Retail gentrification: Do new developments favour chain stores?

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The slideshow shows three recently-completed developments with 6-storey buildings. The new occupants of the retail space mostly appear to be chain stores and medical clinics. In areas with a rich tapestry of local stores and services, is it only chain stores and medical clinics that compete for the new space? Could smaller storefronts, with narrow frontages (for example 25 feet or just a bit more) encourage a wider range of services and more appeal and variety of the street front? What are the effects of high ceilings on the ground floor — in terms of building costs, rent costs, look, feel and ambiance? Are business improvement associations (BIAs, which often speak up at Public Hearings to endorse rezoning and development applications) talking to their existing members to get input on what kinds of developments/buildings will help them survive and thrive? How can the City and developers ensure that small shops and businesses (traditional and startups both) survive and thrive when existing commercial sites are demolished and redeveloped? Or does the appearance of a development application sign in front of a building automatically and inevitably mean the death knell for those existing shops and businesses that add so much to the feel, culture and richness of — and love for — a neighbourhood? These are things for everyone to consider, not the least being our planners and elected officials.

Geographic distribution of hotels purchased for social housing

We’ve created this simple map that plots the geographic location of hotels and other buildings that were purchased by the BC government. In an article from the CBC, reporter Justin McElroy tabulated the purchase prices for the hotels and other buildings that were purchased to provide housing for people without homes. In total, the purchase price was around $250 million for approximately 750 beds. It might be worth noting that not a single building purchased is on the west side of Vancouver. The map shows that these new facilities are clustered around Strathcona, the downtown peninsula and along the Kingsway corridor.


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Public Art: The Proud Youth

The Proud Youth is one of the installations in the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum. The piece is located on the Yaletown seawall along Drake Street. We’ve included a few photos for reference. Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit charitable organization that “exhibits great art in public space, creating a catalyst for learning, community engagement, dialogue, and social action,” with a mission “to make Public Art accessible, engaging, and motivating to create vibrant and inspired communities” (more information here https://www.vancouverbiennale.com). A heartfelt thank you to Vancouver Biennale!

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International Noise Awareness Day, April 28: SILENCE! Today at 2:15 pm for one minute

Preamble: Many Vancouverites love their right to quiet. Surprise! Today is the 26th Annual International Noise Awareness Day! See press release from the Right to Quiet Society below.

Over the years, CityHallWatch has covered the issues of noise vs quiet a number of times. From the media you can clearly see that residents do love their quiet and have various concerns about various noise sources (traffic, parties, boats on the water, amplifiers and buskers, loud cars/trucks/motorcycles, leaf blowers, and more). We know that people do pay attention to the sound environment. Just yesterday, social media were ablaze within seconds after they heard two CF-18 fighter jets fly over Vancouver (see CBC article). More and more scientific research is coming out about the human health benefits of quiet and the ability to have access to natural sounds. And about the need for quiet for all forms of wildlife, even insects to survive and thrive in their ecosystems and lifecycles.

One of CityHallWatch‘s key issues is construction noise (e.g., “Demolition and construction impacts” and our “Demolition and Construction Impacts“) — just search for “noise” in our search tool. The city has the noise bylaw, but developers and construction sites often seem to get a free pass in terms of hours and decibels (see our YouTube video – Westbank project breaks 100 db. Warning – turn down your volume!). If we have one wish this year, it would be for the City of Vancouver to engage in serious discussions with the Urban Development Institute (industry lobby group) to look at how to reduce construction noise. In Japan, some construction sites have a public-facing noise meter on site, which makes it very transparent how much noise a site is producing, and real-time tracking via a website. (Potential opportunity for an app builder). We’d love to see that requirement for major projects in Metro Vancouver, with meters posted close to the machines. How about ratings for quiet neighbourhoods? Or a map of the best places to hear nature without human-caused disturbances? For noise affecting aquatic live, how about a hydrophone placed in English Bay with a real time meter online? If citizens become more aware of their right to quiet, improvements can be made. Tip: Your app store has many free noise meters for you to choose from.

Below is a press release from the B.C.-based Right to Quiet Society (quiet.org). Vancouver’s Elvira Lount is one of the directors. The website has many excellent resources for people who want to get involved and learn more. See bottom of this post for some links to the City of Vancouver relating to noise.

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Right to Quiet is proud to join participants around the world in celebrating the 26th Annual International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) on April 28, 2021. INAD has publicized the effects of harmful noise on hearing, health and quality of life since 1996. Partners promote this common goal through educational, legislative and social media initiatives, which include observing one full minute of silence at 2:15 p.m. in their local time zone (https://noiseawareness.org).

