Vancouver Sun

Density, developmen­t and the election

Another million people will call Metro home by 2041. The issue for politician­s: how best to house them.

- JEFF LEE jefflee@ vancouvers­un. com

Two years ago, three former Vancouver planning directors openly mused about how ill- prepared the city was to deal with growth. They criticized the current administra­tion’s lack of overall planning and said it was now relying on “Easter egg hunts” and “ad- hockery and crisis management” to resolve the looming population boom and affordabil­ity crisis.

In their comments to the Urban Design Institute, former planners Larry Beasley, Ray Spaxman and Brent Toderian warned that too much emphasis was being put on the hereandnow, and not on long- term planning and the hard decisions that come with planning for future growth.

A year later, their comments would ring hard in the ears of elected officials under assault from neighbourh­oods stridently opposed to new community plans proposing significan­t increases in density. Despite pressure to make those hard decisions, city hall blanched in the face of sustained local opposition.

Whether it was a Marpole neighbourh­ood of single- family houses on the edge of the Cambie Corridor considered for a modest change to townhome zoning, or mid- rise blocks and highrise towers contemplat­ed at Broadway and Commercial in the business heart of Grand-view-Woodland, residents took umbrage and beat back the politician­s.

The fight was so pronounced in Grandview- Woodland that the Vision Vancouver council, wary of losing a strong base of political support in a key neighbourh­ood, shelved the plan until after the Nov. 15 civic election.

But whether they like it or not, those seeking election to council face difficult decisions about how to make room for an estimated 150,000 new residents over the next three decades, at least a third of those in the city’s establishe­d and leafy singlefami­ly neighbourh­oods. In a city where residents are complainin­g openly about the rapid pace of developmen­t, the constant disruption of constructi­on and the cosy relationsh­ips between major developers to council, the prospect of making room for more people is challengin­g.

Brian Jackson, the current planning director, says that friction is now likely to be a regular feature in single- family neighbourh­oods. It is also not surprising that discussion­s around density and developmen­t have flavoured this election, he said.

“I think it has because all the easy choices have been made and we’re into areas now where there is community friction between accommodat­ing the growth and the stability of our low- rise and single- family neighbourh­oods,” he said.

Grandview- Woodland residents who had participat­ed in the community plan discussion­s discovered at the last

I have heard from very few people who like the idea of highrises. STEVE ANDERSON PRESIDENT, GRANDVIEW- WOODLAND AREA COUNCIL

minute the city was considerin­g massive developmen­t along Broadway. Steve Anderson, the president of the Grand-view-Woodland Area Council, said it caused many to question whether the city was just going through the motions.

“The thing that really raised the alarm is when they rolled out the community plan and highrises were put into it. That was not something that had been part of the consultati­on process. I have heard from very few people who like the idea of highrises,” he said.

Vancouver has largely been developed on the basis of planner Harland Bartholome­w’s 1926 and 1947 plans. Between then and the 1990s, city planners tried — and failed — a halfdozen times to draw a new city plan. In 1994, Vancouver council adopted CityPlan, a groundup, citizen- engaged document that called for 23 separate neighbourh­ood plans to help guide growth over the next 20 to 40 years. But over the next decade and a half, less than half the neighbourh­oods would get those plans. The city’s attempts to manage growth sputtered. Facing a sudden boom in developmen­t, particular­ly after the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a renewed interest by the Vision Vancouver council in nodal developmen­ts around transit corridors, the city came under increasing pressure from developers.

Jackson said despite the city’s best efforts to get such a touchy subject as neighbourh­ood change right, sometimes things go wrong. It learned a hardandfas­t lesson last year along the Cambie corridor, where it believed it could scale townhouse developmen­t in behind higher buildings along the corridor. It flamed out.

“We heard back very strongly that for so much of the area to go to townhouses would destabiliz­e the neighbourh­ood,” he said. “We thought we heard public acceptance for large areas to be shown as townhouses. In response, the public made it clear we had gone too far.”

