‘Faulty’ Towers? Battle Brews over Vibe of Commercial Drive

Coalition of 28 Vancouver groups want city to delay Grandview-Woodland community plan for more consultation.

By Christopher Cheung 10 Aug 2016 |

Christopher Cheung is editorial assistant at The Tyee. Follow him on Twitter @bychrischeung.

A war over the future of one of Vancouver’s most eclectic neighbourhoods is still being fought by citizens.

One battle over Grandview-Woodland’s future concluded July 27 when city council approved a community plan more than four years in the making. The plan covers an area roughly from Burrard Inlet to 12th Avenue, bounded by Clark Drive on the west and Nanaimo Street on the east.

However the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods isn’t happy with what it calls a “very flawed process” for a “faulty plan.”

In 2014, city council created a Citizens’ Assembly of community members to collaborate with city staff on the plan and provide input on issues like density, building height and traffic.

The coalition, representing 28 Vancouver neighbourhood groups, is unhappy with this approach. It says “well-intentioned” citizens had input, but council and city staff had the final say.

“Why bother going to all this work and engaging all of these volunteers who give up their time and energy for a process like the Citizens' Assembly, and then override the recommendations of such a group?” said Larry Benge, the coalition’s chair.

Benge also has “mixed feelings” about the way Citizens’ Assembly members were selected in a process led by MASS LBP, a public engagement firm. “They basically took a lot of people who hadn’t been participating in community issues over the years and, ‘quote-unquote,’ schooled them in the process,” he said.

It’s the first time this approach to planning has been tried in Canada.

The coalition wrote a letter to the mayor and council Monday detailing their concerns with the community plan.

Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer wasn’t surprised by their stance. “They had concerns about the broad representation of the Citizens’ Assembly,” said Reimer. “I don’t. It’s a democracy.”

The Citizens’ Assembly has 48 members and is intended to be a microcosm of Grandview-Woodland residents’ ages, ethnicities, incomes and the balance of homeowners and renters. The area includes “the Drive,” the section of Commercial Drive known as Vancouver’s Little Italy, and is also home to a large portion of the city’s urban Indigenous population.

After about 100 hours of meetings, the Citizens’ Assembly came up with 270 recommendations, which city staff say were almost all incorporated into the community plan.

Inside the plan

The approved plan will welcome 10,000 more residents to the neighbourhood over the next three decades, increasing Grandview-Woodland's population by almost 30 per cent.

It also allows higher density development in parts of the community, including the Safeway site near the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station (up to 24 storeys), the area around the station itself (up to 10 storeys) and selected blocks on Pender Street (up to 10 storeys). These height limits have been reduced from a previous plan.

The anticipated population growth would reverse the steady decline, as Grandview-Woodland’s population has shrunk 6.5 per cent in the past 15 years. The number of children and teenagers saw the greatest decline.

Vancouver’s approved plan will welcome 10,000 more residents to the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood over the next three decades. Photo by Charles Campbell.

Some of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods’ concerns include inadequate green space for the new residents and fears the changes will result in the loss of affordable rental housing. The coalition is also concerned the plan will have a negative impact on other projects like the expansion of the Britannia Community complex and the plan for the neighbouring Kensington-Cedar Cottage area, which do not incorporate changes the approved density might bring.

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and the No Venables Tower coalition are also concerned about development on the Kettle Boffo site at Venables Street and Commercial Drive. The Citizens’ Assembly couldn’t reach a consensus on allowable building height on the site, which is now occupied by the Kettle Society, which offers housing and services to those struggling with mental health. City council is considering up to 12 storeys on the site. The groups say that’s too high and the development would be too dense.

Too little time for public review, critics say

The coalition is also critical of the City of Vancouver’s decision to give the public just four weeks to review and comment on a 252-page draft plan and six days to review a final plan.

“This unexpectedly short timeframe for review clearly did not provide adequate opportunity for public feedback, let alone time for staff to give meaningful consideration to that feedback,” the coalition said in its letter to council. “The new plan that council approved will bring enormous changes to Grandview-Woodland, entailing a radical departure from existing zoning and neighbourhood character guidelines. There is nothing ‘gentle’ about the planned densification.”

But Reimer says time is of the essence. As a resident of Grandview-Woodland, she has been demovicted nine times in 20 years.

“That’s just how life is as a renter in Grandview-Woodland,” said Reimer. “Personally, I feel if we continued on, people would continue to suffer. More time is not going to build an agreement, from what I can tell.”

Benge remains convinced the plan should be put on hold to allow more consultation.

“In an ideal world, if you have collaboration from the community, from the city, and from developers, you have a beautiful city,” said Benge. “Will it take more time? Yes. Will it cost a bit more? Yes. Will you come up with a far superior product? I believe so.”  [Tyee]

Letter from the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods


The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods represents 28 community groups across the city. Their August 8 letter to the mayor and council, which can be read here, outlines their concerns with the Grandview-Woodland community plan and the process of its creation.

Larry Benge, the coalition’s chair, says that the community plan goes against the coalition’s principles and goals, which can be found here. “That document is all about a collaborative relationship between neighbourhoods and planning at city hall."

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