A Planner Spills The Beans

For over a year and a half many of us have been aware, from leaks inside the Vancouver Planning Department, that the plethora of towers presented at Commercial & Broadway in the “Emerging Directions” document did not represent the views of the local planners.  Rather the towers were inserted into the Plan on the orders of higher management at the City.

It has been juicy gossip, but without a smoking gun.

But now, Scott Hein, Senior Urban Designer at the time of the GW Plan has gone public with devastating revelations concerning upper management interference in rubbishing a “best practices” plan and insisting on multiple towers.

We put together what we believed was a reasoned overall plan for GW towards increased residential and employment opportunity. We fully appreciated the development economics of the Safeway site at B+C that, given active revenue generating impacts on the pro forma, related phasing considerations, noise impacts and view opportunity up and down “the cut” and believed that two modest towers in the range of 20 to 25 storeys maximum located on the easterly half of the site could be considered to make the Safeway site developable and, more importantly, improve the challenging interface conditions (all four sides) of Safeway while pedestrianizing the Commercial Drive frontage by integrating those shallow depth properties into a larger development opportunity. We imagined a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid rise buildings in this scenerio.


Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form.


We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”.


We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood.


Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers (I cannot confirm who saw this plan). We were then told to produce a third plan which cut the towers in half down to 10. We prepared this third plan, also under protest, which was taken out to the community. The public process imploded soon thereafter.


Our work in the city’s Urban Design Studio for over 10 years was always about best practice and integrity of process. We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly. We were never given this opportunity in GW.


The story about the third plan ties in nicely with the information circulated earlier this month by an insider who approached Ned Jacobs.  That insider described a meeting in which Mayor Robertson suggested ameliorating some of the excess towers — but still keeping at least half of them.

People have questioned us time and time again about why we question the very process that this Plan is working under.  It is because it always subject to political interference.

As every municipal party — with the exception of Vision — agreed at a recent meeting, the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan needs to be halted right away and discussions started with active bodies in Grandview as to how we need to proceed.

Citizens’ Assembly: Public Round Table 11/26

Many thanks to a member who shared the following information:

The Citizens’ Assembly will be hosting a Public Roundtable that is open to everyone in the community. This is a formal opportunity to have good conversations with your neighbours about what they want to see in Grandview-Woodland. I encourage you to invite anyone you think might be interested. I’ve included an invitation below, which you can forward to your friends and neighbours.

Here are a few key pieces of info:

  • The Public Roundtable will be on Wednesday, November 26th at the Maritime Labour Centre, 1880 Triumph St
  • Doors will open at 6:45pm, and the meeting will finish by 9:00pm

Conversations will take place at tables. At least two Assembly members will sit at each table. The conversations will focus on:

1) Getting feedback on your draft set of values

2) A discussion of the issues community members would like the CA to address in our final report to City Council.

We encourage you to think of specific questions you’d like to ask members of the Assembly.  Facilitators will be at each table to take notes, but this is your opportunity to ask questions and listen to other community members.

Mark your calendars!.

Citizens’ Assembly: Questions & Answers

Last week, OCOP was sent a series of questions from the Citizens’ Assembly.  After a lively and collaborative discussion within the group, OCOP responded this morning as follows:

Q1: What does OCOP suggest as an alternative / transparent formula or process to define ‘affordable’ housing? How would that formula / process keep pace with cost of living, inflation, and be resistant to political tampering and continual redefinition by gentrifying neighbourhoods?

OCOP adheres to the CHMC definition of affordability that a maximum of 30% of income should be required for housing/shelter costs. This formula insulates the definition from inflation. We also suggest that this formula be included in the Vancouver Charter which would prevent governments, such as the current City Council majority, from abandoning the CHMC definition.

 Q2: OCOP was telling people at the CA [during a previous presentation] that there doesn’t need to be a new Grandview-Woodland plan…. Without one, how would Grandview-Woodland halt erosion of affordability in housing as limited housing gets produced for/rented by those with the highest incomes?

After participating in good faith, we have lost confidence in the City’s Grandview Woodland plan. The sudden appearance on the land use plan of multiple high-rise towers has made us suspicious of the entire process. We are concerned that it has become politicized and heavily influenced by the interests of big developers.

OCOP believes that the existing Grandview Plan, adopted in 1980 at a time when Grandview was failing as a neighbourhood, has produced the Grandview that we all love and cherish. OCOP believes this Plan, in essence, continues to work. We believe that future planning needs only to build on the successful Plan already in place.

At an all-candidates’ meeting on 15th October, every municipal party running in the present election – with the single exception of Vision — agreed that the proposed GW Plan should either be scrapped or paused for more consultation over the process. Further, at an all-candidates’ meeting in Grandview on 30th October all parties – including Vision – agreed that high-rise towers were inappropriate for Grandview Woodland. As Vision Councillor Andrea Reimer put it “we know they won’t fly in this neighbourhood.”

