A New Governance for Vancouver

Popular civic commentator and activist Jak King posted his comments on revisions proposed by City staff regarding random ballot order in Vancouver elections. On January 19, 2021, Council approved the staff recommendations in the “Report Back on the Random Order Ballot Model Used in the 2018 Vancouver Election,” but we reblog Jak’s post here as he brings up many good points for future consideration. We also recommend Jak’s new book, “Battleground: Grandview,” which you can read about and order on his blog.
Link to Council meeting – https://council.vancouver.ca/20210119/regu20210119ag.htm

Jak's View of Vancouver v.3

Vancouver City Council is today debating a report on civic elections and ballots. It seems a good time to revive my New Governance Model for Vancouver. The changes that we need are radical both in terms of policy and the form of governance under which those policies are pursued. This essay is a reworking of my thoughts on those subjects.

Structure:

Vancouver is currently governed under a weak-Mayor system, with a Mayor and 10 Councillors elected at-large. Less than 40% bother to vote even though the municipal government controls much of how we live on a day-to-day basis. It has proven itself to be a system far too open to big-money, big union, ideological, and other influences that many consider malign in an electoral context. I would scrap the current system and rebuild it from scratch.

First, I would eliminate political parties from the municipal realm, I would eliminate the…

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WeLoveKits requests Council to give one month before rezoning referral on 3084 W4th and 2010 Balaclava (Council 19-Jan-2021)

[Follow-up statement 20-Jan-2021 from WeLoveKits: Unfortunately, Council has voted against a motion to give us a 30-day window to continue discussions with the developer, by a narrow vote of 6-5. The motion to defer the report was moved by Cllr. Hardwick and supported by Cllrs. Carr, Swanson, Bligh, and Kirby-Yung, and we thank each and every councillor for their support. The staff report will therefore go to public hearing. While we would have preferred to continue productive talks with the developer, we are also encouraged by the many councillors who supported us. We therefore are issuing a public call for those who wish to join us at public hearing to stand against this development. If interested, please join our mailing list at www.WeLoveKits.org. ]

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We are publishing this letter to Council with permission from the We Love Kits group. It appears there are positive and good-faith discussions underway between the developer and the community. A City Council decision to allow one more month would likely create good will on all sides and restore a bit of trust in City Hall, including the City’s planners and rezoning department.

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January 17, 2021

Mayor Stewart and Councillors City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 1V4

RE: Request To Defer Agenda Item 6. Referral Report Cd-1 Rezoning: 3084 W 4th Ave & 2010 Balaclava Street From Jan 19, 2021 Meeting To Feb 23, 2021 Meeting

Dear Mayor & Council,

We are requesting deferral of Agenda Item 6. Referral Report CD-1 Rezoning: 3084 W 4th Ave & 2010 Balaclava St. from the Council Meeting agenda on January 19, 2021.

WeLoveKits is a community organization that has gathered a petition of 623 renters and home owners based in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC. Collectively, we oppose the current rezoning application for 3084 W 4th Ave & 2010 Balaclava Street.

Over the past year, WeLoveKits has made many efforts to work with City staff and the applicant to explore alternate forms of secured rental housing. Recently, the applicant has expressed a willingness to explore new options for the site that could create innovative forms of “missing middle” secured rental housing. The applicant, James Evans, has experience with innovative missing middle projects throughout the region. The site owners, the Miller family, have owned this property since the 1970s and wish to do a new rental project to replace their existing, aging rental housing project.

So far, a possible solution that has emerged through our neighbourhood collaboration is a secured rental project that is about 50 percent more dense than the current zoning allows, at approximately 2FSR. The building design is both more neighbourly and more environmentally- friendly, and alleviates problems of overlooking and shadowing. While this collaboration has shown great progress, a deferral will give time for the community representatives from WeLoveKits and the West Kits Residents Association, and others, to continue productive discussions with the applicant.

We also note that the present application does not meet Council-adopted MIRHPP guidelines. The MIRHPP guidelines state that a 6-storey building could be considered on an arterial in a RM-4 zone if the site has “a low number of existing tenants – buildings with a maximum of 3

existing rental units” (See attachment, Section 3g). This site has 6 existing rental units and 13 tenants and clearly violates this guideline.

