Brian Jackson Responds on Townhouses in GW

There has been a fast and furious exchange of emails in relation to Grandview Woodland which began with an article in the Vancouver Sun, complaints from Citizens of Grandview Woodlands and a reply from Brian Jackson, the General Manager, Planning and Development, for the City of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Sun article that started it all is below:

Then, both, Phillip Hill wrote to City Council and the Mayor, with his letter, which is attached. Brian Jackson 140822 Phillip Hill Letter.

OCOP participant, Linda Malek, also joined the discussion with her email Linda Malek Letter to Brian Jackson August 2014.

Which then resulted in the following reply from Brian Jackson Brian Jackson Reply August 2014 in which the closing line is:

“The City is starting fresh with a new expanded work program for the Community Plan and we fully expect there to be substantial changes to what had been proposed a year ago.”

Only time will tell if the City is truly listening to Citizens voices in GW.

OCOP Continues To Gather Support

As we come near the end of the Summer, OCOP is ramping up its activities with plans for Town Hall Meetings in September (Urban Planning Panel, September 10) and October (HYPER Gentrification Panel).

OCOP has also been meeting with people in the community to determine what they want to see in the community plan.

An Editorial Cartoon Courier August 8th 2014

The Editorial Cartoon above notes how the public sentiment is developing on the issue of land use plans that really listen to what the local community wants.

A recent email debate in the Tyee highlights the issue of spot zoning and what havoc it can play with community land use plans. Which can be found here (Note: Patrick Condon is a confirmed speaker at OCOP’s first Town Hall meeting on September 10, 2014, more details to follow):


Is Spot Zoning the Problem or the Solution?

[Editor’s note: On July 14, The Tyee published an opinion piece by University of British Columbia urban design professor Patrick Condon proposing that Vancouver’s way of “spot zoning” for new projects was playing havoc with the character of neighbourhoods and principles of democracy and transparency. Condon argued that Vancouver would do better to include citizens in a process leading to a one-time zoning of the entire city. His critique, which branded city hall’s project-by-project approval process a path to “soft corruption,” produced buzz for and against.

Many experienced voices argued that Vancouver’s approach — trading permission to build for public amenities and other city input — was key to the city’s success at evolving to accommodate changing pressures and needs. One of the most knowledgeable and experienced of those defenders of the current approach is former Vancouver NPA city councillor Gordon Price, now Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

We arranged an email exchange on the topic between Price and Condon and asked if we could look in. Here’s the result.]



So, I’m supposed to defend spot zoning, am I? Maybe I should start out with something more sympathetic, like duckling abuse.

Seriously, you’re asking me to defend ‘soft corruption,’ on the assumption that the motivation for rezoning, whether soft or hard, is to tap the millions in Community Amenity Charges, resulting in ever-bigger, and hence inappropriately scaled, development.

Stop me before I rezone again!

But let me suggest that there’s a need for spot rezonings and regulatory changes in a world where we won’t or can’t anticipate the future. Let me use an example that occurred when I was a council member in the 1980s.

There is at the southeast corner of Davie and Howe Street a rather bland residential high-rise, just under 20 stories.

It’s not distinguishable now, dwarfed by the high-rises on all the other corners — but it sure was back when it was built in 1988, approved as, yes, a reinterpretation of the zoning bylaw. The planner at the time, Ray Spaxman, wasn’t about to approve anything other than what had come before: office and commercial with a few floors of residential.

But Andrew Grant, president of the PCI Group, was convinced there was a market for rental accommodation in this unlikely neighbourhood of parking lots and auto-body shops: “Downtown at your doorstep for $395.” He spent a lot of time trying to convince staff and eventually council to let him take the risk.

Council in response changed the rules at a single meeting — as much to see if Andrew was right. Which he most certainly was. That building was the beginning of what we now know as Downtown South: the thousands of units, condos and rentals that successfully accommodated so much of the growth in the core in the 1990s — and took development pressure off the West End.