Another awareness needs attention. Taking its cue from renowned Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, the Society for Soundscape Awareness and Protection (SSAP) was founded in 1982; the name Right to Quiet emerged later. Solely supported by members, we have distributed hundreds of books and teaching packs to libraries and schools across British Columbia. Our efforts have led municipal and provincial authorities to establish quiet zones and ecological reserves designated free of anthropogenic noise, and progressive legislation such as construction-free Sundays and “quiet beach” policies in Metro Vancouver. These initiatives have influenced other Canadian jurisdictions to introduce similar policies.

Calls for help come from far and wide. They include unnecessary motor vehicle noise and various marine vessel noise issues affecting people across North America. The latter often involve overlap of multiple jurisdictions, which significantly complicates finding solutions.

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It’s time for Vancouver to pause and pivot: Urban design and livability are an important part of sustainability, should not be sacrificed for expediency (Opinion by Elizabeth Murphy)

Captain George Vancouver outdoor statue by Italian-born artist Charles Marega, on north side of Vancouver City Hall. Photo: CityHallWatch

Preamble: This piece first appeared in the Vancouver Sun on August 22, 2020. CityHallWatch checked with Elizabeth Murphy and confirmed that her comments are still just as relevant as ever, now in April 2021. We publish it below with the author’s permission. We encourage readers who are in agreement with the points raised to bring them up in ongoing public consultations and surveys, and in communications with elected officials and City staff.

Many surveys are under way right now by the City of Vancouver (see “Shape Your City,” to name a few: Broadway Plan, Vancouver Plan, Complete Connected Neighbourhoods, Jericho Lands, Planning Vancouver Together (Housing), False Creek South Lands, Replacement of rental in commercial areas, Citywide parking permits, Regulation redesign), Translink (see “Engage Translink” for Transport 2050, and Millennium Line UBC Extension), and Metro Vancouver (consulting now on Metro 2050, aka Regional Growth Strategy, and jointly with Translink on Transport 2050).

Many points raised by Ms. Murphy are absolutely relevant right now, and everything is connected in one way or another. For the public to provide input and vote in an informed way, we need to have a comprehensive view. For policy makers to make good policy, they need correct/accurate/timely information from their staff, and should listen sincerely to an informed populace. We have taken the liberty to bold some of the most salient points below.

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It’s time for Vancouver to pause and pivot

Opinion: Urban design and livability are an important part of sustainability and should not be sacrificed for expediency. 

By Elizabeth Murphy

Vancouver Sun published date: Aug 22, 2020  https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/elizabeth-murphy-its-time-for-vancouver-to-pause-and-pivot

Dr. Bonnie Henry said at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown “this is our time to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe.” In contrast, the City of Vancouver carried on with an all-time record for controversial rezoning public hearings in the month of July [2020], sometimes multiple council meetings in a day, under virtual council with reduced democratic processes through the state of emergency provisions.

Meanwhile, recent data disclosed by city staff show that there has been more new dwellings produced than household growth since 2001, and that there are enough new projects in-application for the next decades of projected population growth to come. This shows there is no legitimate reason for the city’s current rush to rezone without proper planning. July rezonings included the most controversial public hearing for the 28 storeys at Birch and Broadway, with about 1,000 written submissions, including three petitions of thousands in opposition, and multiple days of speakers. 

Another controversial public hearing for rezoning all the C2 zones city-wide went multiple days, including hearing from speakers on a Friday night, which is generally avoided. Thankfully, a majority of council supported Coun. Adrian Carr’s amendment to refer the rezoning report to the Vancouver Plan process.

Rather than just implementing the arbitrary city-wide programs and policies of the previous Vision council that was voted out, it is about time that the new council reconsiders policy based on the new context and a new mandate.

A council-approved motion by Coun. Colleen Hardwick has done exactly that. It directed staff to provide data by July 31 for a recalibration this fall of the current housing targets.

From the data provided by staff, it confirmed the census population growth was about one per cent per year, or 5,500 people. At the census average of 2.2 persons per unit, that is 2,500 units per year or 25,000 units per decade. Compare this to the city’s current housing targets of 72,000 units per decade, at almost three times the actual census population growth rates.Also of interest is the staff admission that the housing targets are aspirational and not a reflection of anticipated population growth. In fact, previous census figures show that there have been more dwelling units than population growth for households, with thousands unoccupied that may be converted to rentals due to taxes and market shifts. Current projects in-application are already enough for decades in further population growth, with over 36,000 units, of which 28,000 are condos. This growth doesn’t include secondary suites, laneway, infill or duplexes. Or any existing zoned capacity.

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Council and Park Board Preview April 26-28th: Electronic and telephone voting motion, Property Tax Exemptions, Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community Led Safety Initiatives

There’s a fairly light week at City Council ahead with just a Regular Council meeting and a Committee meeting scheduled. There is also a Park Board Meeting scheduled for the night of Monday, April 26th. A report on Low Intensity Turf Maintenance is coming back to Park Board along with a report on Mural Installation for Cathedral Square Park.

