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.