Heads up! Under guise of ‘support for neighbourhood grocery stores’ City staff propose new commercial developments in residential zones (Council agenda 24-Nov-2020)

Example of a corner story in Vancouver. This one at 12th and Windsor. Many are endangered by development!

(Epilogue: With only Clrs Harwick and Carr in opposition, Council approved the staff recommendation, so this significant policy change goes straight ahead to a Public Hearing, and we expect that soon. All on Council except these two Councillors opposed an amendment by Clr Hardwick who sought to have Council “receive this report for information, and direct staff to consider the report as part of the public consultation and planning process for the Vancouver Plan, including economic analysis on the impacts on existing C2 neighbourhood shopping areas and the small business recovery from COVID, and report back by Q3 2021 on publicly supported options for further Council consideration, including for quick starts if appropriate.”  Under chief planner Gil Kelley, City Council proceeds to approve far-reaching policies and major rezonings while supposedly working on a citywide plan. Mr Kelley’s approach to planning is clearly “Ready, Fire, Aim.” He has still failed to provide crucial data to Council – see below. What today’s decision means is that Mayor and Councillors will now say claim (wrongly) that they are prohibited from discussing this topic with the public. Planning staff will prepare materials for the Public Hearing. No one will hear a thing until the documents are posted on the City’s website approximately three business days before the Public Hearing, which will basically allow the weekend for individuals, associations, and affected businesses to digest all the documentation, discuss it, and a response to Council, arrange schedules in order to write or speak to Council. And in the end, based on extensive experience, it is highly likely that the Kelley/planning department’s proposed policy changes will be adopted by Council with no change. All this was set in motion today.)

There has been strong concern and public support for protecting the endangered local grocery store in Vancouver. On June 24, 2020, City Council approved a motion entitled “Corner Stores in 21st Century Vancouver: Achieving Complete Communities and Food-Friendly Neighbourhoods.” It directed City staff to report back with an “overview of early actions and potential policy directions Council could pursue … with respect to promoting food-friendly and local store supported neighbourhoods.”  So far so good.

That report is now ready, but staff have created a monster that could quickly spin out of control.

Just a few days ago, City of Vancouver staff included this item on the City Council agenda for Tuesday, November 24, 2020. It has huge implications. Staff want this go straight ahead to a Public Hearing for official adoption. Vancouver is in the midst of developing a citywide plan, but under the friendly guise of “supporting neighbourhood grocery stores” staff are proposing, among other things, that commercial space be allowed everywhere in residential areas. We have major concerns about this. 

Bottom line, City Council should hear the staff presentation, but this recommendation should NOT advance to a Public Hearing, and instead go through more consideration and consultation. If you share these concerns, please let City Council know. Contact Council here and via the City’s agenda page on the website.

On the agenda, for the regular Council meeting on Nov 24, see the section on “Referral Reports” (i.e., ready to go to Public Hearing):

1. Employment Lands and Economy Review:
Item d) is “Employment Lands and Economy Review Quick Start Actions: Initial Zoning and Development By-law Amendments to Support Neighbourhood Grocery Stores.” Download PDF (26 pages): https://council.vancouver.ca/20201124/documents/rr1d.pdf    

By way of background, in the past year there has been some media coverage lamenting the loss of neighbourhood grocery stores, and this report is one response to that.

In fact, Appendix C of the report provides a decent “Backgrounder: Small-Scale Neighbourhood Commercial & Neighbourhood Grocery Stores in Vancouver.”

Of course, everyone would love to keep corner stores alive in their neighbourhoods. But the planning department has warped this whole thing. What chief planner Gil Kelley is proposing is a lot more than enabling existing non-conforming corner stores to operate. What staff are proposing is not limited to the cozy corner stores most people might imagine.

Map in backgrounder shows neighbourhood grocery stores, small-scale commercial, and deactivated commercial sites. What is missing is map of where the proposed zoning changes would apply. Basically, it could affect most residential streets in the whole city.

