Statements

September 2017 Update

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 In reply, we received the startling news that the developer in question, Boffo Properties, had withdrawn his interest in the project.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same meeting, planner Andrew Pask specifically contradicted his colleague, stating that the developer had not formally withdrawn, and that in fact, planning for the development might be continuing.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

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One Year Old and 4,000 Supporters Strong!

The No Tower Coalition has today released the following media release:

The No Tower Coalition has marked one year since it began a grassroots community campaign to develop alternatives to the massive multi-tower condo proposal at Commercial and Venables in Grandview-Woodland.

The coalition now has over four thousand signatures on its petitions against the proposal and has recently released a video that outlines its concerns and proposes positive alternatives that meet the stated needs of the Kettle Friendship Society. 

“Its quite remarkable that our small group has been able to sustain this protest for over a year,” says spokesperson Barbara Cameron, “And we’re still building momentum. Our tenacity and the public outcry about this Boffo Kettle proposal speaks volumes about the strong community sentiment against this inappropriate development idea.”

The Coalition has a regular information table on Saturdays at Grandview Park. “This past Saturday was our best ever with 80 new signatures on our petitions, breaking through the 4,000 milestone” notes Cameron.  “We are pleased to see the growing community concern.” More than 1,000 of these signatures have been added since the developers released their drawings of the proposal.

The coalition has outlined many concerns about the tower proposal, including its massive density, negative impacts on the character of the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, upward pressures on land price, and the probable loss of affordable housing in the vicinity.

While the Coalition has always supported the Kettle, it believes there are viable alternatives to the proposal, one of which would see the Kettle build a four-storey structure of its own on land on the north half of the site, provided by the City of Vancouver. 

The coalition also notes that there is new money on the table for affordable housing from the Province of BC, and possibly from the federal government, and there are several other recent examples of low-rise (four storey) social developments, which have partnered with the province and the City of Vancouver.  These examples include an affordable housing project at 1700 Kingsway and the Firefighters Burn Fund building at 3891 Main Street.

“We are anxiously awaiting the city’s release of their next version of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan,” says Cameron. We very much hope they will recognize the community’s wishes and refrain from upzoning this key corner of our neighbourhood.”

Here is the happy moment when the 4,000th signature was added to the petition.

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As you can see from the scoreboard on the right-hand sidebar, we continue to charge ahead toward a much higher level of support.

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.)

 

3,500 Sign Petition Against Boffo Tower

The NO TOWER Coalition, formed by residents of Grandview-Woodland opposed to a massive high-rise tower on Commercial Drive proposed by Boffo Properties, announced today that their petition has now exceeded 3,500 signatures.

Almost 75% of those who have signed are from the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, where the tower at Commercial and Venables Street is being proposed.  The rest are regular visitors who come to the Drive for shopping and entertainment.

Roughly 1,100 people have signed the petition online (http://chn.ge/1JV55mc) and the majority of people have signed the paper version, making their feelings known at the NO TOWER Coalition information table at Grandview Park. This has allowed the Coalition to discuss the proposal with thousands of residents and visitors, to debate the issues, and to collect neighbourhood opinion. Much of that opinion is unwavering in its criticism of the tower which most say will destroy the very character of Grandview-Woodland.

Spokesperson Susan Garber, noted, “Our Coalition’s open and transparent community engagement approach contrasts sharply with the developer’s. They have refused to meet with neighbourhood residents for a genuine exchange of ideas.”

The developers have not held a single community-accessible meeting, and continue to refuse to reveal their plans for the building.  They have, instead, relied on private, closed-door, invitation-only meetings with small groups likely to support them.

“We call on Boffo to let the residents know what their plans really look like,” said Garber.  “They have suggested their design is for 12 storeys, which is way out of step with the neighbourhood.  But Daniel Boffo has publicly stated his business need for 15 storeys and has even suggested he would like 20.  How are we to know just what this would be until they reveal their plans? Our goal is to ‘Keep the Drive Under Five’ storeys.”

The NO TOWER Coalition plans to continue the engagement of our concerned neighbourhood in opposition to this tower. They hope to co-create viable alternatives for the site that will give the Kettle what it needs to provide effective services to its mental-health clients without destroying the character of our neighbourhood.

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.

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.

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.

Statement From No Tower Coalition

Neighbourhood concern is gaining momentum in Grandview-Woodland against a proposed condo tower at the corner of Commercial Drive and Venables Street.

Door-to-door canvassing, leafleting, and an information table at Grandview Park, in the heart of the Drive, are having a big impact on the campaign. Today, our No Tower petitions (online and on paper) have passed the thousand mark. No Tower signs are appearing on homes and businesses in the neighbourhood.

Recent media coverage of our concerns appeared in The Vancouver Province, 24 Hours and Metro News last week, and in the Vancouver Courier today. Meanwhile, the No Tower Coalition has responded to misleading comments in those reports made by Daniel Boffo of Boffo Properties, suggesting the development will provide “affordable” housing.

The No Tower Coalition strongly disagrees, noting that the development proposal as it stands, would provide primarily market housing — 150 market-priced condominiums.

The so-called affordable housing referenced by Boffo would in fact be supportive housing for special needs individuals with mental health issues and would not alleviate the housing affordability crisis in Grandview-Woodland.

The coalition reiterates that services for people with mental illness are part of Canada’s social safety net and should be publicly funded, in ways that do not have such a negative community impact.

Giving private developers inappropriate density and height bonuses in exchange for providing necessary mental health services would set a dangerous precedent and should not be allowed. We are encouraged by the support of the eminent Vancouver architect and developer Michael Geller for this position.

The coalition is also critical of Boffo Properties for failing to put their plans clearly on the table. Daniel Boffo has referenced a tower with a possible fifteen storeys, twelve storeys, or even twenty storeys, at various times in the recent past. The coalition calls on Boffo officials to come forward and publicly disclose their exact plans to the community.