September 2017 Update

It has been more than a year since Vancouver City Council voted to approve, in principle, the development of a controversial and much-opposed 12-storey tower at the corner of Venables and Commercial. (For exact wording of the motion that Council passed, please see http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/council-meeting-minutes-policy-and-strategic-priorities-2016-07-27-and-28.pdf).

If you’ve strolled by that corner recently, however, you may be wondering what is going on, as there is currently nothing new happening on the site. It’s been more than a year since anything has happened — and at least a year since there was any news on the BoffoKettle website.

Some of us with the No Tower Coalition had been asking that very question — What is going on?

At a mid-May City of Vancouver open house on proposed Grandview zoning changes, we asked one of the City of Vancouver planners what was happening. In reply, we received the startling news that the developer in question, Boffo Properties, had withdrawn his interest in the project. However, at that same meeting, planner Andrew Pask specifically contradicted his colleague, stating that the developer had not formally withdrawn, and that in fact, planning for the development might be continuing.

In mid-June, at Italian Day on the Drive, BoffoKettle had a fancy table set up on the Drive and were answering people’s questions about the project. When asked what was going on, they told passers by that they were still full-steam-ahead but just hadn’t yet submitted their plans to the City.

Given these confusing and contradictory signals, we made an appointment to meet with Gil Kelley, Vancouver’s recently appointed General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability. Seven No Tower Coalition people met with Gil Kelley and Kent Munro on August 18th. At the meeting Mr. Kelley confirmed that, while Boffo Properties had initially stepped away from the proposed project, they were now back in discussions with the Kettle and with the City.

Mr. Kelley told us that Boffo and the Kettle had been unable to reach agreement on the actual structure and components of their partnership. He indicated, however, that the two parties were now back at the table and that discussions had resumed. It is our understanding that the next stage of this process will be a rezoning application for the site, which will include an opportunity for public input.

Ever since we heard the news that Boffo had walked away from the talks we have been suspicious that the developer would be coming back asking for even greater height and density on the project. Mr. Kelley indicated at the meeting that greater height and density were not being considered by the City and were not the current sticking points. Yet we will not be surprised if Boffo does indeed ask for more height and density at some point in the future.

Given the considerable delays in the proposed project, the economics of the situation have changed. Land prices in Vancouver have continued to escalate relentlessly and the City of Vancouver parking lot, which is part of the proposed project, has increased substantially in value. Mr. Kelley indicated, however, that the proposal continues to be supported by the City, based on the 2011 value of the City’s parking lot land.

The No Tower Coalition continues to be strongly opposed to this 12-storey tower project as it is currently envisioned. Further we intend to vigorously oppose any possible increases in height and density, if they are brought forward.
We also made these key points to Mr. Kelley in a follow-up letter:

  • The impact of such a massive-scale tower project on our community will undoubtedly be extremely negative, with resulting up-zoning and pricing pressures on nearby properties and the certain loss of many of our nearby affordable rental buildings.
  • The proposed amenities (for the Kettle) to be provided by the developer are completely inadequate given the expected land lift contained in the proposed project, and given the current land value of the city’s contribution (the parking lot property).
  • The provision of some 200 market-priced condo units, is not the kind of housing so desperately needed in our community and elsewhere across Vancouver. Instead of approving this massive spot upzoning, we urge you to focus all your efforts on non-market and low-end-of-market affordable family-sized rental units.

In closing, thanks to all the community supporters of the No Tower Coalition who spoke up and put their voices on record against this massive imposition on our community. We will keep you posted as we learn more about next steps in the process.  Thank you again for your support.

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Bait and Switch at Council, Boffo/Kettle Get Their 12 Storeys

July 28, 2016

Back a whole long one month ago, when the planners released the new Grandview Woodland Community Plan, the No Tower Coalition noted that the height at Commercial and Venables had been slightly reduced to 9 storeys.  At the time, we were somewhat suspicious of the wording, which indicated that additional height and density would be considered if additional amenities could be secured.  We feared a bait and switch tactic: appearing to appease us in the Plan, but going back to the original height (12 storeys) and density (6.6 or so) once the community had quieted down.  Well, unfortunately, we were right.  Today, Council did go back to the original height and density.  However, this was not with community consent.  Indeed, Council went back to the original height and density even though the community clearly opposed it given over 4400 petition signatures, over 300 postcards, and over 110 letters sent in to Council since Saturday, July 23rd alone.

