Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Broadway Plan: Letter to Mayor/Council/staff from two former assistant Directors of Planning

One of my frustrations with the discussions regarding the proposed Broadway Plan is that while much of the focus has been on the need for densification around transit stations, and the desperate need for more affordable rental housing, there has not been enough discussion on whether it is a good plan for the neighbourhoods along the corridor. 

I was therefore interested to receive a copy of a letter written by two former Assistant Directors of Planning for the City of Vancouver which was sent to Council. Since it offers some thoughtful suggestions, and generally accords with my own thinking, I am reprinting it below:

Subject: Broadway Plan: Further suggestions from 2 former ADs of Planning


Dear Mayor and Council


We are two former Assistant Directors of Planning who have followed the development of the Broadway Plan. On March 23, 2022 we wrote to you about the draft Plan with concerns and suggestions. After listening to current discussion at Council on the proposed Broadway Plan, we are writing to reiterate, and refine, our previous suggestion for Council to strategically phase adoption and implementation of the Plan, as follows.   

1.      In Station Areas and the parts of Shoulder Areas directly along Broadway, allow redevelopment to proceed in accordance with the Plan.  This will both support the transit line, and create more housing, including rental, with minimal loss of existing housing.

2.      In the Existing Apartment Areas, where both rental and condo buildings already supply significant and affordable housing, allow only a defined, limited number of projects over the next, say, 5 years provided they either replace existing rental (under the conditions set out in the Plan), or are projects by non-profit groups.  At the end of the 5 years the City should evaluate these to determine whether the hopes and/or fears being expressed by planners, residents and others are coming to pass, and how policies might need to be adjusted.  This will further the goals of dealing with deteriorating existing rental buildings, adding more rental and non-market units,  and maintaining most existing affordable stock, pending determination of whether the economics and various tenant protection and affordability measures are actually workable.  

3.      Complete the key follow-up work the Plan requires, including assessing it in the context of the overall Vancouver Plan.  This will address the valid questions about park space, heritage, and other still unresolved parts of the Plan, as well as provide insight as to whether it makes sense to implement all the remaining Broadway Plan densification proposals, or some of them, or to prioritize action in other areas of the city which have lower land costs, more existing amenities, and good transit service.

 Council is hearing a push from some quarters to do none of it, and from others to do all of it right away. There is valid concern about the loss of affordable rental and condos, and the true viability of the proposed development economics and tenant protections. 

The Broadway Plan is very large, very ambitious, and very long term. It has both good directions and significant weaknesses, as well as many unanswered questions.  It does not need to proceed all at one time. Any Council action involves risks—but let them be appropriate and measured risks.

 Thank you for considering our comments.

 Trish French and Ronda Howard


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Community Planner Stephen Mikicich's Letter to Council re: Broadway Plan

Stephen Mikicich is a registered planner with considerable experience in Community Planning. I first met him 10 years ago when he worked in the West Vancouver Planning Department, and he was an ardent supporter of innovation and densification in what might best be described as a low-density town. 

He had considerable experience as a private planning consultant before joining the District, and often worked with Business Improvement Areas. He was therefore appointed West Vancouver's first Manager of Economic Development and made great strides in developing an economic development strategy for the District. Today he is working with the District of Langley. He's a resident of Kitsilano.

Stephen and I often get together and argue about planning matters, given our diverse backgrounds and perspectives. 

Today, Stephen shared with me a letter he sent to Council. Since it addresses some important points that I omitted, (but with which I agree), I asked his permission to share it here. I think you'll find it most thoughtful and relevant

May 16, 2022 
Mayor and Council
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver BC V5Y 1V4


 City staff have described the Broadway Plan as a bold vision for Vancouver’s future and suggest that there has been extensive engagement in developing this plan. However, most Vancouverites know little if anything about the Broadway Plan, and what is envisioned for a 500-block area of the city.

Engagement on goals and objectives, future aspirations, and emerging directions is a normal part of the planning process. However, the ability to fully review a draft plan and provide meaningful and comprehensive input is even more important. Council’s desire to adopt this plan in May only a few weeks since it was publicly released sets a dangerous precedent and may seriously damage public trust in the City.

I do not support the sterile and generic vision the Broadway Plan puts forward for Vancouver’s future. I am disappointed by the complete disregard for established neighbourhoods, and the legacy of past planning achievements that established Vancouver as a global leader in livable cities. It is still possible to increase densities, introduce greater housing options, and enhance public amenities in Vancouver’s valued neighbourhoods without destroying them.

