Month: November 2015

Setting The Record Straight

One of the defining features of the NO TOWER campaign has been its openness and willingness to meet with residents to discuss the issues surrounding the Kettle/Boffo Tower proposal. Almost every week since the summer, campaign volunteers have manned an information table at Grandview Park. They have met with and talked with literally thousands of Grandview residents and visitors. They are pleased, of course, that so many are willing to understand the campaign’s position and to sign the NO TOWER petition.  But they have also been troubled by hearing some sadly inaccurate statements, both about our campaign and about the uses to which the Tower will be put.

To clear up any confusion, we decided to interview members of the NO TOWER Campaign planning group to get the straight goods.

Question: The NO TOWER Campaign are a bunch of NIMBYs who don’t support the operations of the Kettle Friendship Society. Is that so?  

BARBARA CAMERON:  Absolutely not.  We have tried to be clear from the very beginning that we support the Kettle and the expansion it feels is required in Grandview. It is the tower form that we oppose. We believe there are a number of alternative options that can give the Kettle what it needs without imposing a tower on an unwilling community.

Question: Is the NO TOWER Campaign against densification in Grandview?

PENNY STREET:  No, that’s not true, While it is a fact that Grandview is already one of the densest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, it seems odd that the City is requiring more density from us. However, we do recognise that the City is growing, and Grandview along with it.  We agree with the general conclusion of the Citizens’ Assembly report that Grandview should grow through gentle densification rather than huge residential towers, and that the density expected in Vancouver over the next thirty years should be shared equitably by all neighbourhoods.

Question:  Some have argued that the NO TOWER Campaign is a group with a single idea, inflexible in its thinking. Would you agree?

TOM DURRIE:  Quite the opposite.  The developers are the ones with a single inflexible idea – that the Kettle can only get what it needs if the community is willing to sacrifice itself on the altar of a high-rise condo tower from Boffo Properties. The NO TOWER Campaign, in contrast, has examined a whole raft of possible alternatives that would allow the Kettle to expand as they need while keeping the Drive under five storeys. Once the Tower plan is finally revealed, we will be bringing forward those alternatives to show that there is more than one way to achieve what the Kettle and the community need.

Question:  What are you hearing on the street about the Tower?

TOM DURRIE:  Speaking with residents at the information table we have heard all sorts of things about the Tower, few of which seem to be accurate. For example, we were told by one resident that they had heard at the Kettle that the Tower was to have “lots” of low-income housing.  The Kettle has confirmed that isn’t true, that only the Kettle’s 30 studios – for use by their mental health clients – will be “low-income.”

PENNY STREET: Just last week a man told us that BC Housing would be running the housing in the Tower. When asked where they got that information, the man said that “the woman at the Kettle” told him.  Again, this is completely inaccurate so far as the Kettleboffo’s published information is concerned.

JAK KING: The community has loyally supported the Kettle and its work on the Drive for the last forty years. This time, people are saying, the Kettle should prove its commitment to this community by accepting and following the community’s loudly-voiced opposition to a Tower.

Question: Is the NO TOWER Campaign opposed to change in Grandview?

JAK KING: Certainly not. One of the great things about the Drive and Grandview in general has been our ability to accept, adopt and encourage change of all kinds. That is how this neighbourhood has become so famously diverse – in terms of language, race, incomes, sexual orientation, food and entertainment. This didn’t happen because we are opposed to change!

BARBARA CAMERON: The key is that the NO TOWER Campaign, along with our friends and neighbours and supporters, want to have a say in the form the change takes.  We should not be forced to accept someone else’s view of how Grandview should change.  This is our community, and the future should be ours  to choose.

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The Spot Rezoning Moratorium Revisited

The Spot Rezoning Moratorium concept is a reminder that the campaign against the Boffo Tower is also part of a more general move toward community control of development within their own neighbourhoods — a movement fought tooth and nail by developers, speculators, and some at City Hall.