For those who did not attend the meeting or watch the broadcast, Clr Andrea Reimer came forward with a number of amendments to the Plan this morning.  (Interesting how City Councilors can do this, but citizen input doesn’t change the plan in any way!)  One of them was to set the height at Commercial and Venables back to 12 storeys.  Now, whether this means that the Plan was released in bad faith, with no real intention of ever implementing the 9 storey limit on Venables and four along the Drive, or whether this means that Council has total disregard for both the expertise of planners and the desires of the public, is hard to say.  However, all but two councilors voted for this amendment.  The two who did not were Adriane Carr and George Affleck.  For that, we commend them.

So successful had the public opposition been, that several councilors voting for the amendment had to go to great lengths to denigrate the opposition, which included denigrating Clr Carr as well.  Clr Kerry Jang in particular referred to Carr’s amendment to keep the height to 4 storeys at Commercial and Venables as “disrespectful,” saying it “hurts the most vulnerable.”  He went on from there to call it “irresponsible,” finally arguing that debating the best means of funding the expanded Kettle operations is callous and that it reminds him “of the debates we have over suicide netting on a bridge.  Oh it’s only one person, that’s ok, we’ll let ‘em die.”  (Reference at 2:24:40 at http://civic.neulion.com/cityofvancouver/index.php?clipid=3495018,001)

While the impossibility of providing what the Kettle needs with government funding or (gasp) only 9 storeys of condos was reiterated many times over the three days of discussion on the Plan, we have never seen a proforma or other evidence of the funding necessities from either Boffo or the Kettle.  No councilor asked exactly what was meant when Nancy Keough insisted that only with 12 storeys could the project “break even.”  We doubt very much that it meant that Boffo will be working for costs.

We are disappointed that the public was ignored, that the No Tower alternative for the Kettle expansion including 21 additional units of rental housing was ignored, and that the Plan itself was ignored.  But, in addition to that we are outraged that our city councilors, with a few exceptions, are unwilling to consider that funding basic mental health and poverty services through condos sets a terrible precedent for our senior levels of government to keep disinvesting from our most basic public systems.  We are further outraged that some councilors have gone so far as to call any one of us who criticizes projects such as Boffo/Kettle so callous as to want the deaths of the most vulnerable in our society.  This is disingenuous political hyperbole that undermines dissent and ultimately promotes developer greed over social good.

We do not yet know how we will proceed in any future rezoning hearings, but we do know that this loss has been an important one for us, for our neighbourhood, and for our public welfare systems, which desperately need reinvestment.  While many councilors stated that we cannot wait for government funding and therefore have to proceed with the Boffo/Kettle project, we believe that we cannot wait for this Vancouver condo boom to crash to begin reinvesting public money in public services.  Only by sharing our country’s wealth among ourselves, rather than offering it on a platter to developers, will we achieve any real change for those who use the Kettle along with the increasing number of disenfranchised and destitute people in our city.

Let City Council hear what you think of the Community Plan

Staff will be presenting the new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan to Council at the regular Council meeting on Tuesday, July 26th, starting at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.
If you would like to tell Council what you think of the Plan, the opportunity to do that will be at the “Policy and Strategic Priorities Meeting”, Wednesday, July 27th, also starting at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. You must sign up to speak before the meeting begins. Just call 311.
To demystify the process of presenting to Council, read the following guide on the Grandview-Woodland Area Council website:

How to Present and Write to Vancouver City Council

No Tower’s Alternative Proposal for Commercial and Venables

On July 19, 2016, the No Tower Coalition sent a package of materials to the Mayor and Council members detailing our alternative proposal for the corner of Commercial and Venables.  Our alternative focuses on making sure the Kettle Friendship Society achieves an expanded administrative and program space and the 30 single occupancy units they need.  Our alternative also envisions 21 additional rental units, mostly 2 and 3 bedroom units, in a 6-storey building.  Check out our alternative in the links below, which include:

 


Workshop, Tuesday, July 19th

The No Tower Coalition is putting on a community workshop on how to present to City Council and how to write to Councillors.

Please join us at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19th, in the Board Room at Britannia Centre (in the Info Centre building).

Bring your ideas and questions. Participation isn’t limited to the issues concerning Venables & Commercial. You can talk about anything you have to say about the draft Grandview Community Plan and would like to share with Council.

Hope to see you there!

Major Concerns about the New City Proposal for Venables & Commercial

The City presented its own concept for Commercial and Venables to the Citizens’ Assembly. It contains less density overall, a tower of 9 storeys on Venables and maximum 6 storeys on the north half of the site. This sounds like an improvement, but actually doesn’t answer the concerns of the No Tower Coalition.

