Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer introduced a raft of last minute changes to the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan after Council had heard from speakers on Saturday, March 15th. A number of key changes were included as part of the 25 pages of amendments. The most significant change was in the definition of social housing. The members of the public who were present in Council Chambers and Councillors Affleck, Ball and Carr only had 15 minutes to review the amendments. (The public has the right to wonder who were the privileged ones to influence and read these sweeping amendments before they were presented, and what this says about how City Council functions today. But that’s another story.) Leading municipal lawyer Jonathan Baker has commented on the legality of the Plan produced this day (“They Know Not What They Do“).
During the final debate, Green Party Councillor Carr noted that “it’s far better to define social housing honestly.” She introduced two motions that would have included clearer definitions of social housing (for details please see Adriane Carr on the DTES Plan). Nonetheless both of her motions were defeated, and the Council majority passed the Downtown Local Area Plan at 4:15pm on Saturday, March 15th.
Vancouver City Council approved a variable definition of social housing. The definition changed and applied differently to certain sections of the Downtown Eastside. For reference, we’ve included photos of the Appendix D that show the variations in the definition of social housing.
The changes to Appendix D also show changes in the maximum density allowed in a number of the sub-regions, including allowing more than 3.0 FSR in the Victory Square (or sub-area ‘G’). Those changes predated the final raft of amendments and were included in the final staff report.
Section 3 – Density
4. Despite subsections 1 and 3, the density of residential use must not exceed a floor space ratio of 3.00, except:
(a) in the areas denoted by the letters ‘G’, ‘K1’, ‘K2’, ‘L1’, ‘L2’, ‘M’, ‘N’, and ‘O’ on Map 1; and
The Hastings East sub-area (Area C that presumably includes C2, though it’s not a separate area on Map 1) include a key change to allow extra density for 100% market rental units, extra height to 32.0 metres and extra density to 6.0 FSR. The requirements once limited extra height and density (to 5.0 FSR) for low-cost housing or for social housing that would make up two thirds of the floor space on a site. The full text of the earlier and final changes are included further below. We anticipate that draft bylaw amendments included in the Local Area Plan will soon be put forward to Council for a Public Hearing, perhaps as early as April. It’s unclear if a maximum density will be specified in the bylaw, or it it will be left open ended.
Will the changes to the Victory Square facilitate the gentrification creep from the west to allow for more market rental and density? It’s worth noting that Woodward’s is located in this sub-area. The basic maximum height can be increased to a maximum of 32.0 m (105 feet) for 100% market rental units or for housing that includes 2/3 of the ‘social housing’ definition that applies to Victory Square. This extra height could be approved without Council approval via the Development Permit Board.
While the draft bylaw amendments often state the the Development Permit Board would need to approve changes, in reality this means that Director of Planning (currently the recently-hired Brian Jackson) can approve projects without any public oversight. One person. No need to explain decisions. No advance notice. No appeals. Do the powers of this office invite the chance of bribery and corruption? There’s a giant loophole in the Zoning and Development bylaws that allows Mr. Jackson to approve projects on his own accord and completely bypass the DP Board (see sections 3.3.3 and 3.3.4):
It’s worth noting that Mr. Jackson has already approved several mega-projects on his authority over the past year, such as 2220 Kingsway (428 units), the Millennium Boheme (101 units) and 401 Great Northern Way (209 units). Similarly, large tower developments in large swaths of the West End can now be approved this way, after zoning amendments approved by City Council in January. Is it about time to close the loopholes listed in section 3.3.3 and 3.3.4 that allow the Director of Planning to bypass public process?
We’ve included photographs of Appendix D; as of this writing (Tuesday, March 28) the City of Vancouver has not posted the 25 pages of amendments.