Unprecedented rezoning rush continues
By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, August 4, 2018
Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr. Gerry Kahrman/PNG
The City of Vancouver continues its rush to rezone city-wide without a prior public consultation process, counter to standard practice. Their clear objective is to push everything through in advance of the civic election in October. Since most of the current council are not running for re-election, they are not accountable for the transformative changes. The many calls for these decisions to be made by the next council is falling on deaf ears.
On the heels of a massive number of reports brought to council in June, the last few weeks in July has proven to continue that trend while most citizens are away on summer holidays. After a break in August while council is shut down, the unprecedented number of public hearing dates reserved for September looks daunting.
The most substantial city-wide rezoning is of all the RS-zoned detached residential areas. Plus they are rezoning all the RT7 / RT8 character retention duplex zones in Kitsilano, mostly located north of Broadway and 4th Ave. to the waterfront. These both have now been referred to public hearings in September without public consultation.
The RS detached residential rezoning involves changes from the current three units that allows for rental secondary suites and laneway houses. New outright development would allow strata duplexes of four units, with secondary suites or lock-off units, with a much bigger footprint that goes deep into the rear yard. Currently, only if a character house is retained can more units and strata be considered, so with the proposal to allow outright strata for new, this will put more pressure on demolition and new redevelopment.
In Kitsilano north of Broadway (RT7) and north of 4th Ave. (RT8) zones, the current zoning allows strata duplex, but has incentives for retention of character houses and disincentives for demolition. This has successfully kept the character houses and streetscapes mostly intact while allowing more units and infill. The proposed new zoning would be an RT5 zone that was recently implemented in Grandview. It has gutted design guidelines and is easier to demolish character houses compared to the current zoning.
The move by the city is to ignore long-established community area planning. In Kitsilano, they spent five years of consultation to come up with their existing zoning that has been widely successful and supported by the community. That is being replaced with a new zone that the community has had no input in. The city’s shift is toward a cookie-cutter city-wide approach rather than neighbourhood based.
The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, an umbrella group representing 27 residents associations, wrote to council against referral of these massive reports to public hearing, and to the policy to amend the Parking Bylaw, without a proper community consultation process.
Co-chair Larry Benge spoke to council on the many staff reports. He requested public input into any changes before referral to public hearing. Coun. Adriane Carr made a motion to that effect for the Kitsilano rezonings, but it was defeated. In the end, she was the only one to vote against referral to public hearing for the city-wide RS and Kitsilano RT zones based on a lack of public consultation.
Vision Coun. Heather Deal framed the public hearing as the public consultation. However, public input should be considered in making policy, not after the fact when decisions are already made.
To further allow more multiple units on each lot, a policy to amend the Parking Bylaw was approved last week by council that removes or reduces minimum parking requirements city-wide. Again without any public consultation.
The changes remove all minimum parking requirements for new developments in the downtown, excluding the West End which has its own plan. Changes also reduce or eliminate onsite parking requirements citywide for any new developments, subject to a traffic demand management plan, such as being close to transit.
But this would put tremendous pressure on street parking. Likely tenants and owners will lose the rights to street parking in front of their homes and will be replaced by area-wide pay permit parking. Coming to your neighbourhood soon.
Groups representing residents, seniors and the disabled all spoke in opposition. For many people it would significantly limit where they could live if their situation required a vehicle. For seniors and the disabled it may make the difference between living independently or in an institution.
Many people commute to work with transit but need a vehicle for family or personal use. Electric vehicles need to be off street so they can charge. Less onsite parking in new developments will eliminate options for the future conversion to electric vehicles.
The policy changes to the parking bylaw were approved and then are to go for consultation to the seniors and persons with disabilities after the fact when policy is already set. A backwards process.
These are transformative city-wide changes. Yet citizens have been shut out of the planning process, a reversal of standard practice. Vancouver used to be a world leader in public participatory planning processes. Well not anymore, apparently.
The issue about why consultation is important has become a hotly debated issue at council and for the upcoming civic election. Many point to the influence of developers in this shift to little or no public consultation. A July 19 poll by Mario Canseco shows that 57 per cent of respondents feel the influence of developers has gotten worse.
But even many designers and developers are concerned about this shift in consultation. It really isn’t working well from many angles.
What we are seeing is a knee jerk reaction to a housing crisis that is substantially of their own making. Rezonings will increase land speculation and demolition that adds to unaffordability and loss of neighbourhood character. Further increased demands on parking and services are met with reduced requirements that undermine livability.
There was a solution in the character house zoning review that completed last fall. Unfortunately it was a lost opportunity. The proposal was originally to allow incentives for character house retention in forms of more units and development potential, with disincentives for demolition like in the RT zones, such as lower outright and conditional increased square footage for retention.
Instead we are getting wholesale destruction of the remaining character of the neighbourhoods. This all needs to be reconsidered.
We could have it all: community involvement in planning processes; character retention; more rental and ownership units; opportunities for more affordable housing types; more affordable transit options; and an affordable livable sustainable city. Let’s do that instead.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for B.C. Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Vancouver Sun print edition August 4, 2018 page H2
Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2018 all rights reserved.