City staff indicate that the Broadway Plan would be implemented over 30 years, and that development would occur slowly over decades. However, if Council rescinds existing policy plans and adopts the Broadway Plan this month – there is really nothing preventing land assembly and real estate speculation from occurring. I am concerned that the massive increase in density will put upward pressure on land values, and displace more tenants, homeowners, and small businesses.

 If Council believes that the Broadway Plan establishes a future vision that most Vancouverites support  - why rush to adopt this plan now? I am sure that many of us would appreciate the time to fully understand the policy implications for the city and our respective communities, to ask questions of staff and Council, and to know that our input will be fully considered in finalizing a plan that truly works for all of us!

If, on the other hand, Council does not feel it has broad community support, and it is politically expedient to adopt the Broadway Plan in advance of the election, I fully understand.

Sincerely,  Stephen Mikicich (Vancouver resident)

Monday, May 16, 2022

Some personal musings on the Broadway Plan


For various reasons, I will not be speaking to Council this week about the Broadway Plan. Those who follow me on Twitter are aware of some of my views and I in turn have considered their critiques of my position. However, for what it's worth, I would like to recap some of my tweets and thoughts about the plan in the hope that revisions will be made before Council finally adopts it.

Firstly, to those who cannot understand why I, a developer, planning and real estate consultant and retired architect, would oppose the significant densification of properties along the Broadway Corridor, especially around transit stations, I do not oppose a significant densification along the corridor to create more affordable housing. 

My concerns relate primarily to the form of housing being proposed along the arterials, and the related height and Floor Space Ratio (FSR). I am also concerned about the absence of substantive information about proposed parks and community amenities. I also think better, more realistic illustrations need to be prepared to help all of us appreciate what the various areas along the corridor will look like in 10 years and 20 years, not just at build out. (That said, the drawings provided are not very good or accurate.)

I should add that I have not studied the entire corridor. Rather, I have focussed on the area around Arbutus Street with which I am most familiar.

While the consultation period for this plan has been happening for some time, I did not participate. I had previously participated in the discussion about the Broadway and Birch proposal (on the former Denny's site) and looking back on this experience, I regretted speaking out. Moreover, if planning staff and Council could approve this project, which should not have been approved at the proposed height and FSR (10.52) especially in advance of the Broadway Corridor Plan itself, I questioned why I should get involved in further consultations. I don't need the aggravation!  

Trust me, I received a lot of criticism from many in the development industry. I was also attacked by an industry commentator who was a friend of the developer, and many others who questioned why someone as affluent and old as me, with such old-fashioned ideas about planning, should be listened to.

Indeed, many younger people suggested it's time for them to make the planning decisions for the Broadway Corridor, not me. After all, I'll be dead while this plan is being implemented! :-)

Arbutus Walk

However, in early April I was approached by a planning colleague who owns a property in Arbutus Walk and was asked if I was aware the Broadway Plan had included Arbutus Walk as a location for future higher density highrise buildings. This caused me to download the plan and he appeared to be right.

As evidenced by these extracts from the appendices, Arbutus Walk was designated KBAD with a density of 6.0 to 6.5 FSR and heights of 15-18 storeys. This community was designed and approved after significant community involvement. It was converted from highrise to midrise and lowrise form after much debate. It's only 20 to 25 years old and should not be designated for highrise. Instead, it should have been excluded from the planning area. 

When I suggested this on twitter, others told me this was a 30-year plan, and it might well be appropriate to redevelop this area during this time frame. I strongly disagreed. (Brent Toderian subsequently told me something quite different. He said he spoke to staff, and it wasn't intended that this site be redeveloped within the 30-year timeframe. However, this is contradicted by the map.)

I also note that the Fraser Academy site near Arbutus Walk is designated for 8 FSR. This is an extremely high FSR. I am sure there's a story behind this proposal, but don't have time to investigate. Maybe Frances Bula or others will.

Properties Along Arbutus Street between 13th and 14th near Arbutus Walk are being proposed for 18 storey high rises at 5.5 FSR. Now I appreciate that many readers may not understand what 5.5 FSR means. This is almost twice 3 FSR which is the density I was taught was the maximum to be allowed for a comfortable livable environment. (I would note this is approximately the density of most of Coal Harbour and North Shore False Creek.)