$3 million tax exemption for 564 Beatty (Reliance Properties)

The Regular Council meeting on Tuesday, April 27th includes a few taxation-related items including shifting the 2021 Main Property Tax payment due date back to its original date (second business day in July) so that it is no longer deferred, as it was in 2020. There’s a report on the distribution of the property tax levy which further details the split between residential and businesses (and the continuing slight shift to residential). A summary of the 2020 Property Tax Exemptions will be reviewed. The City exempts 13% of the assessment roll valued at $50.8 billion from taxes. The exemptions also include $24 million in Heritage Property Exemptions (Reliance Properties received $3 million for 564 Beatty, as well as a tax exemption for Burns Block that was recently sold).

There’s a report on the last year of actions related to Covid-19 recovery. Plus, a number of motions on notice are on the agenda, including an item seeking support for the Formula E World Championship Event. There’s a motion from Councillor Fry to look at using a bike safety index as one consideration in active transportation planning. There’s also a pedestrian safety index component in this motion. Cited studies in the motion suggest that the highest collision risk to cyclists included zones that also rank high in walkability and bikeability scores, thus it would follow that high crash zones could be prioritized. Mayor Stewart seeks to limit 2022 Property tax increases to a maximum of 5%.

Finally, at the Regular Council meeting, there’s a motion on notice from Councillor Wiebe on expanding voting options for municipal elections to include telephone and electronic voting, in a move to attempt to make voting more accessible. This last one deserves a comment due to its vast implications. The motion could be “dead on arrival.” Provincial legislation states that people may not cast a ballot in a local election via the Internet or over the telephone. Currently this is illegal under the Vancouver Charter. There are many reasons for this. Digital voting is insecure since it goes to a third party, is like a black box, could be manipulated, and fails to produce backup documentation for auditing. The Provincial government considered and rejected electronic voting at the provincial level. If it is not good enough for the Province, why would it be good enough for the City? The motion calls for Council to “direct staff to request that the Province amend the Vancouver Charter to provide the required authority for the City to authorize telephone, mail-in and/or online voting in preparation for
the 2022 municipal election understanding that telephone voting is a critical need.” The motion also calls for Council to “direct staff to request that the Province provide the City with the ability to validate voters’ personal information, such as a personal health number, Vancouver Public Library card or other forms of authentication.” We have many concerns about all of this, two of which are protection of personal information, and the fact that VPL cards are not really a solid form of authentication of the level needed for elections. Electronic voting is currently too rife with problems, and many people may question that need for Vancouver to be an outlier in this area. Not worth the risk.

The Council Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 28th only has two items on the agenda.  There’s a report back on next steps for the process to decriminalize poverty and to support community led safety initiatives. This is a response to a motion on notice that had over 400 speakers and it includes $300,000 in funding. The second item on the agenda is a staff report making a recommendation for a consultant for the Granville Bridge Interim Design and North Loops Reconfiguration. The contract would have a value of $2.76 million over a 4-year term, with an option to extend the contract for two one-year terms. The report does not reveal the bids by all of the vendors, it only notes that staff recommend the proposal from Associated Engineering (B.C.) Ltd.

The meeting agendas are reproduced below: Continue reading

Jericho Lands planning program: Online survey ends today (April 25)

Image: Location of Jericho Lands. Credit Google Maps from CoV website

The Jericho Lands is a 36-hectare (90-acre) site located in Vancouver’s West Point Grey neighbourhood and is bound by West 4th Avenue, Highbury Street, West 8th Avenue, and West Point Grey Park.

The Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (collectively the MST Partnership) in 2014 formed a joint-venture partnership with the Canada Lands Company (CLC) to develop three sites across Metro Vancouver, including the 52-acre Jericho Lands East. In 2016 the MST Partnership acquired the adjacent Jericho Lands West property from the BC Government. The Jericho Lands is within the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sə̓lílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

An online survey by the City of Vancouver to guide a policy statement today (April 25) at midnight. Below are some comments and links to related reading. Here is the link to the City’s survey and updates page: https://shapeyourcity.ca/jericho-lands

This is a significant project for many reasons. To name a few, its size, the special partnership of First Nations, the site’s interconnections with planning for the surrounding area, connections with transportation and transit, and its role in housing potentially anywhere from 1,000 to 25,000 more people. Many developers and Translink have an eye on what is going on here, seeing it as a critical piece in their dreams for massive changes as part of a extension to UBC for the Millennium Line from the currently planned Arbutus terminus of the “Broadway Subway.” The section to Arbutus is purportedly expected to start running in 2025.) Translink this week just launched a new consultation on its dream of a subway extension to UBC, which would come with as-yet uncounted costs, and raise the hopes of developers (and speculators) all along the way.