  1. 9 storeys is still too high. We want human scale.
  2. There is no substantial public or green space added to the plan. Our neighbourhood is park deficient.
  3. This still adds expensive, high-end condos to a low-income and renter-predominant area of the neighbourhood. We want protection against rising land value and rent rates.
  4. City planners are already warning their scenario has a “funding gap” that will make it impossible to meet the Kettle’s needs without more density.
  5. We fear a bait-and-switch tactic, taking us back to the height and density we originally rejected.
  6. The City’s plan will still require a spot rezoning. We oppose all spot rezonings as they diminish community control and government accountability.

Let Council and planners know what you want at Commercial and Venables! Complete the City’s questionnaire about the Grandview-Woodland DRAFT Community Plan. Check out the next two posts, below, to get ideas.

The City’s Proposed New Concept for Venables & Commercial…

In the draft Community Plan, the City has crafted a new proposal for Commercial and Venables. This is in contrast to the “Developer Concept” that’s been promoted by KettleBoffo for some months.

Below are two renderings that were shown to the Citizens Assembly and media this week. The pink one shows the KettleBoffo proposal; the yellow one shows the City’s new alternative.

While the height and mass are somewhat reduced in the City’s proposal, the Community Plan says it could be possible to add considerable height and density if the developer says it can’t get enough profit to provide the Kettle what it needs. This could, we fear, put us right back where we began, with an unacceptable multi-tower complex.

See our next post for a description of the kind of development we envision for the site, that would satisfy both the community’s and the Kettle’s needs on a human scale.

 

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Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 3.31.46 PM copy

 

 

Design Principles for our Human Scale Alternative Plan

We have long argued that there are feasible alternatives to the KettleBoffo proposal for Venables and Commercial. Our group has worked with planners and architects to create a set of design principles that form the basis of our alternative vision for the site. These can be found here: Commercial and Venables – Design Principles 20june2016

Calling neighbourhood activists “NIMBYs” shuts down debate and stifles real solutions

We need to debate whether our rush to up-zone and redevelop the whole city is driving up the cost of real estate.

The term NIMBY is increasingly being used against neighbourhood-based activists opposing development.  Calling people “NIMBYs” has proven an effective way to shut down discussion and stifle debate.  While global capital and speculation in our real estate market is a factor driving up prices, enabling that is our rush to up-zone and redevelop every inch of the city with new condo towers.

A flashpoint for NIMBY name-calling is the No Tower campaign in Grandview-Woodland, where many see the Boffo/Kettle proposal as bringing needed density to the neighbourhood.  But, for the proponents of the No Tower position, the supposed NIMBYs here, the ripple effect of rising land values and rents if we allow 200 market-priced condos into a relatively low-income, high-rental area of the neighbourhood is not worth 30 additional social housing units.  We might add 30 social housing units, but at what cost to the other low-income and vulnerable renters in the immediate vicinity of the tower?  As many activists in the Downtown Eastside, Marpole, and the West End will tell you, building new, both condo and rental towers, in this market, has been a recipe for skyrocketing land value, rent, and displacement of low and modest-income residents.

Vancouver City Council already approves more new development than is needed for population growth.  In this market, where speculation reigns, large-scale up-zoning of neighbourhoods raises rather than lowers housing prices.  Density is driving up the cost of land, which is driving up the cost of housing.  The best affordability will come from controlling speculation, building within current zoning for the most part (current zoning is already enough to accommodate the influx of population according to the City’s own report), and respecting the rights of citizens to have a say in their own neighbourhoods.

Resorting to ad hominems rather than promoting healthy debate only fuels the capacity of development promoters to set the terms of the debate, something that will ultimately undermine the very city we all care so much about.

Press Release: Package Released After Mayor’s Refusal To Meet

Vancouver 6th June 2016. In anticipation of a pending decision on the future of Venables and Commercial in Grandview-Woodland, the NO TOWER Coalition today delivered a comprehensive package of material to City Hall.

It contains:
• 220 pieces of correspondence to the Mayor and Council
• before/after photos of what the potential tower would look like
• copies of the coalition’s 4,297 signed petitions against the proposal
• details of a viable alternative for the Kettle Friendship Society

“We are extremely disappointed that Mayor Robertson has refused to meet us, despite repeated requests,” says Barbara Cameron. “It’s his public duty to listen carefully to constituents.” The citizens of Grandview-Woodland are keeping a close watch on their elected representatives and city staff, as they await the next version of the community plan on June 25.

“City planners have told us no decision has been made yet about this corner,” says Cameron. ”That’s why it’s so important to send a strong message now, that a massive tower complex is not needed and not wanted on the Drive.”

