was in place. The sales of public land to facilitate a larger development was labelled as a giveaway that only increased the impact of the proposal, as was the removal of an easement. Residents said that they would have told the applicants that all grocery stores at that location have failed (all types — budget, normal, upscale), and that a 20,000 sq foot store is not a good fit for retail. Concerns were raised about icy conditions in traffic along 15th and 16th Avenues for vehicles trying to access the narrow laneway in the winter. The traffic impacts may have been understated by the developer-hired consultant, and issues with the methodology were raised. Speakers objected to the Orwellian doublespeak apparent in the term ‘neighbourliness’ that staff used to try to justify their support for the application. Others viewed this application as a David & Goliath struggle between residents and the development industry and their partners.
Technical grounds for the refusal of the application were brought up by several of the speakers. The difference between outright vs. maximum conditional height and density was clearly illustrated with one small and one large cardboard box. The building height exceeds the maximum allowable under C-2 zoning (56 feet by city figures, up to 73 feet on the laneway side). The figures provided by staff for Floor Space Ratio exceeds 2.5, the maximum permitted under current C-2 zoning. The increase from an outright FSR of 0.75 to 2.5 has to be ‘earned’, as does the increase in height from 45′ to 55′. The question on whether the applicant has earned this increase was raised, and if the intent of the C-2 guidelines was followed. It was argued that increasing the FSR over 2.5 is a privilege reserved for City Council alone in a rezoning (to CD-1 or C-3A), and that the development permit board risks overstepping its authority if it approves this project.
The closing comments from the three voting members of the DP Board seemed to indicate that there may be grounds for refusing granting approval for the development. The panel noted they were moved by the arguments by the bowlers and residents, stated that no affordable housing was provided and they raised doubts whether the proponent has earned the discretionary increase in density from 0.75 to 2.5 FSR. In the end only the deferral of the decision was agreed upon.
In a twist, the sentiments from the non-voting advisory panel members were far more supportive of the proposed development. One of the members of the public noted that if left to the advisory panel members the project would have been approved. Open questions: Do the opinions of DP Board Advisory Panel members Kate Busby, Kevin Chen, Jasminka Miletic-Prelovac and Duncan Wlodarczak really reflect the views of the ‘general public’ they are supposed to represent? Or were their opinions often a stark contrast to all of the speakers who came from the public? Would city staff involved in this application actually be permitted to say that current zoning is not being followed without risking dismissal? Would they be risking their careers if they actually speak or vote in ways that reflect public opinion? (The City has abruptly fired many staff in recent years, with no clear rationale given to the public.)
The discussions by the panel will continue at the next meeting for the DP Board is Monday, October 22. No further speakers from the public will be allowed; however, comments can still be submitted to the Development Permit Board via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Development Permit Board: Looking “under the hood”:
As of today, the City website lists the following information on the composition and membership of the DPB. This information is may be currently out of date — particularly regarding “Director of Planning.” Note that the three regular voting members are employees of the City. The public should be asking on what basis, and by what criteria they vote.
The Board consists of four senior staff members, the Director of Development Services, who is Chair, the General Manager of Engineering Services, the Deputy City Manager and Director of Planning. The Chair does not vote except when Board members present at a meeting are equal for and against a question, in which case the Chair shall have the right to exercise the casting vote.
Each Board member, except for the Director of Development Services, has an alternate or alternates. If the Director of Development Services is unable to attend a Board meeting, she may appoint a Board member or any alternate of any Board member to act as Chair at that meeting on behalf, and in place, of the Director of Development Services.
Director, Development Services
|The Chair does not have an alternate|
|Director of Planning (currently vacant)||Kent Munro
Assistant Director, Current Planning Division
General Manager, Engineering
Director of Transportation
Director, Departmental Services, Office of the General Manager – Engineering
Deputy City Manager
Deputy City Manager