For background, we have attached to this letter relevant information about the project, including our main points of concern with the current rezoning application.

Contentious projects that do not have public support create conflict and mistrust in our communities. Please allow the community the opportunity to continue to collaborate to find an innovative form of “missing middle” secured rental housing that is suitable for the site.

While we do not wish undue delay to the applicant, we believe that a deferral in this case has a better chance to produce a winning solution for our community, the property owners, and for the City.

Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to email me at info@WeLoveKits.org.

Kind Regards,

Cameron Zubko Founder and Neighbour WeLoveKits

Cc: Paul Mochrie, Acting City Manager
Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability Theresa O’Donnell, Deputy Director of Current Planning
Yardley McNeill, Senior Planner
Susan Haid, Deputy Director, Long Range and Strategic Planning Dan Garrison, Assistant Director, Housing Policy

Full document below, with attachment and images
WeLoveKits Letter to Mayor and Council Jan 17 2021 Continue reading

Vancouver’s Code of Conduct Policy: Proposed changes need further review and revisions to better include staff accountability

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, with the first item on the agenda (“The Code of Conduct for Council Members and Advisory Board Members”), Vancouver City Council will be looking at and deciding what to do with staff recommendations to change the City’s Code of Conduct Bylaw. 

The new text developed by staff for the Code of Conduct Bylaw proposes to only cover Council and advisory bodies and NOT to cover City staff. 

LINKS

It is important to note that the existing policy covers Council, advisory bodies, and staff.

The staff-proposed changes if approved would mean that City staff would not be held to an improved level of accountability or integrity. As the recommendation goes, a newly proposed role of Integrity Commissioner would not deal with complaints about staff. Staff would continue to deal with complaints internally through the human resources department, or possibly just through senior staff such as the City Manager.

We take the view that all complaints about senior staff, including the City Manager, should go to the Integrity Commissioner. Complaints about other staff, such as General Managers and Planners, should also have the potential to be appealed to the Integrity Commissioner.

As it currently reads, this new bylaw text appears to have been drafted for the benefit of staff, imposing a lower level of accountability on them, while increasing controls on City Council and its advisory bodies. Continue reading

Council and Park Board Preview Jan 18-21: Civic election changes, Park Board “Aquatics” strategy, Code of Conduct for Advisory Panels, corner stores, and more

The week of January 18, 2021, one Park Board meeting, two Council meetings and two Public Hearings are scheduled.

Below is a quick preview of items that grab our attention. We may add more comments and links later. Further below are the actual agendas of the meetings as of Thursday the prior week. Please go to the official links for the up-to-date agendas.

The Regular Park Board meeting of Monday, January 18th will review a staff presentation on the Vancouver Aquatics Strategy, which may shed more light on the future plans for both indoor and outdoor pools. There’s also a Climate Emergency Response report and the usual General Manager’s Report on the response to the ongoing pandemic.

The Regular City Council Meeting for Tuesday, January 19th includes a report with staff-initiated recommendations about the civic election. It is very important. Changes would include lengthening the start of the nomination period to 87 days and increasing the number signatures for Council and Mayoral candidate nomination forms. The report also recommends keeping the random ballot order used in 2018 (for more details, see our post on this topic here). Some changes can be done unilaterally by Council vote, but others require a process of asking the provincial government to amend the Vancouver Charter. Some Councillors may be inspired to propose amendments for wards and proportional representation, etc.. CityHallWatch believes that any significant changes to Vancouver’s election system should involve prior public consultation and even a referendum of some form.

A presentation on the 2021 Assessment Roll will provide more details about the changes in property values in Vancouver. Cultural grants for 2021 and the DTES Special Enterprise Pilot Project reports will be reviewed (both require 2/3 majority vote). There is a report for subdividing 7520 Balaclava Street near the Fraser River in the ALR for single-family lots, a move that staff are not recommending go forward. It is extremely rare to see City staff not recommending that developments go ahead, so this one is worth studying. A number of amendments to guidelines and policies are recommended.

A total of 7 referral reports have been included, meaning that City staff are recommending Council move the items ahead to Public Hearings. Once something gets on the conveyor belt to a Public Hearing it is extremely rare for any significant changes to happen to the application, so if you or your community have concerns about any items, the best time to raise them for Council discussion is now, before Council votes on the referral.