It is also, as you note, where we began to employ Development Cost Charges — another innovation that came with Downtown South once the blocks between Homer and Burrard were massively upzoned to accommodate residential high-rises, along with design guidelines and public-realm improvements. That avoided the need to negotiate separate amenity requirements with each developer.

But note the words “massively upzoned” — something that was only possible on low-density industrial land like Arbutus, Concord, Coal Harbour, Collingwood Village and all the other megaprojects where we accommodated growth without intruding into residential neighbourhoods.

Your call for a city-wide plan to avoid the need for spot rezonings, I can bet, will not result in those kinds of ‘massive upzonings.’ Like CityPlan, it will most likely result in a reiteration of the status quo, with some token recognition of change, but mainly a call for further amenities and more affordable housing, without any practical way of achieving of it — certainly not by changing the character of the community with new forms of development.

That’s fine for those of us who already have a piece of this precious place. But if in the future, we believe there’s a need to try out new forms of development, then it will likely be done initially through spot changes — just as we did with Andrew Grant.

And that’s a good reason to keep it in the tool kit.


Hey Gordon,

I am not asking you to defend soft corruption my friend! When you were on council we were in a different world and Vancouver was a different city. It took some bold moves in the 1980s to make Vancouver what it is! But that was then and this is now. What worked for downtown is not working for the rest of the city. You seem to say that council has to step in because city staff and citizens cannot be trusted to do the right thing. But I respectfully disagree. Every other city in the region seems to be able to involve citizens when they create or update their Official Community Plan. Why can’t Vancouver? Sure they occasionally allow variances from their OCP. But at least they have a plan! Surrey has a plan that anticipates very large increases in population. Why can’t we?


Why can’t Vancouver do what other cities in the region do?

Land, Patrick, land.

Vancouver doesn’t have any large greenfield sites. It’s relatively easy to allocate growth in places like Langley’s Willoughby or Brookswood, Coquitlam’s Heritage Mountain, or South Surrey and South Clayton. But Vancouver City doesn’t even have the brownfield sites of the recent past that we used for megaprojects in the 1980s and ’90s.

Our Official Development Plan is the Zoning and Development Bylaw, accompanied by the local plans and policies that set direction. But regardless of the legal framework, woe to the council that proposes ‘bold moves’ in existing neighbourhoods. (Hello, Grandview.) Even a single development proposal can create a crisis. (Hello, Mt. Pleasant.)

So you’re right: what worked for the downtown core in the past won’t work for the rest of the city. It won’t even work for downtown.

That’s why small interventions, like spot zoning, is the default mechanism of change.


Ah Gordon. Your examples are cherry picked. The City of North Vancouver, New Westminster, and Burnaby are similarly “built out” yet they have Official Community Plans. They even mostly follow them! The new 60 storey (yikes!) towers at Metrotown replaced low rise rental units, all in conformance with their OCP and area plan. No spot zone required. We can’t do that?

And I am surprised that you use our most notorious public process train wrecks to make your case: the Rize project and the Grandview Woodlands plan. The “bold” move at Grandview Woodlands came after a long deliberated low/mid-rise plan was trashed. Not bold enough it seems. Not enough high rises! Add ten! Table that plan tomorrow! Plenty bold. Some would say arrogant and counterproductive, especially since the changes did not add density, only height. This is planning mayhem, not courage.


I’ve never believed there’s any substantive difference between a ZDB* and an OCP** once the latter is translated into something as useful as the former. They are both expressions of what a city expects for the future based on the permissions of the past.

I suppose we could get into the weeds on the Grandview process (no argument, the city screwed it up). But the point is this: You will not get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes that, as a beginning assumption, will not change their character. If neighbourhoods have priority over city and region-wide plans, and can effectively veto their broad-based, long-term visions once implementation is required, why bother pursuing them in the first place?

* Zoning and Development Bylaw
** Official Community Plan


Yes this might get into the weeds, and that’s unfortunate; because this issue fuels the anger now rampant in our city. I happen to think that the Official Community Plan process used elsewhere is forward looking, while our Vancouver Zoning Bylaw and map only looks back. If it were forward looking we would not be changing the damned thing for every project that comes down the pike.

