The City of Vancouver has scheduled a Public Hearing for October 27, 2020 that will essentially be to consider the proposal to put 98 units of temporary modular housing in two separate buildings in an industrial zone at East 1st Avenue and Clark Drive (1580 Vernon). The Public Hearing will begin at 6pm. This proposal is across the street from the recently-approved detox centre and complex that will contain 97 units of social housing at 1636 Clark Drive.
It’s worth noting that the information sign does not show any illustration of the temporary modular housing proposed for the site. The information sign was posted only after the time of the referral. No public open houses or virtual open house events were held.
For further details about the proposal, reproduced below is a post we made on October 5, 2020 regarding the staff policy report prior to the referral to Public Hearing.
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A very important item regarding a proposed site for Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) is on the agenda for the Regular Council meeting on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. This item is a referral report (a staff recommendation that Council approve the application to go ahead to Public Hearing) that proposes to change the designation in the governing Regional Context Statement (registered with Metro Vancouver) from industrially zoned land to general urban at 1580 Vernon Drive. The report is from the city’s chief planner, officially “General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability” (Gil Kelley). If approved, the change would pave the way for the city’s chief planner (yes, Gil Kelley) to approve TMH on the site.
This article is not challenging the merits of Temporary Modular Housing, but focuses on the quality and credibility of the report itself. There are many shortcomings and grave omissions in the seven page staff report. In addition, no information sign has been posted on the site to notify the community of the City’s intention to change the site’s designation.
This kind of change from industrial to general urban could set a precedent for further changes in Industrial Land use, which is why the report and process in the specific case merits more scrutiny.
The staff report fails to make any mention of the density of social housing existing or planned in the immediate area. City Council recently approved 97 units of social housing and a detox centre just across the street, on the northeast corner of Clark Drive and 1st Avenue. A block over, at Graveley Street and McLean, is an entire city block of social housing. At East 2nd and McLean is three-quarters of a block of social housing. The Vancouver Native Housing Society operates a large complex at 1339 Graveley Street. A number of other supported housing buildings are in the vicinity. With this density of social housing in the area, how did City staff come to identify this site as being suitable for an additional 98 units of social housing? The topic of the number of social housing units in the area is completely absent in the report. The planning department has failed to provide City Council key points for the context of the staff recommendation they are being asked to approve.
If Council refers this item to a Public Hearing, and the Public Hearing is held, Council votes to approve it, and the designation for the site is changed in the Regional Context Statement, then the only remaining step would be for the chief planner (yes, Gil Kelley) to approve a Development Permit application. It could be simply a matter of signing a piece of paper. No meeting of the Development Permit Board or its advisory body. No further public consultation would be required.
The site is problematic for housing for a number of reasons (see our previous post for further details and photos). The site would be at risk from liquefaction in an earthquake, being located on landfill on the former eastern extent of False Creek. How indeed did staff determine that a site in an industrial area, beside a railway corridor and two very busy roads, is suitable for social housing? The report does not provide the rationale for that.
Was this the most expedient site provided by the Property Endowment fund for TMH? Are certain parts of Vancouver exempt for providing locations for TMH, such as anything west of Oak Street? Are a few select neighbourhoods, such as Strathcona, Grandview-Woodland and Mount Pleasant the City’s designated go-to places to put the majority of new social housing?
The City and politicians often talk about the importance of protecting Industrial Land, and yet is prepared to ignore this stated goal.
The staff report states that the site at 1580 Vernon Drive is “currently vacant and underutilised,” as highlighted below:
Staff forget to state the reason for why the site is vacant: it’s because the City forced the greenhouses that were on the site and operated by Sole Foods to be relocated. That’s a serious omission of context. Staff completely gloss over just how this site was “identified as a potential site for a temporary modular housing (TMH) project.” Staff only note that 1580 Vernon Drive has an ‘aggregate land area of approximately 60,810 sq. ft.’. Are staff claiming that because the site is large enough for 98 units of TMH, then it should be used for this purpose over other potential sites throughout the City? Is site size the only criteria for staff?
The report claims that the Temporary Modular Housing would remain in place for a maximum of 10 years. Staff claim that this is standard policy: “City’s temporary modular housing policies, which typically restrict a TMH building on any site, to a maximum of 10 years.” It’s currently difficult to tell if the City will keep to its 10 year limit of TMH, or if it intends to make some of these sites permanent.
Certain neighbourhoods are not doing their fair share in providing places for social housing. There are certainly much better places to house residents in need than in an industrial zone, specifically, than at 1580 Vernon Drive. Can we do better as a City?
As this is a referral report, so as mentioned, if Council approves the staff recommendation, the proposal would go forward to a Public Hearing. But there’s been no public consultation whatsoever on this proposed change in land use designation. And as mentioned, there’s no information sign on the site. If this report is referred, the standard pattern would be for Council and staff to avoid any further discussion until the Public Hearing. They will just say, “Provide your input to the public hearing, we can’t comment.” (Even that is a escape that we dispute.)
We restate the bottom line: If anyone wishes to communicate and receive replies from Council, the time is to do so is right now, before Tuesday’s meeting. See this link on how to reach Council.
Here’s the zoning context via VanMap (the aerial photo shows the greenhouses that have been since removed by Sole Food).
Staff report: Amendment to the Regional Context Statement Official Development Plan By-law for 1580 Vernon Drive (a de facto rezoning of site to Temporary Modular Housing):
Temporary Modular Housing at 220 Terminal. Notice that some of the panels have buckled. Is there shifting of the soil on this site that is also located on False Creek Landfill? Or is it just some settling and thermal expansion?