The coalition’s postcard campaign has been running for two months, with many thoughtful messages to the Mayor and Council from Vancouver residents against the tower idea. The online petition also contains many strong comments and can be found at: http://www.tinyurl.com/ndc89xt

With new federal and provincial dollars now available, a viable alternative is possible for the Kettle on city-owned property to the rear of the site, notes the Coalition. This option would require the donation of city land. There are several recent city precedents for this approach.

Building the BOFFO/Kettle proposal would have a devastating effect on the neighbourhood, with more possible towers, further upward pressure on land prices, and loss of nearby affordable housing. The Coalition supports the overall goals of the non-profit sector to provide for the neediest in society, but not at the expense of an entire community’s wellbeing.

The Mayor Refuses To Meet; Coalition Responds

Mayor's response to NO TOWER Coalition Steering Committee-1

Mayor's response to NO TOWER Coalition Steering Committee-2

The Coalition responded:

 
The NO TOWER Coalition
c/o notower@telus.net

June 6, 2016

Dear Mayor Robertson,
We received your letter of May 30, 2016, in which you decline to meet with the NO TOWER Coalition to discuss concerns related to a proposed multi-tower development for Commercial Drive and Venables and Adanac in Grandview-Woodland.

We are extremely disappointed that you have refused to meet with us. As one of our elected representatives, it is your public duty and your democratic responsibility to listen carefully to all your constituents. And over the past year we have met with ten members of Vancouver City Council. Why not you?

We note that you recently apologized publicly for not being more open and accountable to the citizens of Vancouver. We hope that going forward, you can honour that sentiment. We also recall that on September 25, 2013 you specifically directed your planning team to bring forward a proposal for a “substantially reduced height” for this specific proposed development, and that staff report back on this matter by the end of 2013. Still, almost three years later we have no indication of what the result of that request might be. Can you tell us?

The citizens of Grandview-Woodland are keeping a close watch on their elected representatives and the city staff under their direction, as we await the release of the next iteration of our community plan. Our community expects nothing less than an honest and responsive community plan, one which has heard the community’s concerns and has acted upon them.

In the past 12 months we at the NO TOWER Coalition have actively engaged with our community about the proposed BOFFO/Kettle project. We have held over 130 hours of community information sessions at Grandview Park. We have spoken to thousands of residents and visitors who wish very much to discuss this proposal and to learn more about it.

We have made a model of the proposal, and adapted it as more information became publicly available. We have developed before and after images of the proposal, based on the developers “renderings”, to indicate the realistic changes in our current low-rise streetscape this proposal would bring.

We have crafted at least one viable alternative for the Kettle Friendship Society and there may be many others. We have gathered over 4,000 signatures against the proposal on our petitions, and “NO TOWER” lawn signs are to be seen everywhere in the neighbourhood.

All this is in sharp contrast to the city’s resounding silence. You, along with the developer have steadfastly refused to meet publicly with the citizens of our community to specifically discuss this proposal.

In your letter to us, you reference the need for our group to lobby the federal and provincial governments for funding to support affordable housing for the non-profit sector. We note that the BC Government has recently issued a RFP to the community asking for proposals for new provincial dollars available (up to $50 million in 2016–2017 “for affordable housing for people in greatest need” — BC Housing news release April 14, 2016).

Additionally, the federal government recently announced its Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Funding Program. Both these initiatives are proof positive that federal and provincial dollars are on the table for the asking. In fact the city holds the key. By contributing its land (the north parking lot) many dollars could be unlocked, giving the Kettle what it requires.

Recently Heritage Vancouver held a well-attended symposium entitled “What’s So Special About the Drive? The very fact of such an event attests to the major role Commercial Drive plays in the cultural and economic vibrancy of Vancouver. It is one of our very special high streets and much loved by many. A tower such as the one proposed by BOFFO/Kettle and originally supported by the city, would bring many unwelcome changes to the Drive, including loss of nearby social housing, further increases in land and rental prices and a further loss of housing affordability. Surely you realize the negative impacts this development could have on our community.

While we support the overall goals of the non-profit sector to provide for the neediest in our society, this must not happen at the expense of an entire community’s well being.

Sincerely

Barbara Cameron
Penny Street
Kathleen Piovesan

The NO TOWER Coalition
notower@telus.net

One Year Old and 4,000 Supporters Strong!

The No Tower Coalition has today released the following media release:

The No Tower Coalition has marked one year since it began a grassroots community campaign to develop alternatives to the massive multi-tower condo proposal at Commercial and Venables in Grandview-Woodland.

The coalition now has over four thousand signatures on its petitions against the proposal and has recently released a video that outlines its concerns and proposes positive alternatives that meet the stated needs of the Kettle Friendship Society. 