A Spot Rezoning Moratorium disallows lot rezoning for a set period of years after the implementation of a Community Plan. In other words, the social contract implied by an agreed Community Plan cannot be broken for a reasonably long period of time.  Several groups and individuals, including the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC), Our Community, Our Plan (OCOP), and the NO TOWER Coalition pushed for the adoption by the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) of a Ten Year Spot Rezoning Moratorium. We were pleased to have obtained the endorsement of both of Grandview’s MLAs, Jenny Kwan and Shane Simpson, for this proposal.

Kwan Simpson Endorsement

One group, at least, within the Citizens’ Assembly took up the idea and pushed it forward.  However, the idea slipped through the bureaucratic cracks and never made it into the final report.

A Spot Rezoning Moratorium, or some other mechanism for achieving the same result, is the only guarantee that our Community Plan will actually be adhered to. Without it a developer could come with an application to the very next Council meeting after the adoption of the Plan, apply for and be granted a spot rezoning, thus entirely negating the years of “consultation” and negotiation that went into the Plan.

Expediency will win out.

“The Boffo/Kettle project … deep suspicion.”

Dana Cromie is a longtime resident of Grandview and has an active interest in our local affairs.  He had heard about the Boffo Tower proposal and, when approached by Boffo’s PR surveyors, told them of his concerns about the project. Daniel Boffo, of Boffo Properties, heard about Dana’ concerns and agreed to meet with him; which they did, for about an hour.  Dana was also given a tour of the Kettle’s current facilities.

After these meetings, Dana gave some serious thought to the proposal and eventually penned a letter to Daniel Boffo, which he has graciously allowed us to publish here.

November 17, 2015

Dear Daniel Boffo and Nancy Keough

Cc: Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council and City of Vancouver Planning Department, the No Tower Coalition

 

Firstly, Daniel, I want to thank you for initiating our meeting; and Nancy, for the very personal tour of the Kettle facilities. I understand the challenges presented to those you are helping and in no way wish to hinder further progress in your endeavours.

After discussing the now-worn topics surrounding the Kettle development with you, and my taking some weeks to muse what, why, and where, I continue to be unable to support this project. There are several reasons why.

The role of the City of Vancouver in this project is clearly larger than expected. This project fulfills several of their objectives at what the City anticipates will be little cost to them. But, there is a cost to selling city land to a project without community support; there is a cost to encouraging developers to manage the growth of community services, and there is a cost to disenfranchising the residents of a neighbourhood. It was disingenuous of the City to over-staff the May 2015 project presentation at the Wise Hall.

Grandview Woodlands in its current state is a highly successful neighbourhood, with sufficient density to permit a sustainable neighbourhood.  With modest development projects, it continues to densify organically within the guidelines of the existing Community Plan. The yet-to-be-finalized new Community Plan will allow for greater density within parameters negotiated between a small portion of our community and the City of Vancouver. This does not mean that the final plan is desirable; it will be a compromise accepted by the community to bring this process to a close. I witnessed first hand the City planning department’s lack of respect for Grandview residents in the initial planning process and I have heard of no reason to expect better. The Boffo/Kettle project was conceived outside this planning process and as such, needs to be regarded with deep suspicion.

Finally, it is difficult to understand the argument that the Boffo/Kettle proposal will not affect surrounding  and uphill land values (densification puts huge upward pressure on land values). Both Boffo and Kettle representatives repeatedly point to the Lion’s Adanac Tower as precedent. How can that logic work for Boffo but not be expected to subsequently be applied for new projects in the future? If anything, a tower will beget more towers sooner. Incidentally, advocates of the Boffo/Kettle project never refer to it as a tower.

In closing, I can only conclude that the City of Vancouver is at fault for encouraging this project to be pursued, allowing it to progress despite being outside the current planning process, despite vocal community opposition and continuing to endorse its validity both as a partner and with the apparent backing of the planning department.

