Month: August 2015

A Case For Keeping Space and Air

In the late 1890’s, Professor Edward Odlum stood at the site of Woodland Park. He must have caught his breath at least once as he stood among tree stumps and pulled in the smell of lumber, mountain air, ocean and the season. At that moment, in that place he said, “Oh, but this is a grand view!” The historic preservation of that moment has become the heritage of this place where we live. In a later political move, the name of this place was changed to Grandview-Woodland. But the woodlands had long since been desecrated and nearly forgotten.

In a recent article, developer Daniel Boffo was quoted as saying that the 12-15 storeys above ground at Commercial Drive and Venables is “not being used. Is nothing but air.” I had such a strong response to his comment. I knew that our community was being misperceived and dismissed as inconsequential. That was some weeks ago. I can’t shake the dissonance that wells up in me when I consider his sentiment.

At the northernmost tip of the diversion at Commercial and Adanac Street, there is a stand of trees, sort of grubby trees, but they provide good shade and some shelter from the gentler rains that fall on us. At the base of one of those old trees, a rose bush has made a home for some years. As rose bushes go, it’s rather pitiful. It’s leggy and doesn’t leaf much. But it does send up mighty, tremendous branches that reach the top of the tree. And there, each late spring, giant pink roses appear in the treetop, grinning up at the sun. They appear to have some claim to be there. They do not fail.

If I, or anyone, is standing at that same place at the right time of early evening, we can see the rooks gather and convene their parliament for the trip back to Burnaby.   They do that, and they permit us to watch. Every evening.

At that intersection, cool breezes come down the slopes on the North Shore, across the inlet and along Commercial Drive. That air and the path it travels cools us on summer days that can be too hot. We can see The Sisters/Lions from there. We watch for snow on the mountains, see if fog is rolling in or out; we can feel the seasons change. And later we witness the baring of trees and nests in their branches. The smells of fresh-baked bread and coffee roasting are carried through that air.

This is to tell you that the space, the empty air above Astorino’s and the diversion, is occupied. It is being used. It is more than air. It is an extraordinary inheritance. It is the gateway to the grand view and I believe we have a right to speak for it. It is purpose built. We speak to preserve it as an integral part of our heritage.

— This is a Guest Editorial from A Woman of A Certain Age

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Our Perspective: August 2015

The NO TOWER Coalition is actively campaigning against a proposed tower at the corner of Commercial and Venables in the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood of Vancouver.

As a means of obtaining massive density and height approval, the Developer, Boffo Properties, has partnered with the Kettle Society, which provides services for the mentally ill. The proposal is entirely out of scope with the surrounding community.

This approach is not community building. It is community destruction. We have gathered over 2,000 signatures on our petition against the project, and opposition is growing. We call on those involved to abandon the idea and go back to the drawing board with a low-rise option for Kettle expansion, in keeping with the character of our neighbourhood.

 

HERE’S WHY WE VIGOROUSLY OPPOSE THIS PROJECT

NEIGHBOURHOOD AMBIENCE AND CHARACTER

  • Boffo’s massive tower proposal would be very destructive to the people-friendly ambience and streetscape of Commercial Drive. Keep the Drive under five!
  • An alternative low-rise proposal for the Kettle, which DOES NOT include a tower, must be fully explored. The Kettle has obtained city, provincial and foundation funding for their other real estate ventures in the past. We suggest those same funding bodies should come to the table in this instance.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND NEIGHBOURHOOD DENSITY

  • This proposal is being characterized as “affordable housing” (D. Boffo, Vancouver Province July 10, 2015). This is FALSE. The 150 to 200 high-end market condos in the proposed tower would NOT be “affordable”.
  • There would be a possible 30 units of housing for Kettle clients, but not for other low-income or homeless citizens. Just how long would these units be retained as supportive housing? They could be converted back to market units at some point in the future. We do not know.
  • If approved, the 150 to 200 new market-priced condos would add massive and unnecessary density to the neighbourhood, with associated congestion, parking and transportation problems.
  • Grandview-Woodland is already one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
  • Adding 150 to 200 luxury condos will NOT alleviate the housing affordability crisis in Grandview-Woodland. It will make it worse. Expensive new buildings increase land prices, putting further pressure on neighbouring sales prices and rents. (Unneeded Density Can Kill Affordability, GW Area Council news release July 15, 2015.)
  • The Grandview-Woodland Area Council is concerned that existing affordable rental stock will be lost as up zoning for towers in our neighbourhood increases. We agree. This tower proposal is part of that destructive trend and should be blocked.

DEVELOPER MANIPULATION

  • The addition of increased space for the Kettle is being characterized as a public “good” provided by the developer. It has also been characterized as “a public amenity contribution”. Both assertions are false.
  • The developer’s main motive is profit, not community wellbeing. Partnering with a community group is a manipulative way to buy support for a destructive proposal.
  • As partners in the development, the Kettle would receive space for mental health services, which is NOT a public amenity. Services for people with mental illness should be publicly funded. The Kettle must seek alternative options.
  • Relying on developers to provide public services, in exchange for highly profitable height and density bonuses is a dangerous trend and must NOT be allowed.