Gordon, with deep respect, you say we will never “get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes”. But our City of North Vancouver neighbours are advancing a draft OCP that anticipates projected 50 per cent increase in population in only 25 years! And it maps locations for all these new homes to boot.

Now that’s bold! That’s forward looking! That’s what city councils should do! Not spot zone.


I can understand your desire, Patrick, for an Official Community Plan for Vancouver, so long as it sincerely involves the people of Vancouver in a determination of their future and provides everyone, neighbourhoods and developers alike, with some certainty about what’s allowed.

I’d still maintain that it will not eliminate the need for spot rezonings. No plan can predict with sufficient certainty the forces that will shape our built environment, and there may well be times when changing circumstances or innovation justify an unanticipated intervention. All would agree, however, that spot rezonings should not be the customary mechanism of change.

But to avoid that, and still provide the latitude to accommodate the growth we can reasonably expect based on past experience, means planning for a scale of change that might well be a shock to those who rather like things as they are, or to those who acknowledge the need for change but not if it means change in the character of their community. Yet an Official Community Plan should, if it is a serious document, recognize that the city will be, in some profound ways, a different place as it accommodates those not yet here, and whose voices cannot yet be heard. It is a rare document that does so after emerging from a process of current stakeholders, and is sustained over time when the growth acceptable in theory becomes a white sign on a lot that threatens someone’s self-interest.

It is for that purpose — to accommodate forms of change not yet evident, to deal with growth not yet imaginable, to hear voices not yet present — that spot rezonings will and should remain an option.


Gordon, I know that you have stood up for the things you believe in many times, often withstanding harsh personal and political consequences. You well express how hard it is to plan a city for those who are not yet here, against the innate conservatism of those who are. You may think me naive; but based on my own experience I think you too readily assume folks won’t do the right thing when they get the chance. When you opened this debate you dismissed the CityPlan effort of the ’90s. This surprised me. When given the choice between no-growth, growth only downtown, unplanned growth everywhere, or growth in numerous neighbourhood village nodes, over 63 per cent of the 10,000 people involved opted for the later. I believe this spirit of inclusion still lives, if we could only find the right process to unleash it.

I, like you, am motivated by a love for this city and a fear for its future. I strongly believe that what worked within the small area of the downtown won’t work in the vastly larger city beyond. If we accommodate all our new growth through large spot-zoned projects we may get the housing numbers we want, but it will be in two cities. The one city will be formed of widely separated high-rise complexes, attached to the Skytrain, but cut off from everything else; an interior world of shopping centers capped with glass towers. In between these shopping centres will be another city, the leftover city of the streetcar era. An unaffordable and car dependent city — static and depopulated — with emptying schools, struggling shops and underused transit.

There are different paths. For example, the Kitsilano district has added very substantial density in a way that works with, not against, its innate structure. There are scores of neighbourhoods like it. We could easily double our population and find that our neighbourhoods looked better, worked better, and were more equitable as a result.

But it takes an effort to understand what this city should look like. That’s why I think our acceptance of spot zoning, and the CAC money it produces, is so indicative of our current affliction. Absent a coherent vision of the future, the more we depend on CAC taxes the further we drift from the city that is — the further we drift from the future city that could be. [Tyee]

Grandview’s Successful History of Activisim


The communities of Grandview and Strathcona both provide students for Grandview’s Britannia Secondary School and have a long history of successful student activism, citizen activism and political activism.

This independent spirit has persisted to the present and in Grandview there are now 19 housing co-ops, more than anywhere in British Columbia, as well as a woodworker co-op, a glass co-op and a car co-op.  The REACH community health centre was created in 1969, and the East End Food Co-op started in 1975 and is now Vancouver’s oldest food co-op. Commercial Drive’s CCEC Credit Union received its charter in 1975 while the Peoples Co-op Bookstore, founded in 1945, moved to Grandview in 1982. Commercial Drive in particular is also known for still having many small, locally based businesses and very few chain stores

When freeways were cutting swathes of destruction through North American neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s, local citizen activism blocked their advance through Strathcona and Grandview. As a result today Vancouver is famous for this unique lack of freeways, and people from all over happily remark on this unusual feature of the city.

