Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Here we go again: the search for another Director of Planning Vancouver Courier July 29, 2015

While the city’s outgoing Director of Planning Brian Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, according to columnist Michael Geller his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.  Photograph By Dan Toulgoet

On Sunday afternoon I received some interesting news from the City of Vancouver’s Communication Office: “The General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement.”

When I posted on Twitter that I found this resignation and the timing of its announcement disturbing, a fellow civic affairs columnist asked how I could be disturbed by someone else’s career decision.

While I will leave it to fellow columnist Allen Garr to comment on the unusual timing of this announcement, here is some background.

Brian Jackson was appointed GM of Planning and Development (a.k.a. the Director of Planning) less than three years ago. I remember the day since I spoke on CBC radio in his defense after he was unfairly criticized by former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth for his work in Richmond, where he was acting GM of Development Services.

Jackson’s appointment followed a major international search necessitated by the firing of the previous planner Brent Toderian. I also remember Toderian’s appointment since it too followed a major international search and extensive public discussion that included a May 2006 panel discussion at SFU.

I participated in that event titled “What To Look for in a New Director of Planning,” along with May Brown, Ray Spaxman and Bing Thom. Many noted at the time that only in Vancouver could the selection of a Director of Planning be regarded as major news.
But then again, it always has been.

Gerald Sutton Brown, the city’s first planning director, was fired in 1973 after 20 years, when TEAM, a new political party led by Art Phillips, swept into power. He was replaced by Ray Spaxman who arrived from Toronto.

Spaxman, who now lives in West Vancouver and continues to take an active interest in planning issues, transformed Vancouver’s approach to city planning with a focus on community consultation and a concern for “neighbourliness.”

I served for many years on the city’s Development Permit Board Advisory Panel during his tenure and developed a great respect for his desire to make Vancouver a more beautiful and walkable city, with continuous weather protection and “pedestrian interest at grade.”

Spaxman resigned in 1988 following ongoing disagreements with then mayor Gordon Campbell.
Most people have forgotten about his successor, a fellow named Tom Fletcher who lasted five years.

According to Sunday’s press release, Jackson spent the last three years “leading the most ambitious planning agenda the City has ever experienced.”

Many old-timers, me included, would strongly disagree with this, noting that during Spaxman’s term of office, the character of the city transformed dramatically. He oversaw the planning and development of new communities along False Creek and Coal Harbour, Champlain Heights and the Fraser River, and incorporated housing in many areas of the downtown.

While Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.

The Downtown Eastside is particularly disappointing. Rather than encourage a broader mix of households and housing types, I fear his plan reinforces the core of this neighbourhood as a low income ghetto for years to come.

When Jackson started his position, one of his promises was to greatly improve the city’s approval process. However, as noted in the recent Fraser Institute report on municipal red tape, Vancouver remains near the bottom of the list when it comes to approval times and uncertainty.

What Sunday’s press release did not say is why Jackson is leaving after only three years.
During a CBC radio interview on Monday, he said he decided to leave during a recent holiday in Paris. At the age of 60, he wanted more personal time for himself.

He also acknowledged his decision to leave was partly influenced by ongoing criticism, including a letter signed by former city planners, planning professors, consultants and associated professionals, myself included.

We were concerned about a number of inappropriate development approvals and what we saw as a diminishing respect for the importance of urban design and planning within city hall.
While I wish Brian a happy retirement, hopefully the next Director of Planning can more effectively address these concerns.

Postscript. I am now advised that the Sunday afternoon press release was precipitated by the fact that Frances Bula had learned of the resignation and was doing a Globe and Mail story Monday morning.

Fellow columnist Allen Garr also shares some valuable insight into the story behind this story here: 

While the city’s outgoing Director of Planning Brian Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, according to columnist Michael Geller his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.   Photograph By Dan Toulgoet - See more at:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why did City of Vancouver announce Brian Jackson retirement at 2:19 on a Sunday afternoon?


News Release: City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement

City of Vancouver
News Release
July 26, 2015

City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement

After 35 years of experience planning in the public and private sector, the City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development, Brian Jackson has announced his plans to retire at the end of 2015.