If you look closely at the illustrations, you'll note that the 'Vancouverism' model of a tower on a two or three level podium is not being proposed. Instead, most of the podiums appear to be much higher. Ugh!

It's all about Affordability

While some people have criticized me as an affluent person who can't relate to ordinary people, I am well aware of the need for a lot more affordable housing. After all, I did spend 10 years at CMHC and was for a time responsible for the social housing programs. I get it. There's a need for more affordable housing.

Many people on Twitter, and Theresa O'Donnell, the chief planner for the city have repeatedly noted that while these densities may be high, they are necessary if the city is to achieve a lot of purpose-built rental housing along the corridor with at least a 20% below market component. In other words, FORM MUST FOLLOW FINANCE, not context or fit. I disagree.

I also worry that massive increases in density will not translate into massive increases in affordability. Yes, the initial property owners will benefit, and may be able to provide the desired housing. But over time, higher densities will translate into higher land values, and affordable housing will require senior government subsidies. Indeed, as interest rates and construction costs rise, it's questionable whether any new rental housing will be feasible in the immediate future. 

As for the mayor's proposal to allow existing tenants to return to the new buildings near their location at the same or lower rents, this is at best..... aspirational. The developers and lenders with whom I have spoken do not consider this a realistic proposal.

Ironically, while most of the focus has been on the provision of affordable rental housing, I would like to hear more discussion about affordable ownership housing. In some of my other projects, I have explored Rent-to-Own programs, Workforce Housing, co-housing, and other ways to help people buy....not rent. But little is said about ownership housing, other than the developers will have to pay significant CACs to fund community amenities. Good luck creating any affordable ownership on this basis.

It's also about accommodating growth

Others repeatedly remind me that the city must also accommodate a lot of people over the next 30 years, and unless we can rezone all of Vancouver's single-family properties for 6-storey apartments, there won't be sufficient capacity without the proposed densities along the Broadway Corridor. Frankly, this is nonsense. But, if the density along this corridor is impacted by the planning decisions for the rest of the city, then I question why we should approve the Broadway Plan divorced from the City Wide Plan. A more sensible thing would be to approve each with full knowledge and consideration of the other.

Alternative building forms?

Over the years, I have lived in several highrise buildings. In Ottawa I lived in Pestalozzi College. I lived on the 17th and 29th floors of Martello Tower at 1011 Beach Avenue. And I lived in a highrise at Bayshore. I have also designed and developed many highrises, both with CMHC and as a private developer and planning consultant. I like highrises, especially those at Bayshore with which I was involved for 10 years.

However, I question their suitability as affordable housing for families with children, and also question whether they should be juxtaposed with lowrise development. Instead, I prefer more European-style midrise housing forms, such as those found in Amsterdam, Barcelona and most European countries which achieve density without towers. As noted in this CBC article, they can offer attributes not found in highrises, and I see a place for this form of housing along the Broadway Corridor arterials.

So where are the parks?

When I rezoned the Bayshore Hotel property next to Devonian/Stanley Park, a major issue was whether the development would contribute adequate park space to comply with the city's standard of 2.75 acres of park for every 1000 residents. This standard was based on the provision of park space as per the late 1980s. However, this standard appears to have been discarded. (Indeed, if you calculate how much additional park space would be required based on the proposed population increase, there wouldn't be much room for any new housing.

However, for me a bigger question is whether there will be any new parks and community centres. There is reference to a park near Burrard Slopes and some nice words about providing adequate new community amenities. However, I could not find a plan that identified where new parks and community facilities might go. 

Over the years I've been involved in the preparation of several large-scale plans. They always indicate potential locations for new parks, community centres, schools, etc. But not in this plan unless I missed the drawings.


In summary, I agree with the general direction and like many of the words in this planning document. However, I don't like the proposed highrise buildings on high podiums at excessive densities as illustrated in many of the plans that I reviewed, especially for the arterial and 'shoulder' areas. I also worry about the resulting character. 

This worry is founded in part because the illustrations provided in the planning documents are not very good. Some are little more than cartoons, others do not provide accurate street level views. (I should add that the comprehensive but simplistic massing diagram prepared by some of the plan opponents is also misleading.) 

