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 In reply, we received the startling news that the developer in question, Boffo Properties, had withdrawn his interest in the project.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same meeting, planner Andrew Pask specifically contradicted his colleague, stating that the developer had not formally withdrawn, and that in fact, planning for the development might be continuing.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.