For many Vancouverites, development will be the ballot issue in the upcoming civic election: too much, too high. The Rize in Mt. Pleasant, 1401 Comox in the West End, high-rises in Grandview-Woodland, the massive Oakridge redevelopment, the demolition of thousands of character family homes: these are vote-determining issues.
At the heart of peoples’ concerns about development are fundamental questions about what kind of city we’re aiming for; the need to genuinely involve citizens in planning; how to protect the unique neighbourhoods and heritage features that define Vancouver; and how best to fund and expand public services and amenities to keep pace with growth.
These kinds of questions are normally answered in a city’s Official Community Plan (OCP). But, Vancouver hasn’t developed a comprehensive OCP since 1929; it has just cobbled together policies and local area plans. A CityPlan process that started in the 1990s was never completed. Our zoning map gets updated by controversial spot rezoning or by neighbourhood plans that are disconnected from each other and unable to modify citywide objectives.
Spot rezoning is a poor way to plan. Driven by developers, it has resulted in Vancouver having more high rises per capita than any other city in the world, and a recent rate of growth that is estimated by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods to be five times faster than our official growth strategy has projected.
We need to genuinely engage citizens in creating a new and comprehensive Official Community Plan that determines what growth rate is reasonable, what kind of city we want, and how to best maintain our city’s livability. We need to look at options such as the more evenly distributed low-rise development that research by UBC’s Urban Design Program shows can easily accommodate population increase. We need to figure out different ways to finance growth and public amenities than negotiating community amenity contributions in exchange for increased density: a process that has pitted citizens against citizens. There are better ways.
Your Vancouver Green Council Team will work to:
• Produce a new Official Community Plan, with a “livable city” instead of a “growth strategy” as its goal. The new plan must include growth management and affordable housing strategies that are tied to a transportation strategy that serves all areas of the city equitably and sustainably. It should build on best practices employed in Vancouver’s CityPlan process, incorporate already-developed “neighbourhood visions”, and result in a comprehensively updated zoning map to curtail spot rezoning which is fuelling speculative investment and development.
• Revamp our planning process to genuinely engage citizens. Establish and fund representative Neighbourhood Councils, like Portland, Oregon that engage in planning and land use decisions from the start, and co-create community development and transportation projects in a collaborative, bottom-up not top-down process.
• Bring planning to communities. Introduce conveniently timed public hearings to the neighbourhoods they affect.
• Improve the process for public notifications. Current protocols limit official notification to several blocks adjacent to a proposed development, even if the development is very large.
• Ensure more transparency in negotiations between the city’s planning department and developers.
• Re-focus the city’s planning department on prioritizing good urban design and genuine collaboration with local citizens over development revenue.
• Expand public amenities and services to match population growth. Require cumulative impact assessment of development projects on public services for every neighbourhood and require service agreements for large developments like Oakridge.
• Protect Vancouver’s character homes and neighbourhoods. Change zoning in single family (RS) zones hard-hit with the loss of older homes to zoning similar to Kitsilano that reduced the outright allowable density and only allowed increased density if a character home is protected. Consider defining character homes differently for different neighbourhoods — for example, homes older than 1950 for Upper Kitsilano.
• Protect heritage buildings and historic areas such as Gastown, Chinatown and First Shaughnessy by quickly updating the Heritage Registry and revitalizing the Heritage Bank.
• Protect heritage by changing building code and zoning bylaws to encourage heritage retention and alleviate onerous costs associated with heritage retention/renovation.
• Change how we finance growth and services. Establish a process involving experts and citizens to evaluate different options. Pursue changes to the Vancouver Charter to broaden the services that Development Cost Levies (DCLs) can fund. Standardize rather than negotiate Community Amenity Contributions (CACs).
• Establish new urban design guidelines for livability in terms of people’s mental and physical health, for placemaking and to combat social isolation.