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West End town hall opposes Comox tower


West End town hall opposes Comox tower

City council to vote on development proposal June 11
West End residents at a June 4 public meeting voted overwhelmingly against rezoning 1401 Comox St to allow construction of an apartment tower on the site that for years housed a one-storey church.

The proposed Comox St project, set for city council hearing on June 11, faces mixed feelings in the neighbourhood, but the city says it’s needed to boost rental stock.

Roughly 120 residents attended the town hall organized by West End Neighbours (WEN). Many voiced concerns about the height of the proposed 22-storey building and the city's planning process overall. In March, the project's developer, Henriquez Partners Architects, rescinded its offer to house parts of BC’s queer resource centre Qmunity in the new tower, citing divisions in the community.

“The neighbourhood should decide the future of the West End, not individual development projects,” urban planner Michael Hartford told the public meeting. “I'm absolutely not opposed to development. I'm opposed to development that is achieving all the benefits for the proponent and few benefits for residents and the community.”

In May, the city began consulting West End residents about its new community plan to guide future development and the neighbourhood’s overall direction. Hartford says he’s encouraged by promises of transparency but hopes current development proposals will also be influenced by the community plan discussions. The community plan is expected to take 18 to 21 months to complete, according to the city.

“Right now, it's 'let's make a deal' planning,” Hartford says. “That should not be permitted in the West End in the future.”

Councillor Tim Stevenson says the current timeline ensures the process is “transparent and open all the way.” The city has listened to concerns about 1401 Comox St, he adds.

“There's no doubt that with 1401 Comox, we stopped it midstream,” he says. “We had so much feedback that people were concerned. So we looked at other angles and said, 'Okay, we need to incorporate that.' We incorporated people's ideas going forward.”

But he warns that without 100 percent rental apartments such as this one, the city cannot meet the urgent need for new rental stock.

“This is responding to the huge need for more rental housing,” he says. “What we are very determined to do, and was one of our campaign promises, is to increase purposely built rental stock.

“There hasn't been rental stock built in 30 years. This is an enormous jump forward. In the West End, 80 percent of people rent — the need is huge.”

A majority of attendees at WEN’s public meeting voted to urge city council to “ensure that any programs promoting affordable housing and purpose-built rentals respect the scale and character of our neighbourhood, respect existing zoning provisions and development guidelines, and be implemented in our community only if there is demonstrated community support.”

But not everyone agreed. One self-described neighbourhood newcomer says arguments about the West End's “character” risk stymieing efforts to increase affordability.

“People who don't live here yet often can't afford to live here,” says Kyle Thompson. “I think that often has to do with a limit on the supply of housing more than anything else.

“Restricting density in the name of character can be excessively restrictive because character is not defined,” Thompson adds.

Elizabeth Murphy, who ran unsuccessfully for council on the Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver slate last November, says “out of scale” apartment towers jeopardize affordability and risk escalating the cost of land.

“These large developments impact not just that particular development, but set a precedent for all the properties around them and put a lot of development pressure on the surrounding community,” she says. “There's expectations or speculation of increasing that format for other properties. If you have buildings of very high [cost] rentals, those higher rentals will affect the rents in older, more affordable buildings around it.”

Bill McCreery, a former Non-Partisan Association city council candidate, encouraged residents to attend the June 11 council hearing to voice concerns about the neighbourhood's future.

“The West End is a pretty darn nice place to live,” he says. “It can get better or it can get worse.

“I'd suggest the current direction the city's going in with spot rezonings — it is going to get worse. There's other ways to make housing affordable,” McCreery says.