LACK OF OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY

  •  It is likely city staff have held numerous meetings with the developer on this proposal. Yet a recent city open house on the matter, made absolutely no mention of the specific Boffo proposal. There were no models or proposed drawings. Why not? This is NOT an open and transparent approach to community planning.
  • We call on the city to come forward and discuss this specific proposal with the community now, to hear our concerns, and to explore low-rise alternatives before making any decisions.
  • Meanwhile, the developer is being unclear about the proposal. Daniel Boffo has referenced a tower with a possible twelve storeys, fifteen storeys, and even twenty storeys. Sometimes he refers to “150” condos. Other times he says “150 to 200”.   This is a manipulative game designed to keep the community guessing.
  • Recent drawings of the proposal created by the developer’s architect, are being widely circulated. But the drawings are also described as “for general direction only”. They do not represent a final plan.
  • With views only from above, the developers’ drawings never show the true height, mass and scale of the proposed tower. There is no “elevation view” at ground level, to show the real height of 15 or 20 storeys in perspective. This is dishonest and misleading in the extreme.
  • The nearby Lions building is shown in these drawings as 14 storeys. In fact it is only 12 storeys, is well set back from the street and comprises 100 per cent subsidized rental housing for low-income seniors.
  • This Lions building has a 2.2 floor space ratio (“FSR” is used to calculate interior density.) The proposed tower would have an FSR of 6.8 according to Daniel Boffo. This is more than three times as dense.
  • We call on Boffo Properties to come forward and openly discuss their exact plans with the community.

EXPLORING VIABLE ALTERNATIVES

  •  Recently the City of Vancouver made a new request to the province to come to the table and partner with the city for affordable housing. The city proposes to offer some of its land holdings to be used along with possible provincial funds.
  • We support this call by the city. This very solution could be used at Commercial and Venables where there is a city-owned parking lot.   The Kettle already owns its own building on the site. A collaborative approach with the city could produce a low-rise option for the Kettle that would not include a private developer. THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS TO BE EXPLORED!
  • City owned land should not be sold outright to developers for luxury high-rise condominiums.   This city land is a community resource and should only be used for community good.

Now We Are Thousands

We now have well over 2,000 signatures on our petition that opposes the massive tower proposal at Commercial & Venables.  The vast majority of these are Grandview residents, and most of the others are frequent contributors to the economy of the Drive.

Both the visiting shoppers and the residents agree that a massive tower is inappropriate for the Drive and should be opposed.

In addition to the signatures, several hundred residents have left comments on exactly why they signed the petition. You don’t have to sign the petition to read the comments, but reading them will inspire you with their deep sense of community, and their obvious desire to have an important say in what happens to our neighbourhood.

If you haven’t yet signed up to join the thousands in the No Tower Coalition, we urge you to do so today.

It Was A Great Party!

Our community balloon lift-off and street party at Woodland Park was a big hit today.

The Crowd copyThere was a decent media turn out, the home-made cookies, lemonade and cookies were greatly appreciated, as was the music by Bing and the Band!

BingBand

As for the serious business at hand, we raised a huge red balloon up to the height of a 15-storey tower (pictures to follow), and the petition signature table saw great business.

Petition line

Many thanks to the many residents of our wonderful neighbourhood who showed up to confirm their support for development at Commercial & Venables that does not involve a tower.

Lots of dogs, lots of kids, lots of community;  great fun!

 

Lawn Sign Placement

The following letter was sent by the Coalition today:

August 14, 2015

Alan Rockett, Street Activities Branch — Engineering Services, City of Vancouver

Dear Alan,

Thank you for our positive conversation of today, regarding inappropriately placed signs for the NO TOWER Coalition.

We are making every effort to communicate to our supporters and ensure they comply with city regulations as you have outlined them. Today we sent the following message to our supporter list and are posting it to our web site.

“If you do have a lawn sign or are planning to put one up, please ensure that it is not placed on city boulevards (defined as the space between the sidewalk and the street) or on street centre medians, lamp posts, utility poles, street furniture or any other area of city property, including the centre of Boundary Road. Signs may be placed on private property, defined as the space between a house or apartment and the sidewalk.

 Bylaw infringement carries a possible charge of $100 – $300.   Today we spoke to city officials and assured them we will do everything we can to comply with the bylaw and will co-operate fully with the city in this regard.  

 The city has said they will return the confiscated signs to us, and they are grateful for our support and co-operation.

 Please help us comply with city regulations! If you observe any of our sign illegally or inappropriately placed, please let us know by posting a note, with the location, to novenablestower@shaw.ca and we will take immediate action.

 Thank you.

We also very much appreciate the fact that your inspector will inform us of any known violations, so we can take immediate action.

Yours truly,  NO TOWER Coalition

Party Moves To Woodland Park!