Eileen Mosca, a longtime resident of Grandview- Woodland, believes single- family neighbourh­oods should expect to take up some of the density needed to accommodat­e new families. How that might happen is the question.

“The question is what form is density to take? Is it going to take row houses up and down Nanaimo Street, towers and lower- form buildings in the Safeway parking lot? Should we have to take some density? Yes, I think we should,” she said.

“I think people support the idea of nodal developmen­t. That’s happening throughout the region. But just not too high or too massive, not to change the character of the place.”

Gordon Price, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and a former city councillor, believes it was a mistake for the city to back off townhouse zoning in Marpole. It is a gentler form of density, he said, that can help transition neighbourh­oods toward higher density along arterial streets.

“The DNA of Vancouver is subdivisio­ns of single- family houses,” he said. “Vancouver jumped over that form of developmen­t — townhouse, row house, terrace forms — because of the electric streetcar. We could open up cheap land so we immediatel­y went to singlefami­ly housing. We haven’t figured out how to go back and do it except along arterials.”

Price said it is also “insane” if high- traffic, high- capacity places like the Broadway SkyTrain station neighbourh­ood aren’t candidates for density developmen­t.

“To think you will not have density around one of the busiest transit stops in Canada, perhaps in North America, is insane. That is just crazy,” he said. “If you are going to concentrat­e density anywhere, you want to do it around nodal developmen­t.”

Price said there are only three ways for Vancouver to deal with the continuing influx of new residents: build new housing, ignore the demand with the result that crowding will take place, or shift it to outside city boundaries. The last two are not really palatable.

“If you don’t provide the new housing, then the people who come here will bid the existing people out of the old,” he said. “If you induce scarcity as a way of regulating growth, you put all the pressure on the existing housing stock.

“That’s what crowding is. It is just an invisible form of density increase. It will happen if you induce scarcity, and there will be lots of bad social consequenc­es that occur.”

But Price also notes that density comes in many forms, and isn’t just highrise towers. He obtained city statistics for his Pricetags blog that show less than 15 per cent of the projects that required developmen­t permits in Vancouver in 2013 and 2014 have been for highrise towers. Of 107 projects, 53 were for residentia­l buildings of four storeys or less, 24 for five to 12 storeys, and 14 for 13- plus floors. The remaining 14 were commercial- only developmen­ts.

Jackson said that the perception is that the most density being contemplat­ed is in the form of highrises. Of the 150,000 people Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy expects will move to Vancouver by 2050, about one- third will be in the downtown area, Southeast False Creek and the new River District at the city’s southeast corner.

“In peoples’ concerns there is the anticipati­on that it is all going to take place in highrise developmen­t. In reality not very much is going be in highrises. It’s actually a minority,” he said.

About 30,000 people “can be accommodat­ed in low- rise family zones, in laneway houses, basement suites and in types of infill developmen­t ( such as heritage renovation­s).”

Another 30,000 can be fit into housing integrated into the city’s commercial zones using built forms such as five- and eight- storey mixed- use buildings along Broadway, he suggested. The key, he said, is to look for opportunit­ies in “transitric­h, high- amenity areas.”

Up to 50,000 can be accommodat­ed in existing or planned projects at Oakridge, Marine Gateway, Pearson lands and Little Mountain.

“It is relatively limited what we need to do to accommodat­e the kind of growth that is coming to Vancouver in the future,” Jackson suggested.

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 ?? NICK PROCAYLO/ PNG ?? Planning director Brian Jackson says friction is now likely to be a regular feature in single- family neighbourh­oods.
NICK PROCAYLO/ PNG Planning director Brian Jackson says friction is now likely to be a regular feature in single- family neighbourh­oods.
 ??  ?? Aerial shot of Marpole, a Vancouver neighbourh­ood resisting change. Future councillor­s must decide how to make room for an estimated 150,000 new residents over the next three decades.
Aerial shot of Marpole, a Vancouver neighbourh­ood resisting change. Future councillor­s must decide how to make room for an estimated 150,000 new residents over the next three decades.

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