Month: March 2016

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.

 

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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.