Among the recommended referrals to advance to Public Hearing:

  • Rezoning of an 11-storey tower in Chinatown at 728-796 Main Street (the Brickhouse site at Union).
  • Rezoning for a 9-storey tower at 1766 Frances Street in a location where the City’s community plan allows for 6-storeys.
  • Rezoning at 1015 East Hastings, a proposal that has segregated entrances and elevators for market and affordable housing components in a proposed 14-storey building, beside a railway corridor.
  • A proposal at 3084 West 4th Avenue and Balaclava for a 6-storey building on a small lot. We are hearing that it may be premature to send this to a Public Hearing already, and more time may be needed to look at options.

Councillor DeGenova will introduce a motion on notice called Turning the Key: Encouraging Affordable Home Ownership in the City of Vancouver while Councillor Wiebe is bringing forward A Community Safety and Well being Framework motion.

The first Public Hearing of the week is on Tuesday, January 19th, beginning at 6pm, and considering four items:

  • A proposal for 810 Kingsway with 108 market rental units in a 6-storey building and a FSR of 3.65 will be considered.
  • A 6-storey building at 2246-2268 East Broadway with 57 strata units. A CAC of $730,568 is proposed, but staff would sequester it for future allocation.
  • At 441-475 West 42nd Avenue, an 18-storey tower is proposed with a total of 124 rental units (189ft / 57.7m, 6.7 FSR, 43 parking spots, MIRHP program).
  • At 5740 Cambie Street, a 27-storey strata tower is proposed (133 units) and a 14-storey rental tower (80 units). Commercial uses are planned at grade along with office space in a 4-storey podium. A total of 283 parking spaces would be included. A non-profit organization (NPO) hub space (14,500 sq. ft.) valued at $12 million would be provided turn-key to the City as CAC.

The City Finance and Services committee meeting for Wednesday, January 20th begins with a proposed Code of Conduct that would apply to members of Council and Advisory Board Members (the existing Code of Conduct would continue to apply to staff). It’s worth noting that the proposed Code of Conduct could potentially muzzle members of Advisory Boards and place limitations on City Councillors on their work (for example, by having interactions with staff go through the City Manager). To enforce this proposed new code of conduct, staff are recommending hiring an Integrity Commissioner on retainer. This is a very important topic. See our post on this topic here: Vancouver’s Code of Conduct Policy: Proposed changes need further review and revisions to better include staff accountability.

Motions on notice for improved street lighting and protecting people with mobility issues when elevators break down, will be heard. Contracts for excavation and for a sewage and rainwater management plan will be considered.

The second Public Hearing of the week is set to start at 6pm on Thursday, January 21. Some very important items are up for decisions, and again we point out that the titles of the items do not represent the significance of what is being proposed, so you need to read the documents to grasp the import.

On the first item, entitled “Employment Lands and Economy Review Quick Start Actions: Mount Pleasant I-1 Amendment and New I-1C District Schedule,” staff would like Council to amend the Industrial Zoning on the south side of 2nd Avenue in Mount Pleasant (between Quebec and Yukon St) to allow for a greater heights and density. Specifically, heights of 152.5 ft / 46.5m (which could translate to about 15 storeys in height) and a doubling of the allowed density to a FSR of 6 is recommended. CityHallWatch notes that there was no public consultation process done at all for these specific changes, and it is not really clear where the proposals originated from. There could be significant impacts on the streetscape, as the following photos show the differences between 2nd and 1st Avenue (photos at 9am on January 13th). It’s not too difficult to imagine the impact that higher buildings on the south side (left side of the photos) of 2nd Avenue would have on solar access.

The second item on the Public Hearing agenda is a proposal to allow more flexibility in the ground floor uses in the DTES Oppenheimer District ODP. This would concern allowing community services in storefronts.

Third item, staff are looking at making amendments to the Artist Live Work studios by taking out a number of restrictions in a number of industrial zones across the City. Regarding such proposed changes, there may be impacts on land lift. It’s also sometimes difficult to enforce that artist live work units are actually used by artists and not as general residential. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to tighten up definitions and to have some bylaw enforcement on artist live work spaces, in order to ensure that these units are used for the intended purpose.

