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West End group to city: more communication needed

City council's failure to consider public input about contentious housing development proposals in Vancouver poses a serious threat to neighbourhoods across the city, a West End resident says.

"My biggest fear is that the (Short Term Incentives for Rental) program is going to be going through and the blueprint of this is actually going to be felt all over the city," says Tiko Kerr, a Vancouver-based artist and long-time West End resident.

Kerr was one of six residents who voiced their concerns about the STIR program — an initiative to increase rental housing supply — and the creation of the West End Advisory Committee at a council meeting July 8. After the meeting, Mayor Gregor Robertson was caught on tape calling Kerr and others 'fucking NPA hacks.'

While Robertson issued an apology for his remarks, Kerr said the July 8 remarks demonstrate city council’s unwillingness to consider the concerns of community groups.

"We’re very much not against the notion of development but there has to be a community process … there has to be input," said Kerr, member of community advocacy group, the West End Neighbours. "But every time we’ve approached that, we’re completely dismissed, none of our points are taken seriously."

Residents spoke out against the creation of the West End Advisory Committee, a group of 12 city-appointed West End residents supposed to open discussion surrounding development and planning issues. For Kerr, the creation of a city-appointed committee fails to address the varying concerns and opinions held by the over-42,000 West End community members.

"It was pushed through without any kind of warning or dialogue whatsoever," he said.

According to the City of Vancouver website, the committee will begin its operations in September 2010 and will be responsible for “communicating community priorities to the City in its planning and policy development and for helping to communicate City policy initiatives that may be of interest to residents in the West End.”

Kerr and other West End Neighbours members think the city must better examine issues and the concerns of the wider public, especially for proposals like the 22-story building on Comox Street and a 20-storey tower on Bidwell Street – two structures that will change the West End’s density allowances and landscape.

"We are very leery about who gets onto the committee," he said. "We’re just supposed to swallow this and hope for the best. This is unacceptable."

Niamh Scallan is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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