BROADWAY PLAN NEWS

"What population base is being considered when developing community plans like the Broadway plan? By my understanding, the purpose of the Broadway Subway Extension is improved accessibility to the region for both current (and future) residents, and residents of neighboring cities. This multi-municipality, 30 + km long subway system might seem a little overkill if we implement a parallel plan to provide tiny apartments along Broadway to house everybody that could conceivably work in the region. In short, why is there a need for hyper-densification in a small area when we have rapid transit options which facilitate access to the area?"

- T.D., Faiview

We have been involved in all phases of the Broadway Plan thus far, and have identified several, serious concerns regarding the Phase 1 and 2 materials (Broadway Plan website), and engagement processes. Our concerns can be summarized in four broad areas: 

  1. The guiding principles and emerging directions for the plan.

  2. The information gathering process.

  3. Other factors requiring consideration when developing the plan.

  4. Making Broadway a Great Street.

 

Below, we highlight serious concerns and painfully obvious gaps in the current information.

 

It is well-known that many people are concerned about the built form of development in Vancouver, and more specifically, want to know what size buildings are being contemplated for the Broadway Corridor. Will they be 10, 20, or 40-floor structures? We have seen two sets of engagement documents prepared by staff, completed countless questionnaires and surveys, and yet not one of the surveys included the simple question, “How tall do you think buildings in the Broadway Plan area should be?” 


This fundamental omission is of deep concern and experience suggests one of two possible conclusions, neither of which is encouraging: (1) Staff has already made its mind up about the heights for the Broadway Plan area, or (2) Staff doesn’t care what the public thinks are appropriate heights.


Our concern is underscored by the fact that, at recent Phase 2 workshops, staff advised participants that Phase 3 of the engagement process would include specific height, density and 3D drawings of the area. This suggests to us that those decisions have already been made without public input. 


It goes without saying that we are open to more affordable housing, for both current and future generations who live in Vancouver, as a large proportion of the City’s wage earners currently earn below the median wage and are being priced out of the City entirely; the Broadway Plan must address this issue.  Despite “affordable housing” being a major concern, the information provided in the Emerging Directions documents is misleading because of the glaring lack of specificity. How do staff define “affordable housing”? Is it rent priced to median income, or a level below median income? If below, how far below? And what proportion of all new housing to be constructed under the Plan will be required to meet this affordability measure – 20%, 50%, or 80%? 


One of the great failings of the City’s planning processes is that there is very little, if any, public engagement of Councillors in the actual plan development processes. Council receives summaries of public surveys that are positioned to present staff’s recommendations in the most favourable light. We have seen situations in the past where staff’s recommendations did not enjoy the support of most of the survey respondents/those impacted, and these results were not disclosed to council (e.g. rezoning of 2538 Birch Street). It is neither healthy nor appropriate that Council allows itself to be disintermediated by staff. Council members should attend open houses and online discussions to hear unfiltered public comments.  Being so disengaged during the process does a disservice to Council and to the public, and accounts for at least some of the growing public distrust of City Hall. 

 

There are serious omissions in the Broadway Plan materials made publicly available thus far. Based on the experience of the community involved in the development of the West End Community Plan, we have been cautioned to be concerned that staff will keep residents in the dark, have private discussions with developer stakeholders and then, on short notice, present the package to Council as a fait accompli. 


We have asked the Mayor, City Council, City Manager and General Manager, Planning, Urban Design & Sustainability for assurance that this is not happening and will not happen, so that our trust in the City’s planning processes can be rebuilt.  We have requested that all significant elements be publicly disclosed now, rather than at the last minute, via a several hundred-page document, when it is too late to respond. Citizens have a right to assess the many assumptions underpinning a plan like this, which will have an immense and enduring impact on so many peoples’ lives.

 

Guiding Principles and Emerging Directions for the Broadway Plan


The guiding principles and emerging directions of the current plan are clearly aspirational and seriously lacking in specifics, making it nearly impossible to discuss them in a meaningful manner. As currently presented, the plan’s vague directions could be used to either defend the status quo or justify a 65-storey residential tower. This is how staff “spins” the information in their reports to Council, which Council approves. Many residents have told us they are confused by the language and feel misled by the Broadway Plan. 