So I suggest that Council ask the planning department to prepare better and more accurate illustrations to help all of us appreciate the scale of new development over time, say after 10 years, 20 years and at final build out. What will the main communities look like? Such phasing illustrations are standard procedure for most of the larger scale projects with which I have been involved, but none have been prepared at all for the Broadway Corridor.

As Theresa O'Donnell told Stephen Quinn on CBC radio, there have been an astonishing number of meetings and opportunities for community input. But we haven't been told what the community said, nor what changes were made in response to community input. 

Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, at no time was the planning or architectural community invited to participate in AIBC or PIBC/City sponsored discussions about the plan with senior city staff in attendance. 

I therefore hope Council will now receive the plan and the various appendices, but direct staff to now consult with the development and banking communities to discuss the concerns that have been raised by existing tenants and their organizations about being accommodated in new buildings at the same or lower rents as the mayor has recently proposed. 

Staff should also be directed to meet with the architectural, planning and development communities to review the most appropriate forms of zoning to allow higher density development over time, since what may be acceptable in five years may be different than what's acceptable in twenty-five years. This is called Dynamic Zoning and could address many of my concerns about context and fit over time.

I hope this is helpful in furthering the discussion. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

An urban planner & former developer offers Council his comments re: Broadway Plan

 Arnie Wise is a former developer who lives in Kitsilano. He recently sent the following comments to Council. I share many of his concerns and observations, although I would note that the city has recently announced a new policy related to the relocation of existing tenants in affordable housing. A key aspect of this is that tenants who are evicted can move back into new projects at the same rent. This of course sounds admirable, but one needs to question whether developers will agree to this, and whether former tenants will want to return what might be 3 or 4 years after they move out.

During a recent interview with Stephen Quinn on CBC Early Edition, Theresa O'Donnell, the chief planner for Vancouver said that one of the reasons why the city is proposing such high densities is to help make this tenant relocation strategy happen. While I hope the city's plan will be modified to reduce the number of very high FSR towers by introducing more high density 'street wall' and other 'European Style' design concepts like this Amsterdam streetscape, I also hope I will live long enough to see how this relocation policy works out!

Here are Arnie Wise's comments:

Good morning Mayor Stewart & Members of City Council,

In the run up to a municipal election, we used to call this the “silly season”.
The Broadway Plan is a perfect example.


urban planner / retired developer

Broadway Plan

The famous urbanist Jane Jacobs would be appalled by this Broadway Plan, because it has only one brutal objective - increased density.  
This Plan ignores the communities on the ground where folks meet, walk, play, shop, bike, go to parks, schools & gyms. These are the community amenities that make a neighbourhood function and thrive.
The Broadway Plan's rather simple & flawed bird's eye view of city planning ignores the mosaic of communities along the Broadway Corridor, that make up the City of Vancouver. 
It's a good idea to Increase density in nodes around subway stops, but the rest of the neighbourhood need not be a sea of towers. That isn't how an organic city grows & functions. 
This plan seems to have been designed by a city planner who has never lived in Vancouver and is out of touch with Vancouver's reality of being a series of local communities and neighbourhoods tied together by arterial networks.
And any boosterism appeal to being "world class" because of high density is laughable if it wasn't so sad, in that Vancouver is the least affordable City in North America and the third least affordable City in the world. That's Vancouver's unenviable distinction as being "world class". 
"World class" housing prices in Vancouver are forcing essential workers earning good salaries like nurses, firefighters, police & teachers to flee the city to the suburbs, and commute, spewing harmful gases into the environment, because they can't afford to live in the City they serve. This is also a strain on Metro's transportation network.
This plan never mentions the word "affordable" in the midst of the worst housing affordability crisis in a generation.  
As if more density and more supply will magically mean more affordable. According to Douglas Porter the Chief Economist of the Bank of Montreal, the idea that more supply will lower home prices is a self serving myth touted by the real estate industry to justify high housing prices.

1. Reject the Broadway Plan and send it back to staff for a major revision and rethink with different objectives - namely affordable housing, community amenities, a liveable scale, as well as increased density.
2. Direct staff to scale down the neighbourhood heights and densities beyond the immediate subway stop nodes, to respect the existing neighbourhoods and communities.
3. Require 50% affordable housing from the developer on all site specific up-zonings, in exchange for more density.  
Why should the City give a gift to landowners without the landowner giving something back to the City and the Community in the form of affordable housing ?


ARNY WISE, urban planner / retired developer

Which neighbourhood do you live in?