Henriquez Partners Architects did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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The city can't afford it either
If you can't afford to live there, then you won't be able to afford to live in any buildings downtown or in the West End. And neither can the city afford to give away to the developer what it should normally be collecting without it costing somewhere else. Perhaps more Cactus Clubs on public park land will make up the shortfall.
Been There Cont'd
And kudos to Xtra for providing this platform for dissenting voices. I realize how precious this is because it was totally absent (purposefully suppressed?) in the Henriquez-Woodward's case. I couldn't figure out why not one (!) critical letter or article was ever published by the Vancouver Sun (it's true: check the archives!) concerning the Henriquez-Woodward's plan. But it all became clear once the Rennie sales machine began buying week after week of full-page colour ads for the new Woodward's, bringing hundreds of thousands of badly-needed ad dollars to the long-suffering right-of-center rag. I'm just an average citizen, but I was completely shocked by all this. Still am.
Been There
This is just an instant replay of the Henriquez-Woodwards project. The old Woodwards had heritage protection, but that was all wiped away in an instant by Council's in-camera decision to kiss Henriquez's ass. Community voices were effectively shut out by the City's amazing ability to quash activists by barreling the process through. So we got two ridiculously ugly skyscrapers which now rise out of Gastown, formerly one of Vancouver's last unified historical districts. Good luck!
Thanks PMaddocks
...but I'm still entitled to how I feel and my reaction to this outcome.

I don't agree with you, sorry.

What would you like to see built there?
Another church? Zoning can be changed at any time. Just because a small building used to be there makes no difference. The whole West End used to be bush. Is that enough perspective for you? Another building, hopefully affordable in some way, would be great. Why not? You are surrounded by other buildings and surrounded by parks as well. You have the best of both worlds. I would like to move in too.
Thanks Peaches
...but I can't afford that sorry.
Response to surprised!
The need for affordable rental housing in Vancouver is not a “get out of jail free” card that allows the city and developers to completely ignore zoning. It is not a free license to destroy heritage buildings, neighborhoods and green spaces with abandon. Urban planning means you make a plan first, then follow the plan.

If adding density is so important to Vancouver can someone explain to me why our city planners haven’t produced a city wide plan transparently communicating where density will be added and in what form?

One day Marpole is a quiet neighborhood and a day later someone in a back room decides it is the next Yaletown. This is planning? We don’t even have a planning director!

Site by site rezoning and back room deal making won’t solve the rental crisis. It won’t improve our city. It will always be open to suspicion due to lack of transparency and democratic processes.

Vision Vancouver are well into their 2nd term and I see no sense of coherent plan for the city, a complete disrespect for transparency and democratic processes.
Don't be fooled
The city's first STIR rental project at 1142 Granville was revealed with a lot of publicity in 2010. Now it's complete and on the market with 320 square foot furnished studio apartments for rent at $1,195. Who knew that we were in such short supply of executive suites that the Vision Vancouver council felt compelled to give away incentives to the developer to build? We are all now having to cover for the amenity contributions and development cost levies that got waived on that development thanks to STIR, owners and renters alike. Perhaps you should look at renting there Marc since these are now for rent.
that with our rental stock needs that people would vote against this.
very, very surprising!

...but I guess those who voted already have an apartment and not looking for one like me and thousands of others.
City councillor Stevenson and Vision two-faced
Here's what Stevenson told West Enders at a town hall meeting in 2008 BEFORE the election: ".... What it is going to take is all of us together, all of us together, letting Sam Sullivan and the NPA know that we are not going any further down the road they have been going in, that developers are NOT going to make the West End into another Yaletown." Once elected he voted for the demolition of Maxine's at Bidwell and Davie, and his United Church did a dirty move behind the backs of St. John's congregation and sold it to developer Ian Gillespie (West Bank). St. John's provided so much for the whole community, including the gay community. Stevenson lied and has helped rip out the heart of the West End. You're no friend of ours, Tim.
Oh, and Gregor Robertson said he wanted neighbourhoods in city hall before he got elected. This is not exactly what we thought he meant.
Councillor Stevenson is a hypocrite
Given the comments made by Tim Stevenson at the 2008 townhall, evidently he's a hypocrite with questionable integrity.

I note that Councillor Meggs was picketed at the provincial NDP's Fairview AGM on April 22 after voting in favour for the Rize rezoning in Mt. Pleasant.

I would look forward to Tim Stevenson receiving a similar reception from the public as just reward for his deceit.


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