Rezoning from 16 up to 28 storeys at 2538 Birch (1296 Broadway) (virtual Public Hearing July 9) should be withdrawn & wait for Broadway Plan

For all the details on this case and see what you can do about it, please visit the Fairview/South Granville Action Committee website, www.28floors.com.

The City of Vancouver is in the midst of a major planning process for the Broadway Corridor. In June 2018, City Council adopted the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy to prevent land speculation and disruptions to the planning process from dramatic rezoning requests, so that a rational and comprehensive plan could be produced through meaningful consultation.

But this below is a story about the integrity of governance and decision-making processes at our municipal government, with real world implications.

City Council on June 9, 2020, accepted a staff recommendation under chief planner Gil Kelley to allow a project to go forward to Public Hearing to approve a new rezoning application to boost an already-approved rezoning (for a tower at 16 storeys) and now allow the developer to build 28 storeys. The date is now set for an electronic Public Hearing on July 9, 2020. Under COVID-19 emergency measures, participation by most of the public and all Councillors will be done remotely by voice only, and only the Mayor and clerks will be in the Council Chambers.

This is a significant rezoning request, and if approved would set a major precedent for height and density all along the Broadway Corridor and adjacent neighbourhoods.

There may be many opinions about the design, height, density, and other features of the new proposal for 28 storeys. Many people support new rental construction, and in fact, the approved rezoning at 16 storeys on this site was broadly supported, in consideration of its rental units and fit with the neighbourhood, etc.

But a key issue here is that behind the scenes, staff at City Hall have bent over backwards to circumvent the City’s policies in order to squeeze this 28-storey proposal into the pipeline and get it to the Public Hearing. In the process it appears that staff have provided incorrect information our elected officials at crucial points along the way. This twisting of the process is not acceptable. 

These revelations have come from freedom of information queries and exhaustive research by community group Fairview/South Granville Action Committee.

Staff have maintained that the rezoning application for 2538 Birch Street is exempted from the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy under Policy #1 of that policy.

A careful review by Fairview/South Granville Action Committee confirmed that the rezoning application for 2538 Birch did not qualify for an exception under the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy. Therefore, it should not have be considered by Council until the Broadway Plan is completed.

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The gist of the problem is here, based on information from www.28floors.com.

The Broadway Planning Program, Interim Rezoning Policy, Policy 1 (adopted June 20, 2018), states that: “Where, at the time of adoption of this rezoning policy, there is an active rezoning application or where a recent application for rezoning advice has been received, and the applicant has received a written response stating that a rezoning application would be considered (within the past three years), the application will be considered.”

Therefore, in order for a rezoning application to be considered during the Broadway Planning Program, there must either be…

  • An active rezoning application, OR
  • A recent application for rezoning advice (aka Rezoning Enquiry) has been received, AND the applicant has received a written response stating that a rezoning application would be considered

Considering the timeline and Policy interpretation above, let’s examine whether Jameson’s rezoning application for 2538 Birch Street qualifies under either of these conditions:

Council approved the Interim Rezoning Policy on June 20th, 2018. Jameson’s rezoning application was received by the City on May 17th, 2019. Therefore, Jameson’s rezoning application does not qualify under condition #1.

Council approved the Interim Rezoning Policy on June 20th, 2018.

Per City Staff, Jameson’s “full enquiry application” (i.e., Rezoning Enquiry, aka Application for Rezoning Advice) was received on July 25th, 2018, over a month after the Interim Rezoning Policy was approved, and the City’s response to this application was issued more than three months after the Interim Rezoning Policy was approved, on October 2nd, 2018. Therefore, Jameson’s rezoning application does not qualify under condition #2.

In correspondence, public events and official statements, Staff have claimed that Jameson’s rezoning application is exempted from the Interim Rezoning Policy because the City sent Jameson an invitation to participate in MIRHPP on June 12th, 2018, before Council passed the Broadway Planning Program Terms of Reference and Interim Rezoning Policy on June 20, 2018. It is important to note that the June 12 letter DID NOT provide “conditional support” for a rezoning application.  

However…

The Policy states specific, named City processes which must have occurred before June 20th, 2018, in order for the exemption to be valid. Neither the application for rezoning advice nor a written response stating that a rezoning application would be considered were delivered until well after June 20th, 2018.

Furthermore, the Policy does not state that an invitation to participate in MIRHPP is an acceptable condition, nor did the City’s invitation to participate in the MIRHPP program provide conditional support for a rezoning.

Based on this examination, the application for 2538 Birch Street did not qualify for an exception to the Interim Rezoning Policy because the proponent’s rezoning enquiry, the City’s response to the rezoning enquiry and the proponent’s rezoning application all occurred after June 20th, 2018, the date on which the Interim Rezoning Policy was passed. Council should not have considered this referral, nor should it host a public hearing for this application until the Broadway Plan is approved and the Interim Rezoning Policy is rescinded.

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LINKS

“… precedent-setting 28 storey tower concept – 1296 West Broadway (former Denny’s, now 2538 Birch St)”
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2018/11/26/28-storey-1296wbroadway-2538birch/

Rezoning application for 28 storeys (subject of the July 9, 2020 Public Hearing)
https://rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/2538birch/index.htm

Development application for 16 storeys (currently still active)
https://development.vancouver.ca/1296wbroadway/index.htm

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