“Its quite remarkable that our small group has been able to sustain this protest for over a year,” says spokesperson Barbara Cameron, “And we’re still building momentum. Our tenacity and the public outcry about this Boffo Kettle proposal speaks volumes about the strong community sentiment against this inappropriate development idea.”

The Coalition has a regular information table on Saturdays at Grandview Park. “This past Saturday was our best ever with 80 new signatures on our petitions, breaking through the 4,000 milestone” notes Cameron.  “We are pleased to see the growing community concern.” More than 1,000 of these signatures have been added since the developers released their drawings of the proposal.

The coalition has outlined many concerns about the tower proposal, including its massive density, negative impacts on the character of the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, upward pressures on land price, and the probable loss of affordable housing in the vicinity.

While the Coalition has always supported the Kettle, it believes there are viable alternatives to the proposal, one of which would see the Kettle build a four-storey structure of its own on land on the north half of the site, provided by the City of Vancouver. 

The coalition also notes that there is new money on the table for affordable housing from the Province of BC, and possibly from the federal government, and there are several other recent examples of low-rise (four storey) social developments, which have partnered with the province and the City of Vancouver.  These examples include an affordable housing project at 1700 Kingsway and the Firefighters Burn Fund building at 3891 Main Street.

“We are anxiously awaiting the city’s release of their next version of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan,” says Cameron. We very much hope they will recognize the community’s wishes and refrain from upzoning this key corner of our neighbourhood.”

Here is the happy moment when the 4,000th signature was added to the petition.

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As you can see from the scoreboard on the right-hand sidebar, we continue to charge ahead toward a much higher level of support.

City Land Key To Funding Housing Alternatives

The No Tower Coalition has already proposed one alternative to the Boffo/Kettle towers (see here and here).  While we have had lots of positive community response to our alternative, we have had only minimal positive response from the press (with the exception of Carlito Pablo in the Straight).

Further, we have had no response so far from City Hall. It seems that city staff have been involved in discussing the Boffo/Kettle proposal for over 5 years. That’s a lot of staff time and effort put into only this one possibility! However, we think it’s reasonable to ask them to put just a little bit of time and effort into considering, sincerely, our alternative.

More than that, we notice that with other social housing projects built recently in Vancouver, the principles and assumptions that guide our alternative are already in use. Two examples, are the Sanford/Kettle building at 1700 Kingsway and the Burn Fund Building at 3891 Main St.

1700 Kingsway – Sanford Housing with Kettle Friendship Society

Built through the Community Housing Land Trust Foundation, it is one of four sites being developed as part of the City’s affordable housing initiative. The Land Trust Foundation has been granted a 99-year lease at 1700 Kingsway. This single site is connected to 3 other sites (The Fraserview Co-op (2 sites) and Tikva Housing Society (1 site) both on East Kent Ave South), all of which together produce enough revenue to generate multiple affordable housing units:

  • The Fraserview Co-op (278 units) has housing close to market rates, providing revenue to the other sites;.
  • The 48 units at 1700 Kingsway will be rented at below market rates and divided between clients of Sanford Housing and the Kettle;
  • The Tikva Housing Society will operate 32 townhouses for low-income families;.
  • Further, the retail lease at 1700 Kingsway will be sold as a prepaid lease, providing additional revenue to all four sites.

Compare the ratio there to the proposed Boffo/Kettle ratio at Venables and Commercial:

  • 278 Co-op units at close to market rates and 80 units at below market rates, including some that will be large enough to accommodate families. Co-op units require a share price, but this is generally much less than a down payment and therefore tend to be accessible to a broader range of people.
  • In the Boffo/Kettle scenario, we get 200 condos and 30 studio-size below market rate units plus program and office space. Not only is the ratio of market to non-market units worse, all of those condos will be sold at new build retail rates, some with premium pricing as a result of fantastic unobstructed views of the North Shore mountains. An overall much less accessible and inclusive project.

Don’t believe us? Check it out for yourself at the Land Trusts website, or see the Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation_1700 Kingsway pdf.

1700_Kingsway-a

Two views of 1700 Kingsway

Two views of 1700 Kingsway

 

3891 Main St – Burn Fund Building

This site was originally purchased by the City of Vancouver to be used as the new Little Mountain Neighbourhood House. When the City realized it was too small to work for that purpose, they agreed to enter into a 60-year low-cost lease with the Burn Fund. The Burn Fund project has only 8 residential units, but has a large programming and administrative space, similar to that being requested by the Kettle. The total cost for this project is estimated at $15 million.