From the City of Vancouver website:

We are looking for your feedback as we develop a policy statement for the Jericho Lands. … The Jericho Lands planning program is a comprehensive planning process which will help create a policy statement to guide future development of the site. The program is being developed at the request of the landowners, a joint venture partnership between the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh (MST) Partnership, and the Canada Lands Company (CLC). The policy statement will create a framework which will guide future redevelopment of the site and help create a new community that is sustainable, socially and culturally inclusive, and highly livable.

The planning program will explore options that address important priorities including:

  • Ways to advance our collective work toward reconciliation
  • Creating a complete community with a range of housing options with different income levels and tenures
  • Providing new housing within a walking distance of existing and future transit routes, including a potential SkyTrain extension to UBC
  • Providing shops, services, childcare, and employment space to support the new community and the rest of the city
  • Recognizing and celebrating cultural and heritage assets
  • Creating new parks and open spaces, and a comprehensive package of other community amenities to be determined through the process

The City’s online survey comes with discussion guides for Emerging Site Planning Ideas on the themes of Natural Systems and Open Space, Connections and Mobility, Inclusive Neighbourhood, and Sustainability and Resilience.

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Readers are encouraged to read up, save the guides for future reference, and take the survey. And to watch out for future updates. Below are some comments obtained from the West Point Grey Residents Association, and further below, some links for further reading.

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Some points from WPGRA based on input from the community.

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Postscript: Amendments to Zoning and Development By-Law to increase ‘social housing’ in RM-4 and RM-3A zoning districts (April 20, 2021)

Here is a postscript to the Council decision on, provided here with permission from and thanks to the Upper Kitsilano Residents Association (UKRA).

Map of affected zoning districts. Credit CoV.

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Following two nights of public hearings, Vancouver City Council voted April 20, 2021 [see Item 4 at this link for video, minutes, documents, correspondence] to increase density for non-profit housing in select areas of the city (see map), and abolish the requirement for public hearings to do so.

Council threw its unanimous support (with only Coun. Colleen Hardwick abstaining) behind an amended proposal that will allow non-profit operators to build to six storey buildings, with even greater density than proposed by staff, in the RM-3A, RM-4, and RM-4N zones in parts of Kitsilano, Fairview, Mount Pleasant, Grandview-Woodland, and Marpole.

Throughout the hearing, non-profit operators urged Council not to stop at six storeys (the current zoning is four) but approve heights of up to ten storeys. Rather than give the operators greater height—which would have meant another public hearing—Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung followed a suggestion by Senior City Planner Dan Garrison and put forth an amendment to increase the floor space ratio (FSR) from 2.5 to 3.0. The change will result in approximately two extra units per floor, according to Senior Development Planner, Paul Cheng, but would result in less outdoor space.

One contentious issue brought up by neighbours, speakers, and some Councillors, was the City’s misleading definition of “social housing.” Staff said the intent of the amendment is to provide more affordable housing by increasing density in non-profit owned units where 100% of the building is reserved for social housing.

What staff failed to mention is that 100% of the “social housing” constitutes only 30% of a building’s units. The rest (70%) are market rental. [Related post by CityHallWatch: “An update on Vancouver’s bizarre definition of ‘social housing’ “]

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Retail floor height: new vs. old. Is the first floor of new buildings a little too high?


Are the first floors of some recently-completed buildings just a little too high? The above photo shows a new 6-storey building at 3503-3523 East Hastings and a 3-storey building next door at 3935 East Hastings that’s zoned as C-2C1. These buildings are just a few blocks west of Boundary Road. The first floor height is around 15 ft at the east side of the frontage, while the floor height increases to around 16.5 ft on the other end from the difference in slope. Retail uses are being accommodated on the first floor of both of these buildings.

In addition to the commercial uses at grade, the new development at 3503 East Hastings has 87 market rental units, a FSR of 3.95 and a total height of 19.74 m (64.76 ft). A slightly lower first floor could of course have marginally reduced the overall height. There are also impacts on the experience at street level. It might be worth noting that the commercial uses at grade of a new buildings can lead to ‘retail gentrification’ where only large floorplate and generally chain stores can afford to rent. Perhaps a finer grain division for commercial units (25 to 33ft wide) could lead to a greater mix of shops and services at grade.


Links: CD-1 (610) with backup notes for 388 Skeena Street:
https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/ByCD-1Number/cd1s/iCD-1(610)_BackupNotesSummary.pdf

https://council.vancouver.ca/20140916/phea20140916ag.htm (Public Hearing)

Click to access phea4-PolicyReport.pdf

Is it time to make pop-up plazas permanent?


A number of pop-up plazas were created by the City of Vancouver in response to the pandemic in 2020. Here’s an open question: should these pop-up plazas become permanent?
On the topic of plazas, there’s currently a survey open until May 7th about Rain Friendly Plazas on the City’s website. Further feedback and comments can also be sent directly to the City via the pop-up plaza webpage.