Following an international search, Jackson was appointed by Council as the General Manager of Planning and Development Services, and has spent the last three years leading the most ambitious planning agenda the City has ever experienced. Under his leadership and through his ability to enable complex land use policy and related decisions, the City has delivered on both the development of and the implementation of key community plans including the West End Plan, the first ever Downtown Eastside Plan, the Marpole Plan, the Cambie Corridor Plan, and through the work which still continues on the Grandview-Woodland Plan has lead an unprecedented engagement using an innovative Civic Assembly methodology.  In addition, Jackson has overseen the most significant growth in job related commercial development in the downtown core in the history of Vancouver. Jackson has achieved the difficult goal of enabling large, complex planning initiatives to continue to create livable, sustainable communities while contributing to a vibrant and robust economy. Over the next few months prior to his retirement date, Jackson hopes to complete key elements of his legacy Heritage Action Plan to ensure the preservation of Vancouver’s historic assets.

In addition to his planning leadership, Jackson has also served as the executive lead of the Permits and Licenses project, which is a major information system update for the processing of the thousands of permits and licenses issued by the City – this is the most significant business transformation project in the history of the City.

“During his time at the City of Vancouver, Brian Jackson worked to create a more coherent approach for land use planning. He’s been a true leader in this area and has taken on the challenge of working with individual communities to take action on our vision for the future of Vancouver,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “He has made a significant impact and shown what smart, creative and integrated urban planning can look like. Although we’re sad to see him leave, we wish him the best in his retirement.”

A number of Jackson’s initiatives have received recognition through the Planning Institute of British Columbia. In 2015 the Marpole Community Plan with Silver for Excellence in Policy Planning. The West End Community Plan won the 2014 Excellence in Policy Planning for its innovative policies and comprehensive public engagement.

Jackson will retire as of December 31 2015 and an international search will be undertaken to find a replacement.

Media Contact:
Corporate Communications


City of Vancouver Communications Office <>

Attachments14:19 (18 hours ago)

to Michael

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Opinion Vancouver Courier July 15, 2015 Concerns over The Kettle Society development warranted

A portion of the site is now occupied by a two storey building that was purchased by Boffo, adjacent to the Kettle Friendship property.

Last Sunday I went for a drive along The Drive.  My destination was a triangular property at Commercial Drive and Venables Street where a controversial development is attracting considerable debate within the Grandview-Woodland community.
This city owned parking lot would be sold to Boffo as part of the development arrangement. While details of the price are not available there's no doubt that it is a major factor in determining the height and density of the project
The proposal is a joint initiative by the Kettle Friendship Society, a highly-regarded non-profit organization, and Boffo Properties, a respected company within the Vancouver development community. Building lots along Venables are owned by the Kettle and Boffo, while the city owns a lane and parking lot to the north. Current zoning would allow a four-storey development up to 45 feet in height and a 3.0 floor space ratio (FSR). FSR is the ratio of building size to land area.
A 13 storey building by the Vancouver East Lions, (that I may have approved while at CMHC in the early 70s) is east of the site. While the height is similar to what is being proposed, the density is approximately one third of the current proposal
Preliminary plans illustrate a 12-storey condominium and five-storey building providing expanded society offices and 30 supportive housing units. The FSR is 6.8, which from a community planning perspective is very high for this neighbourhood. However, in the absence of any senior government funding, the non-profit society and developer claim this height and density is required to make the project financially viable.
Boffo and Kettle have been working on this proposal since 2012, but it was put on hold pending the outcome of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan and final report from the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly. The proposal has garnered recent media attention since the society and developer would now like to move forward. However, many in the community oppose the building height and density and have gone so far as to suggest the project would destroy Commercial Drive.