The City of Vancouver estimated that through the lease agreement the City is providing $1.5 million in capital costs to the project. The Burn Fund did their own fundraising, but also secured $4 million in capital costs from the Provincial government (half from each of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development). Finally, a retail lease for the ground floor space (3135 sq ft) added revenue of $38 psf or $119,130 annually. The building has been built and now operates.

BurnFundCentre-4

BurnFundCentre-1

Two views of the Burn Fund building

These two project were made feasible because the City of Vancouver provided land through a low-cost lease. Both have retail leases as part of the funding structure. One has other buildings, though not a condo tower, as additional funding sources; the other has a combination of self-raised funds and Provincial government funds to add the needed revenue.

All of these ideas are possible at Venables and Commercial and should be seriously considered as community-friendly alternatives to the highly controversial and unpopular for-profit tower.

The Tower Is Decidedly Controversial

In the two weeks since the No Tower Coalition published its alternatives to the Boffo Tower (see here and here), debate has been lively in the press, on radio, and on the street. With this rekindling of the controversy, the project has confirmed its place among the most egregious examples of developer’s over-reach that we’ve seen so far in Vancouver. The following are just a few of the things that have been said lately.

On the OneCity Party website, Alison Atkinson accurately described the Boffo project as “a development that doesn’t deal with the desperate need for affordable and social housing, and at the same time makes many members of the community angry.” It is, says Atkinson, “another example of market housing that masquerades as a social good.”

On CBC Radio’s Early Edition, longtime Grandview resident John Shayler, explained his objections to the tower. He was able to bring a great historical perspective to the current situation.  Move the slider to 2:39:33 and listen to John make some excellent points.

In the Province yesterday (4th item down), a short letter from Briane Jensen hit all the key points:

“The proposed Kettle Boffo 12-storey project at Venables Street and Commercial Drive will raise land values and house prices and commercial and residential rents, drive out local mom-and-pop businesses and destroy the character and human scale of the neighbourhood. This is where we choose to live, work, play, and raise our families. The quality of life in our neighbourhood is being threatened in the name of corporate profit. Reject this huge development and give The Kettle what it needs in a four-storey format.”

Michael Kluckner, guest-editing Pricetags, did a good job of introducing the Tower project, and that led to a vigorous debate.

Finally, in a more general discussion, the childish taunt of NIMBY (particularly unwarranted in the case of the Drive) is discussed in depth by Naomi Oreskes in this 2014 article in The Washington Post.  It notes that the

“pejorative term NIMBY … shuts down key questions about our democracy: Who gets to decide? Who has the burden of proof? And how should citizens be compensated … There’s nothing wrong with standing up for our own communities, and standing with our fellow citizens who want to preserve their quality of life. Not everything about modernity is worth embracing. We have the right to protect and defend the things we care about. Indeed, it’s defeatist not to.

 

More On Creative Alternatives

The NO TOWER Coalition today issued the following media statement:

 

COMMUNITY PROPOSES VIABLE AND CREATIVE ALTERNATIVE TO MASSIVE TOWER PROPOSAL AT VENABLES AND COMMERCIAL

Vancouver. The NO TOWER Coalition is proposing a viable and creative alternative to a massive three-tower development under discussion in the Grandview-Woodland community.

The alternative would see the City of Vancouver provide available land (a city-owned parking lot on the site) to the Kettle Friendship Society as an outright grant.  The Kettle would sell its existing building (also on the site) and use the proceeds to construct up to 25,000 square feet of community service and housing space, on the land, provided free by the city.

Estimates put the cost of a 25,000 square foot, four-storey structure, with service space and 30 small units of supportive housing at $5.2 million, excluding land costs.  The Kettle’s current building was assessed in 2015 at $2,068,000 million.  The city parking lot was assessed in 2015 at $2,259,000.

“We have looked carefully at the footprint,” says Sue Garber, a NO TOWER spokesperson. “The City of Vancouver and the Kettle together own over half the total square footage of the land in question. With the city contribution, this approach could work very well.”

“We think this is a very viable alternative. And it is much preferable to public land being turned over to a developer for tremendous profit, with so many unfortunate impacts on the neighbouring community.   These lands are currently in community hands.  They should stay that way,” Garber notes.

“This alternative would provide the Kettle what it needs and would spare the Commercial Drive community from the devastating effects of a massive three-tower complex, with associated rising land costs and displacement of nearby rental and non-profit housing.”

The proposal also suggests the adjoining street be permanently closed to car traffic for a pedestrian “piazza” which would extend the low-rise and human scale of Commercial Drive north towards the renovated York Theatre and Hastings Street.