The fourth and final item on the Public Hearing agenda concerns expanding “neighbourhood” stores in residential areas. The proposed changes appear to be striking down limitations that restrict or prevent the construction of new “corner” stores. However, it is not really clear what kinds of practical limits would be put in place to govern what kinds of stores are built in the future and where they can go (as opposed to mid-sized supermarkets, chain stores with high commercial ceilings). Expanding the number of friendly neighbourhood “corner stores” may seem like a positive idea, but much depends on the actual details. We sense that there is not enough information in the documentation, and neither Council nor the public have enough to go on here. Have a close look at the specific wording and use of the words “corner store” in the general description, but “neighbourhood store” in the actual bylaw text being proposed by City staff. In one interpretation, this bylaw if approved could mean mixed residential + commercial buildings several storeys high could be given nearly blanket approval in residential areas across Vancouver, far from actual street corner lots. See additional background about this topic in our previous post:
Heads up! Under guise of ‘support for neighbourhood grocery stores’ City staff propose new commercial developments in residential zones (Council agenda 24-Nov-2020).

For reference, the meeting agendas have been reproduced below:

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Council to consider important civic election topics (Jan 19): Random ballot order, longer candidate nomination period, more nominator signatures, and more

There is an important item entitled “Report Back on the Random Order Ballot Model Used in the 2018 Vancouver Election” on the agenda for the  January 19, 2021 City Council meeting (Tuesday), being held online.

Citizens wishing to speak to Council on this report can sign up and speak to this item, before 8:30am of Tuesday January 19th.

It is worth a careful read. Spoiler alert: On the topic of the random ordering of candidate names on the ballot, staff recommend continuing this practice in 2022, and provide the rationale. So far so good.

But there is much more. The staff recommendations in the 96-page staff report cover MUCH more than the title implies and go well beyond what Council originally requested. The report title should really include the words “Proposed Civic Election Reforms.” In fact, as a side note, we have often noted that the City’s naming of policies and reports merits greater scrutiny. Perhaps a new City Manager could ensure the clerks use more explanatory descriptions for reports, etc. This is a communication and transparency issue.

One recommendation by staff in the report is to change the length of the candidate nomination period by starting it 87 days prior to election day (up from the current 36 days). The next civic election (for all of British Columbia, Vancouver included) is set for October 15, 2022, so this change if approved would mean that the start of the nomination period for candidates would be July 20, 2022.

Other recommendations by staff are to increase the number of signatures required for a nomination to 75 for Councillors and 100 for Mayoral Candidates, while keeping Park Board and School Board at the current level of 25 signatures of qualified electors.

Proposals such as these could have many implications and merit some public attention.

In the 2018 municipal election, a total of 21 candidates ran for Mayor, 71 candidates for for City Councillor (for 10 seats), 33 candidates for Park Board Commissioner (7 seats) and there were 33 candidates for School Board Trustee (9 seats). The ballot also included three referendum questions about authorizing the City to borrow for the capital plan.

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Charleson Park views

The photographs show views from Charleson Park in 1999 and 2021. Here is some food for thought: Without any view protection policies, how much of the North Shore Mountains would be visible today from the park?

The photo from 1999 can be found on Page 37 of the City’s Southeast False Creek Policy Statement. The other photos were taken on January 9, 2021.

While some of the view protections have been whittled away over time, most notably in 2011 and 2013, it’s important to note the role that some of the remaining view protections play in keeping public mountain views. The City’s policy of defining ‘view cones’ from specific locations do much more than preserving a part of the mountain view from that given location. These defined view cones can protect a multitude of views from a number of other locations. Continue reading

6-storey proposal at Victoria and East 11th: Virtual Open House January 11-31

A new rezoning application for a 6-storey building is being considered for the northwest corner of Victoria Drive and East 11th Avenue. Currently there are 8 houses on this lot assembly. The rezoning includes the heritage preservation of a single 4-storey home. A total of 136 market rental units are being proposed, with a height of 65 ft. (19.8m) and a Floor Space Ratio of 2.89. A Virtual Open House will take between January 11th and 31st, 2021 to gather public feedback on this proposal.