Finally, we want to recognize that the area of the GW Plan sited south of Broadway is already included in the KCC Community Vision Plan of 1998. We believe that area should be excluded from the GW Plan and be allowed to develop in line with the KCC Visions Plan, thus respecting the hard work already done by that community, and already approved by City Council.

 Q3: Does OCOP believe the population of Vancouver (and/or Grandview Woodlands) should be capped somehow, and internal migration restricted? If GW doesn’t absorb a reasonable share of the projected population increases in the next few decades, would GW not be contributing indirectly to urban sprawl?

OCOP does not believe in capping population or internal migration (even if such a bizarre suggestion could be implemented, which we doubt). This neighbourhood has always been welcoming to people from around the world.

OCOP is not concerned about more new residents. But we reject the imposition of increased density from above. We also oppose the displacement of existing residents, who won’t be able to afford the neighbourhood that would result from the GW Plan.

According to the City’s own figures, Grandview Woodland is already more densely populated than about 70% of Vancouver.

After more than two years of asking, the City has still not provided density or population projections either for the City generally or the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood. Such projections when given should include detailed analysis of how the numbers were computed, and explain how that density is to be distributed with some reasonable equity across the City. We encourage the CA to investigate this lack of data.

 Q4: OCOP / Jak King reports that at the CA meeting Oct 4, James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, spoke “from the housing industry view”. What perspectives/topics should they have discussed that they didn’t? Who would OCOP nominate as better equipped (and likely willing) to discuss these issues and possible solutions with the assembly?

While OCOP believes it was interesting and important to hear the industry perspective, the CA has not yet heard from a non-industry-linked house owner, or renter, or local co-op member. OCOP encourages the CA to hear from more independent residents to get a neighbourhood perspective on these issues.

Q5: How do other cities create incentives for owners of aging rental apartment buildings to retrofit and renovate without displacing existing renters?

This is an important question, especially for the areas of Grandview that contain most of our rental housing. The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and OCOP are currently investigating what has worked in other jurisdictions. We encourage the CA to conduct their own reviews of other cities’ plans in this regard.

Q6:   OCOP has been very critical of the CA’s barriers to participation. How does OCOP itself surmount barriers to participation by marginalized groups…. for how many languages does it provide interpretation so that a wider range of people [beyond the usual activists who typically participate in multiple organizations and can afford to devote many hours per week] can participate in its meetings? Does it offer free food, subsidies for transportation, child care, elder care? How does it schedule its meetings so that a majority of people can attend?

OCOP has always made its meetings and discussions open to all residents of the neighbourhood. Our meetings are regularly scheduled for Tuesday evenings at a central and accessible community centre. Our group represents a cross-section of the neighbourhood: including indigenous people, people with disabilities, renters, homeowners, elders, youth and those with English as a second language.

OCOP is an unfunded volunteer organization without the resources available to government institutions and therefore we, like virtually every other such group, have no ability to supply services such as the questioner describes. However, we note that we formally requested a portion of the Community Plan budget so that such services and others could be provided, and our request was declined.

We also note that translation services are not currently being offered for CA sessions and we encourage CA members to continue to request that this be put in place for all future meetings.

 Q7: OCOP refers to better neighbourhood planning processes in http://coalitionvan.org/files/CVN-Principles-and-Goals-Apr7_2014.pdf…. Can OCOP cite any such processes that adequately included ethnically/culturally/socioeconomically diverse groups and marginalized citizens? How was that achieved in those cases? Have these produced legally binding plans?

OCOP confirms its adherence to the Principles & Goals for Collaborative Neighbourhood-based Planning in the City of Vancouver” document of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. We note that the document calls for 100% household surveys or, to put it another way, we call for complete inclusivity in the process, quite unlike the current Plan exercise. The document is based largely on the City Plan process that directed planning in Vancouver until the early 2000s. A number of neighbourhood plans have been implemented through the City Plan and Community Visions process that was an extension of City Plan. We encourage the CA to specifically investigate the success of City Plan.

Society Act Changes

As previously posted, OCOP has supported a letter written to the Province regarding concerns about proposed changes to the BC Society Act.  The following story from News1130 discusses some of our concerns:

Local organizations fear they will be more vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits, if the province goes ahead with changes to the law governing non-profits. They believe the effort to make non-profits more accountable goes too far.  At issue is a proposed new clause in the Society Act that says any appropriate person can make an application to the courts on the grounds that the society is carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.


Jak King with the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods [and OCOP] believes organizations like his, which have opposed certain developments, could become the target of lawsuits launched by the affected developers. “It would become a real barrier for us to continue our protest against the development, because we are a neighbourhood organization with no resources and completely run by volunteers.”


King’s colleague on the coalition, Larry Benge, takes it one step further. “Maybe it threatens the future of that society, because it would go bankrupt trying to defend itself.”


The coalition says while transparency is important in a non-profit, over-regulation of small grassroots organizations can be very harmful. More than two dozen B.C. societies have expressed similar sentiments.  A letter penned by the West Coast Environmental Law says the legislation “invites harassment of societies by any deep-pocketed and litigious opponents.”