The Coalition also released the following additional notes:

 

Thoughts on Financing the Kettle Alternative:

  • The city would donate the parking lot land to the Kettle (assessed value: $2.259 million).
  • The Kettle would sell its existing building on Venables and use the proceeds to partially finance the construction of a new building (assessed value of Kettle’s existing building and land $2.068 million).
  • Estimated cost (excluding land) for a 25,000 square foot, four storey building to house the Kettle’s needs (on city parking lot) estimated at $5.2 million.
  • The province of BC and the federal government may provide $$ based on the city coming forward with its contribution of land.
  • A lender would be able to lend a substantial amount to the Kettle project, based on the asset value of the city parking lot land and the Kettle land.
  • The city’s donation of the land to the Kettle would kickstart the whole process.
  • Upon completion of the new four-storey Kettle building on the parking lot, there would be a considerable value lift available to the Kettle.
  • The final Kettle building would be an asset of considerable value, likely much more than what they started out with.
  • Going forward and into the future, the Kettle would be “masters in their own house” and in charge of their own destiny. They would not be forever dependent on a developer for their future, and locked into a condo tower they could never modify or change.
  • The Kettle and the city have already demonstrated such a partnership at 1700 Kingsway in Vancouver, where city land was provided for supportive housing for the Kettle. (This building is currently under construction.)

 

Residents Aren’t Hijacking Anything

Some of you may have read the entirely one-sided article in the Huffington Post Canada by a Brad Jones, Vancouver pro-tower enthusiast.  It has infuriated many, including Tak Uyede who has written the following letter to the editor, which we publish with his permission:

I guess misinformation or lack of critical information is running rampant. In fact Mr. Jones, the purported writer of this article, may perhaps be as guilty as those he accuses. To wit:

Mr. Jones appears to have an accreditation as a planner and was a former appointee of the City if Vancouver, but to my understanding, his principal occupation is as a developer. I would therefore submit that the author of this piece should have read “Developer, and Former  Planner. Certainly how his article is perceived once this distinction is made is very germane to this issue and is akin to “chalk and cheese” or “people and profit”.

“For new developments being proposed in both Vancouver and Calgary, information is typically put forward by the developer and the city to communities. But now, we’re seeing community groups releasing their own information to residents. The motive is to try to increase opposition to the project. 

There has in fact been almost no “information” released by the developer or the city in the last two years. The developer in a public meeting (of which there are recorded minutes) stated that there would be a minimum of fifteen stories to make the project viable aka profitable.

In the absence of any hard facts, a scale model was built that conformed to the proposed FSR and Mr. Boffo’s public statement. The scale model is in fact not that dissimilar from the latest press release.

As to citizens making unfounded statements of fact, “based on inaccurate information that is not prepared by professionals, industry experts or city staff”

Both the developer and the non-profit have been asked to meet in a public forum and have repeatedly refused.  In addition, City staff has been asked repeatedly for over a full year until finally citizens requested information under the freedom of information act in July 2015, and were forced to prepay hundreds of dollars to do so. Despite a 30 day mandate to comply, the City only agreed to release the information on this development in December of 2015 – a full four months longer than the statutory requirement.

The developer at this point filed a well timed last minute appeal to block the release of any information and the file has been forwarded to the Provincial FOI office, where no doubt it will languish until the development permithas been passed.   

So, what is this evil developer actually proposing?  That is a very good question as the picture in the article has only been released to the press last week after two years of refusing to tell the community what the built form might look like.

So exactly what is the poor Nimby to think when the developer has previously stated, at various times, that the building would be of various dimensions:

  • Not less than 15 stories, inferring that it might have to be taller to make it “feasible”.
  • Only 12 stories, he never said 15 and the community is exaggerating.
  • As of last week we learn that the development has been “scaled down” to 12 stories from….15, which it never was in the first place

“It would be located across the street from an existing 13-story apartment building.”

It would appear that not only Mr.Boffo but also Mr. Jones has a numeracy deficit in that he conveniently includes the rooftop ventilation equipment as a floor. Thus, at most, it is twelve stories, not 13.  He fails to report that the first floor which houses mechanical equipment and foodservice facilities is actually significantly below grade and has only small windows at ground level.

He also fails to mention that it is not just “an apartment building”:  It was built as a one-off in the 70’s. The “Lion’s Den” was given special consideration as it was and still is a 100% non-profit seniors’ residenceThe funds for the building and the ongoing expenses are carried by a non-profit and there was no density bonus for providing that amenity.

It was built before the City conducted a quarter million dollar community workshop in 2015 where the community concluded that this area should remain four stories.