Among other things, the proposed changes could result in consolidated lots in residential areas with apartments above. What will expanded commercial zoning in residential areas do to C2 businesses (along arterials) that are already struggling? What will it do to drive speculation and land values? More consideration is needed, but staff are urging council to race ahead and implement significant rezoning before doing proper planning and consultation.

Staff proposal would allow new commercial development in all residential zones including RS, RT and RM.
Why are these major zoning changes coming in advance of the Vancouver Plan?

  •  While some of this may be acceptable in some areas, the ideas should be explored on a neighbourhood basis. Not implemented citywide without proper consideration, consultation, and planning.
  • It is premature to be changing zoning before the work is completed on the Vancouver Plan based on the neighbourhood context, which should consider factors like location, form of development, and the impacts on existing businesses.

Have existing C2 zoned businesses and BIAs in neighbourhood centres been consulted? Businesses in C2 zones in all neighbourhoods citywide are struggling to stay alive and this would add more competition for them. Will they survive? Will there be any reason for people to walk the extra blocks to the main neighbourhood shopping area if they can get many of their needs closer to home?  

Next, look at page 8 of the report, mid-page. Quote: 

The proposed change would revise the following five variants of associated dwelling use and streamline them into one: “Dwelling Units in conjunction with a Neighbourhood Grocery Store” (similar to that used in the RM-3, 3, 3A, 4 and 5 zones, but without the date limitation).

CityHallWatch comment: This sets the potential for apartment zoning in the form of RM-3, 3, 3A, 4 and 5 zones into RS and RT zones.

  • No mention is made of location requirements that stores be on a corner. No mention is made of distance between them, or the restrictions on the ability to consolidate lots.
  • The staff proposal has no requirement for stores to be a conversion of an existing building (which is as currently required) and allows stores to be part of new developments.

Next, we flag page 9, quoted below in italics. 

CityHallWatch comment: Staff are proposing that consultation with the public should be done AFTER the change of zoning. That is completely backwards. Consultation should come first, before text amendments to by-laws and regulations.

Expansion of commercial uses beyond groceries:

Phase 2: Near-term Opportunities – Small-scale Neighbourhood Commercial in Existing Buildings (Q4 2020 – Q3 2021)

  1. Exploration of current non-conforming commercial uses in residential-zoned areas – and testing acceptability of these uses in neighbourhoods.
  2. Testing of further revisions to the neighbourhood grocery store definition – and particular consideration of (1) alcohol sales in conjunction with the sale of prepared foods; (2) on-site farm stand sales in conjunction with local farms.
  3. Consideration of other non-commercial uses to support social and cultural objectives – e.g. use of space for non-profits, cultural associations, galleries, etc.
  4. Review of known deactivated commercial sites, and an assessment of the potential for agreed-upon “neighbourhood serving” uses to take place in these sites.
  5. Assessment of other policy, zoning and licensing changes to support small-scale neighbourhood commercial uses.

New Forms of Commercial and Residential Development:

Phase 3: Exploring New Small-scale Neighbourhood Commercial Typologies (Anticipated to start in 2021)

  1. Exploration of new building typologies and configurations for delivering small-scale neighbourhood serving commercial uses in residential areas – along with related opportunities for housing and amenities.
  2. Assessment of other interventions that could further enhance the area around small-scale neighbourhood commercial buildings – e.g. placemaking and public space opportunities, street use, etc.
  3. Identification of other programmatic or regulatory changes to support new and existing neighbourhood-serving commercial uses in residential areas.

Engagement activities during these subsequent phases of work will involve outreach to community members, business and property owners, and relevant stakeholders (including City Advisory Committees, business associations, food security and heritage organizations). Related work will also support the Council motion of October 6, 2020, directing staff to “consider ways or forums to enable enhanced involvement and leadership of Council on a limited number of issues especially related to ‘complete communities’ … that could result in “quick start” actions or pilot projects, including: … corner grocery stores and food-friendly neighbourhoods.”



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