Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan (Opinion – Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun)

This opinion was published in the Vancouver Sun on August 8, 2016. Excerpts are provided below. See the link for the full text. Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing.

Read about the process for City Council to adopt this plan, and how a community plan adopted in the West End has had perverse consequences, and something begins to seem stinky with city’s planning processes.


2016-land-use-map Grandview-Woodland

Grandview Woodland community plan

Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan


Vancouver just approved a new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, in the neighbourhood known as the Commercial Drive area. The plan jeopardizes affordability by putting existing affordable rentals, heritage and character at risk in spite of community opposition.

There are references in the plan to retaining existing rentals and protecting heritage, but the adopted policies do just the opposite. Incentives for redevelopment increase land speculation, leading to land, unit and rent inflation with loss of community character.

At the start of the planning process, the planners opened their presentations stating that Grandview needed to increase density to meet projected growth under the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) since 160,000 people were coming to Vancouver.

This was later found not to be the case when the RGS was changed to reflect the 2011 census for a 148,000 population increase from 2011 to 2041. Further, the city’s consultant report from June 2014 confirmed, “The city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” ….

… Most of the Grandview neighbourhood was built out in 1910. From the 1940s after the war to the 1970s, many houses were converted into multiple-suites, rooming houses, rental apartments, co-ops and social housing, most of which still remain. This created more growth than most other areas of the city. The fact that the neighbourhood population has gone down by 6.5 per cent in the last few years is not a reason to upzone in a way that puts this existing affordable housing at risk.

Vancouver’s practice up to 2007 was to avoid policies that would add development pressure into inner-city neighbourhoods with Local Area Plans, approved from the 1970s to 1990 in Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Strathcona, Kitsilano, Marpole and the West End. All are relatively dense and have the majority of the city’s affordable purpose-built rental housing as well as a large amount of the heritage character.

Sam Sullivan’s EcoDensity in 2007 promoted increased density everywhere. After Sullivan and his NPA council were removed from office in 2008, Gregor Robertson’s Vision council rebranded EcoDensity under Greenest City. Then these older more affordable neighbourhoods were targeted for increased redevelopment which was an unwise shift of policy. Grandview is the most recent victim of this direction.

For example, in Nov. 2013 the West End Community Plan approved increased zoning in some areas up to 60 storeys. One of these sites was an assembly of two older, more-affordable low-rise rental apartment buildings, reportedly bought for $16.8 million in 2014. Recently sold to foreign investors for $60 million, they were flipped a month later for $68 million, all without paying property transfer taxes due to it being a bare trust.

That plan allowing an increase to zoning to 60 storeys directly drove the land price increases. This should be a lesson for Grandview.

Although there may have been a reasonable basis for some increased development along Hastings Street and the transit station at Broadway and Commercial, the vast majority of the neighbourhood has more to lose than to gain in terms of affordability by the policies adopted in this plan.

… Then there is the Grandview planning process in general. Starting in 2011, the process blew up when the emerging directions document was released in 2013. The city created a 48 person Citizens’ Assembly made up of a mix of residents chosen by lottery based on prejudicial criteria. It took a year for the Citizens’ Assembly to come up with a report of recommendations, then another year for staff to create a new draft plan.

[CHW: Related, see our stories from 2014 and 2015 showing political interference in the planning process – Inside story of a botched community plan process: How top-down interference led to 20 towers proposed for Grandview-Woodland, and Grandview-Woodland land use plan: Top-down/political interference obvious by analysis of draft versions]

Then the city released their 250 page 30 year draft only four weeks prior to council approval in the summer. Inadequate opportunity was provided for broader community input and the draft was in contradiction to many key recommendations by the Citizens’ Assembly including on heights and density.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommended only four to six storeys on the controversial Kettle/Boffo site at Venables and Commercial. This was supported by the No Tower Coalition, who had a 4,400 person petition and an alternative plan to create the required housing for Kettle. The staff report recommended nine storeys, a reduction from the developer’s proposed 12 storeys, but council reversed this back up to the full 12 storeys in a bait-and-switch last minute amendment. [CHW: Note that the developer, Cressey, is a political donor to ruling party Vision Vancouver.]

Calls for a delay by Grandview-Woodland Area Council, MLA Shane Simpson, and MP Jenny Kwan were ignored. The whole 30-year plan was rammed through without adequate broad community input, and with policies that are contrary to key Citizens’ Assembly recommendations. Given there is ample existing zoned capacity city-wide to meet future growth, one has to wonder why there is such a rush by the city to rezone one of the most affordable livable neighbourhoods in the city without community support.

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