Also conveniently overlooked is the fact that the Lion’s Den has a modest 2.75 FSR, (or in other words very slender for the amount of land around it). Compare this to the massive 6+ that Boffo will need to build what is ‘feasible”.

And finally, the fortuitous inclusion of the Lion’s Den in every photo conveniently portrays only part of it as towering over the Boffo development. The fact is that view is only available by a drone or passing crow at an altitude of some 300 feet. Indeed the average Nimby walking/cycling/driving by or even sitting on their patios or back yards will see not a brilliant beacon of modern architecture but a monolithic glass and concrete mass that obliterates sun, air and community.

I do not speak for the No Tower group, nor is my response crafted by a highly paid back room P.R. company. I am but one of 3600 “hypocritical, self interested Nimbys” “posing as community representatives”. I believe most of the signatories of the petition know more about this project than Mr.Jones, and at least they speak from the heart, do not hide behind the good works of others, and do not pretend to be who they are not.

There are many more in the community who oppose this development for different reasons, and who can speak more knowledgeably than I. Any number of them would gladly engage with Mr.Jones and would love to know what an expert has to say.

We are but a handful of senior citizens with a folding table, a model made of building insulation, and a couple of hundred bucks of pension money for printing. Yet we seem to be able to at least rattle an entrenched bureaucracy, force a millionaire developer to hire not one but two public relations companies, and bear witness to those who are willing to sell their integrity by attempting to denigrate and belittle those who actually live in this community and have the audacity to speak their mind.

We are bold because we have everything to lose in our community, and nothing to gain but the satisfaction of knowing that we stand for what we believe in, and not for what will profit us.

We appreciate Tak and many others who have written to the press pointing out the errors and distortions in the developer’s advertorials.

Alternatives Explored

The footprint in question comprises four properties, a lane and a street:

Venables location

While we cannot know all of the details of the financial situation of the Kettle Friendship Society and cannot speak for them on this issue, we do see that there are viable alternatives that will benefit the Kettle, allowing the organization to expand, the community to gain additional community space, and preventing 200 high-priced condos in 3 towers from being added to our neighbourhood.  The proposal involves the following:

  • The City of Vancouver provides lot 5 for the Kettle relocation on a long-term lease or as an outright grant.
  • The Kettle could elect to sell its current property or mortgage it along with the city-granted land to raise most of the funds needed for construction of social housing and expanded office and program space. The most recent assessment for the Kettle’s existing property is $2,068,000.  Preliminary estimates put the cost of constructing 30,000 square feet of space for the Kettle – not including the land – at $5.2 million. 
  • With assistance from the provincial government, the municipal government, granting agencies, and the public, the Kettle could add to its own financing capacity, raising the additional funds needed to build 30 social housing units and other needed space within 4 storeys (30,000 square feet, approximately).
  • The city-owned rear lane behind the current buildings (lot 4) could be incorporated into the final footprint as required.
  • The Kettle could potentially remain in its current building, until its new purpose-built structure is complete, avoiding re-location costs and service disruption.
  • The adjoining street (lot 6) would be permanently closed to car traffic and would become a pedestrian-only area with various people-friendly elements such as outdoor seating and other appropriate community amenities. This might take the form of a beautiful piazza, such as the ones pictured below, which will reflect the Italian heritage of Commercial Drive.

PlazaCavana-1

 

Italy-Sorrento-Courtyard

Overall, this proposal provides benefit to Kettle Friendship Society and the neighbourhood around Commercial Drive, leaving only the properties along Venables available for for-profit development.  This development or developments should be kept within the 4-storey height limit that exists in the area.  Minimal land assembly and no upzoning will have less effect on surrounding land value.

Even better, if we could have Federal government investment in more rental and cooperative housing along Venables we could further increase affordability in Grandview-Woodland.

We welcome your responses and other ideas: notower@telus.net

 

A Real Perspective

Yesterday we republished the rendering produced by Boffo Properties.  Today, we would like to give you a perspective on what 12 storeys really means from the point of view of a person standing on the street.

12StoreyandUprising

The renderings produced by Boffo are the “helicopter” view; they don’t give the perspective we will actually experience when walking up and down the Drive.   By contrast, this image does.  It shows a 12-storey tower, based on the only true model Boffo has ever released and Uprising Bakery, which will be right next door in real life.

We continue to call on Boffo to release actual plans, including density, unit size, floor plans, the space that the Kettle will occupy, and the retail cost of those 200 condos so that we know what we’re actually dealing with.  They should also produce renderings that show us the look and feel of the buildings from street view.

For now, we have these.