(Update: The speakers list and correspondence closed for the Public Hearing on ‘Streamlining Rental’ on November 9, 2021, and the final vote by Council will be done during a Regular Council meeting on Tuesday, November 16,2021.)
We are publishing this letter to Vancouver City Council with the author’s permission. It relates to the Public Hearing of 2-Nov-2021 on the title of “Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas – Amendments to the C-2, C 2B, C-2C and C-2C1 Zones and Creation of New Rental Zones for Use in Future Rezoning Applications in Surrounding Low Density Areas Under the Secured Rental Policy.” Christina DeMarco knows what she’s talking about. She is the former lead planner for the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and prior to working with for the Metro Vancouver Regional District she worked for the City of Vancouver where among other things she worked on the overall city-wide plan. She is currently an instructor of urban planning at Simon Fraser University. The Public Hearing agenda and documents are here, as well as instructions on how to write or speak to Council on this topic. Time is of the essence.
Dear City of Vancouver Mayor and Council,
Re Streamlining Rental Housing Around Local Shopping Areas – November 2, 2021 Public Hearing
Imagine the outcry if our elected representatives declared that only citizens in selected neighbourhoods in the City could be vaccinated against COVID-19? This is an analogy for the underlying principle of staff’s proposal. The neighbourhoods which have plans in place or a plan process underway have been granted immunity against the proposed spot rezoning virus.
The rest of the neighbourhoods who do not have a current plan in place, through no fault of their own, could become future victims of the spot rezoning virus. Yes, we have a housing crisis and yes, we often have to accept suboptimal solutions. David Eby is fond of saying “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good”, which is wise advice. But is this proposal good enough or will it cause more harm than good?
The pro-supply folks mean well- they think any rental supply is good supply. They like to brand us all as anti-change with an entitlement attitude. That is how many of them portrayed South False Creek residents until the residents had a chance to explain themselves to all of us- the residents demonstrated that they care deeply about their community, they are not anti-change, nor are they anti-density. They are just asking for a fair, sustainable and neighbourly plan, along with a transparent planning process.
That is what we are asking for as well, across the City in all the “un-vaccinated” neighbourhoods impacted by this proposal. Please take the time to put neighbourhood plans in place that provide a full spectrum of housing choices, including assisted housing and ground-oriented housing, figure out what school, social service, park and utility infrastructure is needed to support the increased densities, and also create solutions to save our ailing neighbourhood shopping areas. That is sound planning, and we know how to do it in Vancouver.
The staff report estimates that about 400 units a year would be built under this program. You can complete at least two neighbourhood plans in two years- there are ways to do these plans much quicker than in the past. The consequences of the 2-year time frame would be at the most 800 units not built.
But in exchange you would engage rather than enrage neighbourhoods, you would advance the principles you adopted in Vancouver Plan, and your citizens would help find solutions to add much more housing choice in a planned way.
To keep this note brief, I have listed below additional serious social justice and environmental flaws in this proposal.
Christina DeMarco October 31, 2021
Here are a few of the many key facts that make the current proposal unacceptable:
- Pitting neighbours against neighbours: We care about our neighbourhoods and our neighbours. Those living on arterial roads will sell out (at a premium) to the aggressive land assemblers for fear of having a 6-storey building beside them or across the street. The new buildings on arterials, in turn, will sadly cause negative consequences for their long-time neighbours/friends who are impacted by the loss of sunlight, loss of trees and green space created by the unimaginative 6-storey blocks occupying virtually the entire lot. Those currently living in the secondary suites and shared housing will not be able to afford the apartments in the new buildings, even at the below-market rental rates.
- A 5-fold density increase in the absence of an overall plan is far too aggressive: The proposed density increase on arterials is 5 times current densities- from 0.6 FSR in RS areas to 3 FSR. By comparison, arterial road housing programs adopted in other cities are often less than 2 times the current densities.
- More neighbourly, sustainable projects on arterials are banned under this proposal: You may recall this project pictured below received your unanimous support on July 28, 2020. The 6031 Dunbar Street project (on an arterial road) created 9 rental units on a single lot and fit well into the neighbourhood at 1.13 FSR, about double current densities. No intensive carbon-producing below grade parking structure was needed- simply 4 spaces at grade. This form of development is not allowed on arterial roads under the current staff proposal because all buildings must be a minimum of 4 storeys. (See Table 2, Page 9 of staff report.)
- The map delineating development areas is simply unfair and arbitrary. A basic test of equity is equal treatment of equals which is not upheld in delineating the development areas. Staff used an arbitrary 400 metres from local shops to draw the lines, ignoring terrain and ignoring the actual walking catchments to the neighbourhood shops. Why, for example, are 4th and 16th Avenues near the Point Grey shops treated differently than points further east on these arterials? (See Map on Page 6 of the staff report.)
- Underground parking structures undermine affordability and climate goals. Underground parking garages will accompany most of these projects and can eat up as much as 20% of total building costs- wiping out the affordability advantage of the City’s CAC exemptions and undermining affordable rents. The greenhouse gases created by using vast quantities of cement in construction seriously weakens the best of green building intentions/regulations.