The 1968 citizen uprising against the destruction of dozens of city blocks in Strathcona under the name of “urban renewal” lead to the formation of the first citizen committee allowed to have equal power with government in planning and decision-making. These activists were successful in stopping all such federally funded plans across Canada. Instead of funding to demolish homes, new funding was provided to help fix them up.

After their work in Strathcona many of these young local activists went on to have successful careers in politics. Mike Harcourt, later became a city councilor, the mayor of Vancouver, an MLA and then premier of British Columbia. SFU student and activist Shirley Chan later served as Harcourt’s executive assistant and chief of staff. Margaret Mitchell later became Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

Some of the Britannia students that were involved in the movement to stop the destruction of homes in Stathcona and Grandview moved on to working on the creation of the successful Britannia Community Centre in 1976, the largest multiplex of its time in North America. One of the student activists, Enzo Guerrero later became the Executive Director of the Britannia Centre.

Activist Tom Durrie is known today for his recent work in saving the York Theatre on Commercial Drive. In 1967 Durrie, a teacher and an activist, became the head of the New School, a progressive new version of a high school on Commercial Drive at 15th Avenue. This was one of the first alternative schools in British Columbia and its example influenced new programs in the regular school system.

Durrie later was part of the Free University established in 1969 on Venables Street that provided free classes for 3,000 students. After the university closed in 1974, activists established the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (the CULTCH) in the same old church building on Venables at Victoria Drive.

In 1971 the Militant Mothers of Raymur blocked railway tracks to get an overpass built. Their children’s school was across the street but the children were forced to cross railway tracks to get there.

It was two graduates of Grandview’s Britannia High School, both MLAs for Vancouver East, that produced North America’s first socialist government in 1973. Bob Williams, a Britannia graduate in1950 and Dave Barrett, a Britannia graduate in 1948, formed the core of the new government, producing numerous popular legislative initiatives such as the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). As a city councilor in 1965 Britannia grad Bob Williams successfully fought the proposed freeway extension of the new Georgia Viaduct through Strathcona and Grandview.

The first president of the Grandview Ratepayers Association was Harry Rankin. He served from 1952 to 1956, and then became the president of the Grandview Community Centre Association. In 1966 he became a popular progressive Vancouver city councilor and served until 1993, usually topping the polls. During this period Libby Davies, one of the founders of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) was an activist city councilor, and today she is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

In 1989 local activists successfully blocked the construction of a high-rise building at Broadway and Commercial Drive with the cooperation of local progressive city councilors Libby Davies and Harry Rankin.

Vancouver is divided into 21 local areas, but only Grandview has a citizens’ meeting every month as a local area council, the Grandview Woodland Area Council. Grandview even has its own community-based planning group, Our Community Our Plan, which meets every Tuesday at the Britannia Centre.


Bruce Macdonald    08 August 2014

East Van Fights Back – Read and Rant

Our Community Our Plan continues to push for increased and democratic citizen involvement in the Grandview Woodland planning process.

The media are listening but, the City Planning Department continues to ignore the real issues raised by OCOP.

In a recent article in the Vancouver Courier newspaper  the reporter referred to our Slice of Democracy contest and noted that while the Citizens Assembly continues on its way, OCOP continues to concerned about the process and is planning its own Town Hall meetings and other outreach projects.


Jak King was recently on Shaw TV and mentioned OCOP in his talk about community planning processes in Vancouver.  Jak has also written about  Bruce Macdonald as a one of Grandviews Living Treasures; we agree.


Finally, Garth Mullins prepared a popular podcast about what is going on in  Grandview Woodlands and gentrification and the planning process, and much more. Have a listen.


We will keep on speaking our truths to the powers that be. Perhaps, they will listen.