(Update: The crucial minutes described were published before noon on May 11, showing surprisingly that the UDP voted 5-0 unanimous non-support. Also, surprisingly, the DBP meeting was cancelled, with no reason provided. Details here.) CityHallWatch has been tracking how the municipal government short-changes the public when it comes to providing crucial information in a timely way. The City likes to advertise how it is engaging the public in policies and decisions, and how it adheres to the best consultation standards in the world, such as “IAP2.” But the reality is often different. Here is one current and specific case.
The Development Permit Board and Urban Design Panel are two crucial bodies at Vancouver City Hall that have significant influence on what developments get approved and how they are designed. Here is a case in which the DPB, an internal 4-person body at City Hall, will make a final decision on a major development on May 16. But the public is being cheated of crucial information regarding the project and the opportunity to influence the decision. Is the delay accidental, incompetence, or intentional?
The case of two towers proposed by Henriquez Partners Architects (CEO Gregory Henriquez), for developer Westbank Projects Corp. (CEO Ian Gillespie), for client Safeway (owned by Sobeys) and site owner Crombie REIT is a case in point. West End Neighbours has outlined how this application for two towers seriously contravenes many design guidelines of the much-touted West End Community Plan (two towers versus one, site layout, size of floorplates, streetscape/building finishes, lane frontage, shadowing, public realm, parking, etc.). Despite the violations and concerns, the project is being fast-tracked. It was first made public quietly on January 28. It goes straight to the Development Permit Board for approval on May 16, 2016 (Monday).
With the site being “pre-zoned” shortly after the West End Community Plan was adopted in 2013, there is no public hearing, just an internal decision by the Board. The public still has the right to speak to the Board, but without timely information from the UDP, it is at a disadvantage.
The Urban Design Panel, which would have been expected to review the urban design aspects, including compliance with the West End Community Plan guidelines, reviewed the project on March 9, 2016. But the minutes of that meeting have not yet been published. CityHallWatch contacted the new City Manager (Sadhu Johnston) last week to inquire, and learned that the chair of the UDP has failed to approve minutes of the UDP going back to February 2016. No reason has been offered for the backlog, but the UDP’s delay in publishing crucial meeting minutes puts the community at a major disadvantage by not being able to see if the UDP actually addressed key issues of concern.
The UDP gave unanimous support to the project, but why? No one can answer that question. In fact, only five of 13 members voted to support the project. Only 5 of 8 members who were present voted, so did 3 abstain and if so, why? And 5 members were absent. So in effect, only 5 of 13 members, or 38%, officially supported the project. The public has a right to examine the functioning of the UDP. Is it fulfilling its public mandate?
Meanwhile, the public is left with just three more business days before the crucial Development Permit Board meeting.
Incidentally, the DPB has also been known to cheat the public of timely information. There have been cases in which DPB agenda are only made public minutes before the meeting, and even then, only posting them when citizens complained.
In this case, Henriquez Partners Architects and Westbank Projects Corp. are major donors to the ruling party, Vision Vancouver. The public has a right to ask, whose interests is City Hall looking after?