A previously-approved rezoning for this same site had an 11-storey tower along with a 5-storey podium. That rezoning had 136 units with 72 rentals and 66 strata, a FSR of 3.59, and a height of 34.7m (114 ft). It also included the Heritage Retention component. A total of 116 underground parking spaces had been approved. The new rezoning only has 43 parking spaces, so an open question is if that might be a little too low for the actual number needed, regardless of the proximity of the Commercial-Broadway Skytrain station.

The applicant has changed to Intracorp, the previous design was done by Perkins+Will.

This rezoning doesn’t quite meet the criteria for the site set forth in the City’s Grandview-Woodland Community Plan. The area of the 6th floor, which is partly above 60 feet, has an area of around 13,814 sq. ft. (1,283 m2). The policy in the plan, in section 6.7.2 (Station Residential) is as follows:

“The portion of any building above 18.3 m (60 ft.) in height should not exceed a typical floor plate of 603.9 m2 (6,500 ft.2)

Perhaps a better way to frame this application, for the City Planners, would be to say that they see it meeting most of the policies in their plan, apart from the floorplate size on the 6th floor, and they see merit in bringing in forward, and then to state their reasons (all rental, Heritage Retention, and so on). The planner assigned to this project is Kent MacDougall. Mr. MacDougall was also the planner on a nearby rezoning of 1649 East Broadway. Just as with this rezoning at 11th and Victoria, the floorplate on the 6th floor exceeded the allowed maximum in the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan in that project as well. Perhaps more clarity could be in order when a proposal doesn’t meet all of the policies in the plan.

Compared to the previous rezoning, many aspects of the new project are significant improvements, with more rental units, far less impact in height (6-storeys / 65ft) and the rezoning still has the preservation of a heritage house. There is also the preservation of a few large trees on the site. Further information about this proposal and the upcoming open house can be found in the following link:

Current rezoning: https://shapeyourcity.ca/1837-e-11-ave-and-2361-victoria-dr
Previous rezoning: https://rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/1837-1849e11th/index.htm

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A look at the Laurel Street Landbridge

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The Laurel Street Landbridge is a convenient pedestrian and cyclist connector between the Fairview Slopes and Charleson Park. While in some ways this landbridge is a relic from the 70s, perhaps a question to ponder is would the City build something similar to this structure today? For reference, we’ve included several photos of the Laurel Street Landbridge. This structure provides a continuously landscaped corridor over West 6th Avenue and the currently unused railway and streetcar line.

Storing heritage

Heritage house on West 1st Avenue, just beside Hinge Park (Columbia Street)

There’s a parking lot off West 1st Avenue that has been used to store a few heritage homes. It appears that one of the heritage homes has been on the move, and the parking lot currently is now storing a single home.

May 2020 (this heritage house has since been moved)

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CACs at 201 West 2nd Avenue (1768 Cook). A Case Study. Should time limits apply for CD-1 enactment?

The 18-storey tower currently under construction at 201 West 2nd Avenue (1768 Cook) is on a property that has been rezoned a number of times over the years. This case study will examine the amount of Community Amenity Contributions that were paid out in total and compare this to the total amount of land lift. One interesting detail about the last time the zoning was changed for the property is it occurred while the construction of a 17-storey tower was already well underway. The applicant requested another storey and an additional 11,197 sq ft (1,040 sq m) of space. The requested increases in height and density were approved by Council at a Public Hearing on March 12, 2019.

The first rezoning to CD-1 for this site was held back on October 17, 2006. At that time, a Community Amenity Contribution of $2,308,916 was determined for this rezoning from industrial to residential uses. The CAC was calculated at a rate of $11.50 per sq. ft. to be used to “achieve 20% affordable housing the SEFC Private Lands” as written in the Policy Report. The CD-1 bylaw was enacted 8 years later, on September 30, 2014. In that time, the value of the land went up from $17,298,000 (2006) to $27,498,000 (2014). No adjustments were made in CACs. In 2015 and 2016, there were two subsequent text amendments to the CD-1 to allow for more FSR exclusions for larger balconies and for a few housekeeping changes, and staff did not request more CACs. The last text amendment to the property was heard at a Public Hearing on March 12, 2019. The value of land was at the time $100,172,000 (2019). In exchange for the extra height and density, a CAC of $5,139,652 was negotiated. Thus, a total of $7,448,568 in Community Amenity Contributions were received, based on values determined in Public Hearings in 2006 and in 2019.