Again, I cannot support this project.

Dana Cromie

a deeply concerned Grandview resident from one of Vancouver’s original families (McFeely)

The Side Streets In Fall

Napier Street

The fall is such a beautiful time along Vancouver’s side streets; bright sunshine, colourful leaves, and deep blue skies accentuating our glorious streetscapes.

This particular fall, the lawn signs for the NO TOWER campaign are adding to the display, springing up all over to celebrate the community’s rejection of a high-rise tower on the Drive.  If you want to join this blooming trend, please email us at no.tower.lawn.sign@gmail.com.

More Of What the Community Is Saying

Thousands and thousands of residents and visitors who love Commercial Drive and the neighbourhood vibe, have already signed our petition against the Boffo Tower and calling for a more community-friendly alternative.  If you haven’t signed yet, you can do so at Grandview Park next Friday afternoon or, perhaps more conveniently, online at our petition site.

One of the advantages of the online site is the ability for you to leave a comment, explaining why you personally think a tower is inappropriate for the Commercial & Venables intersection, and for our neighbourhood as a whole.  Here is a selection of recent comments:

— “Not only do I live in this neighbourhood but I have a business here as well. I have seen what development like this has done to other neighbourhoods and do not want this for mine. Commercial Driive is one of the few neighbourhoods left in this city where there is some diversity, but if this sort of development is allowed to go through unchecked we’ll just be Kits East soon.”

— “As a resident of this enjoyable neighbourhood for 28 years, I do not approve of this proposal to drastically change it by building this monstrosity. Please stick to the original community plan of four-storey zoning.”

— “A low rise option would suit the drive much better…having a clear view of the mountains is the beauty of Vancouver as a city where tall buildings are concentrated in one area. The Drive as a community is a quirky place to live and a high rise doesn’t suit the neighbourhood.”

— “This is a terrible, terrible idea and needs to be stopped. This entire area is already zoned for 4-story buildings and very few are presently that large. We have lots of room for densification without changing the zoning at all.”

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments left by residents.  The real question is: Why isn’t the developer (and its supporters) listening to what the community is saying?

 

 

An Open Letter To Jane Pickering

For many months now, the NO TOWER Coalition, representing the more than 3,200 residents who have signed our petition in opposition to a huge high-rise tower at Commercial & Venables, have been trying to organize a meeting with City Planning.  We have yet to have any success.

On July 13, 2015, we wrote to Brian Jackson, General Manager of Planning, with a list of questions we had regarding the Boffo Tower  project.  Brian Jackson was on holiday and we received a response from Kent Munro, assistant Director of Planning. He merely confirmed what was then believed to be the timeline in response to the Grandview Plan and suggested further discussions would be “premature” at this point.

On July 15, we wrote back to Kent Munro, once again requesting a meeting to discuss the residents’ issues. On July 24, City Planning wrote to members of the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) group saying that Planning “was declining” requests for meetings while they studied the CA Report.  This was finally confirmed to us in a letter from Planning on July 27.

We waited two months and then on September 22, we wrote again to Kent Munro requesting a meeting.  Now, after another eight weeks, we have still received no response, nor even the courtesy of an acknowledgment.

During this past month or so, the Coalition has met with half-a-dozen City Councilors, nearly all of whom have suggested we need to meet with Planning to discuss our issues.  As you can read above, we have tried very hard to achieve this with no movement from their side.  Therefore, we have written again, this time an open letter to Acting General Manager Jane Pickering;

“Dear Ms. Pickering,

The NO TOWER Coalition is a group of citizens concerned with a tower development being proposed for the corner of Venables Street and Commercial Drive. Over 3000 people have signed our petitions against the tower development being considered by Boffo Properties on that site.

We have had meetings with several Councillors regarding our concerns and have been advised by them to meet personally with Planning staff.