This past May, the city organized a community workshop to discuss the proposal, and from the planning department’s online presentation materials, it seems to me that city planners support the design concept. However, I believe this proposal raises some important planning and development issues:
  • Should the city approve a development at a greater height and density than might otherwise be acceptable from a community planning perspective because it provides much-needed supportive housing and community space?
  • In the absence of senior government funding, should the community plan encourage other non-profit societies and developers to partner on affordable housing projects along the Drive, albeit at greater heights and densities?
  • Should a decision on this or any other project be made prior to final approval of the overall community plan?
  • Given that the project involves the sale of city-owned lands, does the city have any special obligations to the community?
Newspaper stories and social media accounts of this proposal have generated considerable online commentary and much criticism of those opposing the development as NIMBYs. Fellow Courier columnist Mike Klassen wrote on Facebook that “a noble non-profit society has a good plan that is very sensitive to the neighbourhood, yet activists oppose it on the principle that no mid-rise buildings must get near them. These folks love street improvements, commercial activity, services and jobs, as long as they don’t have to see the building which allows it to happen.”
Formal B.C. Liberal candidate for Powell River-Sunshine Coast Patrick Muncaster agrees. “Thoughtless nimbyism is rife — a major contributor to high housing costs, slow economic growth, social inequity and shabby neighbourhoods. Resistance to change is perhaps even more prevalent on the left of the political spectrum than it is on the right.”

However, former city alderman and UBC professor emeritus Dr. Setty Pendakur writes: “If we classify any disagreement with development and densification as NIMBY, then we might as well forget about civilized conversation and serious and positive citizen participation. I remember similar outcries in the mid-sixties and early seventies when we marched against city centre freeways!”

Over the years I have been involved with many controversial development projects. In many cases I did not think the criticism was warranted. However, in this instance, I think we should listen to the opponents since the fact is a development of this size would never be approved if it contained just market condominiums.

Once again, like Brenhill’s Helmcken Street and Atira’s East 41 Hastings St. proposals, we have an example of “form following finance” rather than appropriate community planning and design guidelines.I therefore add my voice to those demanding senior government funding so that the final height and density will result in a better fit with the scale of Commercial Drive.

A trip to the Okanagan: Golf, wine and relaxation

It has been a while since I spent any time exploring the Okanagan, but earlier this month I set off with some old friends (old in both senses of the word) to play some golf and visit some wineries around the Okanagan. I had forgotten how beautiful it is.
We spent the first 2 nights at the Walnut Beach Resort on Lakeshore Drive in Osoyoos. I can highly recommend it. I particularly liked the fact that you could walk out of the resort into the pool or onto the beach and into the lake...a very clean and warm lake.
Dinner the first night was at the Tinhorn Creek Estate winery. While I don't know enough about wine to say whether this is a good winery or a great winery, the outdoor terrace of the dining room was very lovely and I enjoyed being able to sample flights of different wine with each course of dinner.

Below are some photos from my Okanagan scrapbook.
The view from the terrace of the NK-MIP restaurant was magnificent and Gail, our server was very special.
This is one golf course sign to which we all paid attention
The Mission Hill Winery is very reminiscent of the California wineries one finds and around Sonoma. It is a very sophisticated and elegant place....not what one expects when you think of BC wines of 30 years ago.
A creative chandelier in the Mission Hill winery
While Quail's Gate is not quite in the same league, it has a very lovely dining room and terrace with excellent food.
My small cheese board at Quail's Gate. (I'm watching my cholesterol)
If this Kelowna restaurant reminds you of a former Vancouver restaurant that's because it is. Yes the former owner of Cafe de Paris is now operating Bouchon's Bistro in Kelowna. He even kept the frites containers!
Another golf course sign we respected
When we asked around for another good Kelowna restaurant a number of people recommended Raudz. While I didn't like the fact it wouldn't take reservations, I enjoyed the vibe and food including this very deluxe filet burger. (I'm watching my cholesterol)
I was surprised to learn the yellow cherries are considered sweeter than the red
The dining room at Summerhill Pyramid, with an adjacent outdoor terrace. Good, but not great.
The Harvest Golf Course was my least favourite of the lot. I much preferred NK-MIP, Desert Gold in Osoyoos, Fairview Mountain, Tower Ranch and Rise. Gallaghers Canyon and Quail are also fine to play.

By the time we left we could see the smoke on the horizon from our unit at the Manteo Beach Resort. Thanks Mary Ann and Jon for making it all happen.