The No Tower Coalition’s street party on Sunday to celebrate the Drive that we love, and to oppose the massive towers that will forever change it, moves to the wider open spaces of Woodland Park!

Party UpdatedThe No Tower Coalition issued the following statement this afternoon:

 Community Gathers At Rally To Oppose Massive Towers On Commercial Drive

Concerned citizens of Grandview-Woodland will gather next Sunday at 10:00am to celebrate the neighbourhood we all love, and to oppose an oversize project proposed by developer Boffo Properties at the corner of Commercial Drive and Venables Street.

Boffo is proposing a massive development for the site, including a 15-storey tower with up to 200 market condo units and an eight-storey tower with expanded facilities for the Kettle Friendship Society.

The No Tower Coalition had planned to hold a street party on the site of the tallest of the proposed towers. Mindful of concerns expressed by the Kettle’s Executive Director that an outdoor gathering so close to the Kettle might be misconstrued by their clients, the Coalition has decided to move the party to Woodland Park.

“We are not opposed to the Kettle or its valuable services for people with mental health concerns,” said spokesperson Barbara Cameron. “We strongly support the Kettle and its work. In that regard, we have listened to the Kettle’s concerns about our rally. In turn, we can only hope that the Kettle will now listen to the thousands of local residents who believe that the tower is an unwanted and inappropriate intrusion into the low-rise neighbourhood that is Grandview Woodland.”

The party at Woodland Park, at Adanac Street and Woodland Drive, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, 16th August, will include free coffee, lemonade, cookies and muffins, activities for kids, and a balloon raising to demonstrate the extraordinary height that the developer wants to impose with its towers on Commercial Drive.

The No Tower Coalition is active and growing, with more than 1,900 signatures on its two ongoing petitions against the tower proposal. The group will continue to lobby vigorously for practical alternatives to the project, without a tower. All the members and supporters of the Coalition oppose the building form of the tower and the changes that will bring to the Drive. For many, there are deeper concerns.

“We absolutely reject the notion that mental health services should be delivered at the whim of a for-profit private corporation,” said Coalition member Tom Durrie. “Giving private developers inappropriate density and height bonuses in exchange for providing necessary mental health services sets a dangerous precedent. It should not be allowed.”

Services to people with mental illness are part of Canada’s social safety net. They should be publicly funded, in ways that do not have a negative community impact. The No Tower Coalition points out that similar NGOs in the neighbourhood have recently expanded without resorting to private developers and massive development.

What The Community Says About The Boffo Tower

As most of you know, we have been collecting signatures on our petition opposing a large high-rise tower at Commercial & Venables.  We have well over 1,800 signees at this point.   Most have signed the paper petition that we circulate at meetings and our information tables; but more than 600 have signed online.

The online petition allows signees the opportunity to explain why they have signed. There are now hundreds of such comments, and we would encourage everyone interested in community opinion to read them. To ignore them is to ignore the voices of the neighbourhood.  Here is a selection of some recent comments:

“As an urban planner, and Grandview resident, I believe we need contextual densification. These tower proposals do not meet the needs nor desires of this community. ”

“A tower is an awful idea and will kill the soul of the drive.”

“This size of building is not what this neighborhood needs to increase density. It would be an eyesore.”

“This is NOT how one funds important social services.”

“This type of structure would completely change the character of the neighbourhood and does not provide for green space and other necessities that any development would require – to densify is one thing to sell out to developers in such a way that neighbourhoods are negatively impacted is a different thing all together.”

“I want to preserve the character of our neighbourhood. A tower would not fit with the structures here and if it’s not going to include affordable housing, it’s definitely inappropriate.”

“I live here and do not believe a massive 15 storey tower should change this residential area with condos. This will be the 1st for more to come. This area was ment for lower income people. That has already changed but this would be a disaster for Commercial Drive area.”

“Approval of the 15-storey Boffo tower at Venables / Adananc and Commercial Drive would act as the thin edge of the wedge, which would see ‘out of character to the neighbourhood’ towers become the new Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood development standard. Through our opposition let us ensure that won’t happen.”

“To see this tower and the cancer of condos spread my heart breaks. This is not right for our community, expand the Kettle with government funding, don’t let developers get their way!”

 

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments made by Grandview residents in opposition to the Boffo Tower and in favour of sustained funding for the Kettle from all levels of government.

The Momentum Is Quickening

Regular readers will know that the No Tower Coalition has been operating an information table at Grandview Park each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon for some weeks now.  Along with information and discussion, we have offered the residents of Grandview the chance to sign our petition opposing this inappropriately massive tower. We have collected dozens of signatures each day.

But last Friday we collected more signatures than we have ever done before on a single day.

This week also saw a record number of lawn and window signs being set up, a record number of names being added to our Supporters’ List, an ever-growing list of hits on the website, and a petition signature list that is approaching 2,000 names. The campaign’s momentum is gathering speed at a rapid pace.

Many thanks to the folks in Grandview Woodland who have shown their support for our Keep The Drive Under Five campaign.