(Updated May 13 – italics. The reversal showing UDP unanimously opposing the application appears to have been a clerical error. All five UDP members who voted at the March 9 meeting voted to support the application. But there are many irregularities and unresolved problems with design and process with this project. We will cover more at a future date.)
The May 16 Development Permit Board meeting for two towers at 1661 Davie in Vancouver’s West End has been cancelled, with no explanation and no future date provided. Also, after a long delay, the Urban Design Panel minutes (download PDF from UDP website) were posted online this morning. The version finally published May 11 showed a surprising reversal of the original UDP (an advisory panel for City Council) vote, from 5-0 support to 5-0 NON-support. It now appears that it was an error, so the 5-0 support stands.)
Why is all of this important? Because the May 16 was set to be the final approval of this huge project (no public hearing required). Because this project could be considered a test case for implementation of a new community plan in Vancouver. Because the UDP and DPB are crucial players in what gets built in our city, with huge implications for neighbourhoods. Because several neighbourhoods are currently undergoing planning processes. Because we expect City Hall to operate properly and in the public interest. But this case raises a lot of eyebrows, and shows that the UDP and DPB require more public scrutiny.
The public is expected to trust but has the right to verify. This cancellation is the right thing to do, and will allow more time for internal review and for the public to prepare input for the eventual DPB decision.
These two bodies (UDP and DPB) are crucial parts of the development approval process in Vancouver, typically operating largely outside of public attention, and this is a major development project with major impacts on the West End community.
Yesterday, CityHallWatch reported that UDP minutes from March 9 — over two months ago — had not yet been made public, even though there were only 3 business days left before the 4-person internal DPB meeting set for May 16. (See City fails to post crucial info on two towers at Davie Safeway (1661 Davie), UDP minutes 2 months late, DPB decision May 16.)
On May 1, West End Neighbours pointed out many conflicts between the proposal and the West End Community Plan (see Redevelopment of 1661 Davie Street (existing Safeway site): Does it fulfill Community Plan objectives?). Did the UDP do its job, identify them, and call for changes to comply with it?
It seems problematic that only 5 of 13 UDP members supported the application, yet that translated into “unanimous” UDP support (see CityHallWatch post “City fails“).
NEW: There seem to be many irregularities going on with this project. This strange voting behaviour merits further scrutiny. This is a multi-million dollar project with major impacts on the community. Why did only five UDP members actually vote? Is it typical for 5 to be absent and so many to abstain from voting? And did those who abstain influence voting by their comments to the meeting?
The DPB makes the final decision on this project. If the UDP failed to do its job and adequately consider crucial factors of urban design, will the DPB send it back for significant modifications?
This project is a crucial test case for the West End Community Plan, as well as the functioning of the UDP and DPB. It is also an example of processes at City Hall when City Council delegates development decisions to the DPB.
[No longer valid: The draft minutes (only showing the vote outcome, but saying “minutes to follow) said 5-0 support. With the 180-degree reversal now that the minutes are published, what does that mean for the future of this project when it eventually gets back to the Development Permit Board for review?]
At the very least, this case of the UDP and DPB processes is evidence that more public and media attention is required for these civic bodies which have so much influence on what gets built in Vancouver.