We have had correspondence since mid-July with Mr. Kent Munro regarding our concerns about the future of this site and have made many requests for a meeting with Planning staff to discuss this further.

We understand Planning staff are reviewing information gathered at workshops for the Grandview Woodland Community Plan and from the Citizens’ Assembly Final Report and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss, within this review, our concerns regarding Boffo’s intentions for this site. With so many residents of the Community upset about the possibility of a tower being built on this site it behooves the Planning department to listen to the Community now rather than turning a deaf ear and inevitably causing more negative reactions from residents.

We ask that, as the Acting General Manager of Planning and Development Services, you arrange for us to meet with Planning staff, preferably within the next week or two, to discuss our deep concerns about this and to perhaps explore alternatives that are more in keeping with the wishes of the Community.

Thank you for your consideration.”

 

Now, we wait yet again to see if this produces a more positive response.

Dispelling False Rumours

Over the last few days, at least three people have let us know that they cannot support our campaign because “lots” of low-income housing will be made available in the Boffo Tower. Other than the “up to 30” units for the Kettle’s mental health clients we were not aware of any such low-income housing being made available; and they are certainly not mentioned on the kettleboffo website. A message to the developer, Daniel Boffo, for clarification remains unanswered at this time.

However, the Kettle’s Director of Community Services was more forthcoming on Twitter last night, and he confirms that he knows of no low-income housing in the project other than the rooms set aside for Kettle clients.

So now we are clear: the Boffo Tower project will include 150-200 high-priced condos, “up to” 30 studio units for the Kettle, and no low-income housing.  What is less clear is how this rumour — which seems designed to gather support for the Tower — got started. Someone had to tell these people the inaccurate information; the mystery is who?

Quiet On Stage, Busy Back Stage

The NO TOWER campaign may seem to have entered a quiet period right now, but don’t be fooled by the surface calm; there is a lot going on beneath.

Our public information booth at Grandview Park has been missing this last couple of weeks, due to the onset of Vancouver’s famous rains. However, we keep an eye on the weather forecasts and try to pick our days.  We will be there on Monday 9th, for example, from noon until 4pm. Stop by and chat if you have a minute or two.

At the booth, we have spoken with literally thousands and thousands of residents and visitors. We would venture to suggest this exercise has been the most community-rich and community-involved campaign since the Freeway days. Most of the 3,200 signatures we now have on the petition have come from these personal contacts and conversations.

We are also in the process of completing delivery of our informative flyer to every household in Grandview. Without the money and the PR agencies that the developer has been using (in the absence of any other community outreach), this is a labour-intensive task for volunteers.  We hope to finish the delivery soon.

We are happy to report that the number of NO TOWER lawn signs continues to grow. Unfortunately, we also have to report that a number of our lawn signs continue to be vandalized and stolen throughout the neighbourhood, Several more were taken in just the last few days. It seems this childish behaviour is likely to continue for as long as we campaign.

If your sign goes missing, or if you want to order a lawn sign, please contact us at no.tower.lawn.sign@gmail.com and we will be glad to help.

This has also been the season for meetings. Members of the Coalition have already met with a number of City Councillors to make sure they are hearing the results of the conversations we are having with the community. Efforts are still being made to arrange a meeting with City Planners, though we have been rebuffed by them to date.

The Coalition is also in an extended dialogue with the Kettle regarding a meeting.  We hope to have that resolved soon.

Finally, the Coalition continues to develop a positive wing to the campaign, by exploring the possible alternatives for the Venables-Commercial-Adanac site that would allow the Kettle to expand and yet stop the imposition of an unwanted tower on the neighbourhood.   We refuse to believe the Kettle, the developers, or the Mayor when they say a highrise tower is the only way forward. Our researches into the literature and governmental regulations, and meetings with experts in related fields, have convinced us that there is a range of possible alternatives — and that a condo tower is simply a lazy profit-driven way out.

These ideas take time to develop and our meetings continue.  More to come.