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.


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