The value of the land went up by $82,874,000 from 2006 to 2019. If the City tried to capture 75% of the land lift in CAC, then that would have amounted to $62,155,500 (vs. the actual collected $7,448,568 CAC). The final amended CD-1 allowed for a height of 53.25 m (174.6 ft.) with an area of 19,693 sq. m (211,968.0 sq. ft.).

The City has negotiated varying CAC values for different rezonings in Southeast False Creek (SEFC). For example, a rate of $49.25 / square foot resulted in $19.48 million CAC for the nearby 105-167 West 2nd Avenue rezoning. Applying this rate to the 211,968.0 sq. ft. would have resulted in $10,439,424 in CAC for 1768 Cook Street. There’s a question of whether the City has collected less CAC for this property at 1768 Cook than it could have, and if there was any mismanagement in this area. It’s also worth noting that while the final $5,139,652 CAC was indeed paid out to the City, these funds have been sequestered and still have yet to be allocated. Allocating the funds at the time of the Public Hearing would have made it much more certain that the CACs will create public benefit in a timely manner, when compared to the funds just sitting in the City’s coffers.

In the case of this development, there was an 8 year span of time between the initial Public Hearing and the enactment of the CD-1 bylaw. The CACs are only paid out at the time of the enactment (when the change in zoning occurs). Thus, the initial $2,308,916 in CAC was only delivered in 2014 after an 8 year wait.

One possible way that the City could encourage prompt CAC delivery is to set a time limit for the enactment to take place in, or else the approval at the Public Hearing becomes null and void. The City actually did this before. many decades ago, where an enactment had to be completed within 180 days. Perhaps Council could consider time limits for enactments, for example, to require that an enactment take place within a year or two of an approval at Public Hearing. There’s of course an entire discussion about the role that CACs play in funding public benefits.

As a record of the land values for 201 West 2nd Avenue / 1768 Cook Street, we’ve collected the data going back to 1998. There was a significant policy change with the Southeast False Creek Official Development Plan (SEFC ODP) which was originally passed in 2005. There was also lead-up to that policy change which anticipated the ODP. There have been subsequent amendments to this Official Development Plan. An ODP, unlike a ‘Community Plan’ is a binding document with clear values for height, density and permitted uses. There is flexibility by Council to amend an ODP.

Year by year property values (except for 2018):

Year     Land Value (1768 Cook Street)

2021    84,650,000
2020    89,940,000
2019    100,172,000  Public Hearing (March 12, 2019)
2017    57,794,000
2016    41,070,000
2015    32,696,000
2014    27,498,000 (CD-1 enacted)
2013    24,345,000
2012    26,293,000
2011    23,360,000
2010    24,018,000
2009    24,964,000
2008    27,561,000
2007    24,166,000
2006    17,298,000 (first Public Hearing, Oct 17, 2006)
2005    7,703,000
2004    2,830,000
2003    2,830,000
2002    2,830,000
2001    2,830,000
2000    2,830,000
1999    2,830,000
1998    2,661,000

Links

Policy report, Public Hearing Feb 12, 2019:https://council.vancouver.ca/20190212/documents/p4.pdf
Policy report, Public Hearing Nov 15, 2016 https://council.vancouver.ca/20161115/documents/p5.pdf
Policy report, Public Hearing Sept 29, 2015 https://council.vancouver.ca/20150929/documents/p5.pdf
Policy report: Public Hearing Oct 17, 2006: https://council.vancouver.ca/20061017/documents/ph4.pdf
The unit count went from 190 (2006) to 250 (2019) over the course of a few CD-1 text amendments.
CD-1(582):https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca//CD-1(582).pdf
SEFC Policy Statement: https://vancouver.ca/docs/sefc/policy-statement-1999.pdf
SEFC Financial Plan: https://council.vancouver.ca/20060119/documents/csb2.pdf
SEFC Public Hearing Feb 1, 2005: https://council.vancouver.ca/20050201/ph20050201.htm
BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (2014): Community Amenity Contributions: Balancing Community Planning, Public Benefits and Housing Affordability

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