 

The information released so far should have included considerable details on the current conditions and existing zoning of the Broadway Plan area, and what the City hopes to accomplish over the 30-year planning horizon. For example:

  • Based on the current population and number of households in the Broadway Plan area, what is the predicted population growth (based on Statistics Canada historical growth rates) and what are the housing needs to accommodate this growth? 

  • Is the City hoping to increase the population and households of the area beyond the historical growth rate, and if so, by how much? And how does this relate to the draft forecasted population growth, recently released by Metro Vancouver? 

  • What amount of housing and commercial space does the existing zoning of the Broadway Plan area already allow for? Using the historical projected population growth above, what zoning changes do we need to consider (if any at all), and where are the most sensible areas to consider these changes? 

  • How is employment expected to grow in the Broadway Plan area? Where will this economic growth come from? If the rate of employment exceeds historical experience, what will be the catalyst for this accelerated growth? 

  • The Plan contemplates increasing employment in the “Uptown Centre” by attracting new businesses in the “innovation economy.” Is the City intending to get into the business of picking “winners and losers” in terms of the types of organizations it targets for employment growth? What expertise does the City have in making those assessments?

 

The goal of any municipal plan is to provide both the community and developers with clarity on what will be permitted, in terms of built form, in the planning area – i.e., what building heights are going to be considered acceptable across the area? And how will the City’s “Quick-start” actions play a role in this?

 

As far as we know, there has not been any public discussion initiated by staff, nor has there been meaningful community consultation in any of the workshops on the issue of height and density, and other matters. In fact, some of our residents were surprised that their workshop facilitator could not answer the most basic questions about the Broadway Plan Phase 2. 


Information-Gathering Process


The information gathering process for the Broadway plan has been, well, questionable. The first phase of the plan consisted of a series of consultations – “walkshops” – in the neighbourhoods. The stated purpose of these were to gather input from residents about what they liked and didn’t like along the Broadway Corridor, and how they would like to see the area evolve over time.


Attendees included residents, as well as— somewhat surprisingly—various representatives of the development community, who either vociferously advocated for more density and height, or sat silently, listening to residents. In our experience, developer and real estate stakeholders have usually comprised about one quarter to one third of those in attendance, although in one instance, developers made up the bulk of those attending, including former Councillor Raymond Louie. (After some complaints, staff held a second walkshop for that area and clearly told developers to stay away).

 
The second phase virtual workshops were a similar experience. In the workshops we attended, several of the attendees were from the development community or did not live in the scope area; several of these people literally said nothing, contributing nothing helpful to the discussion. 


During the Phase 2 virtual workshops, the agendas provided little to no opportunity for input, as compared to the in-person events during Phase 1. During these virtual workshops, only 20 minutes was provided for participant input, and this was usually divided between approximately eight to 12 people (approx. two minutes to speak / person). Following this, there was a Q&A, in which approximately five questions from the chat function were addressed by staff (they promised to respond to the others but have not to date). While we take our hats off to staff for trying to make progress during the pandemic, this hardly qualifies as robust public input. 


What is striking about this is the fact that, in addition to participating in the public workshops, developers had their own, private stakeholder meetings with staff, which the public was not invited to attend. Residents were shut out and consequently had no idea what was discussed at that meeting. If developers were invited to take part in neighbourhood events, why weren’t residents invited to attend developer events? The inconsistency in the treatment afforded the public at large as opposed to the development community continues to be exclusionary, and, we believe, indefensible.


The surveys are quite illuminating – both for the questions they ask, and for the questions they do not ask. For example, in the initial survey for the Broadway Plan, there was a discussion of the types of housing options that would make a good fit for the neighbourhood– e.g., lane homes, duplexes etc. However, the one type of residence notably left off the list was single family dwellings. We recognize the apparent antipathy which staff and some members of council have towards single family dwellings; however, they do represent a significant portion of the housing stock in the City, and an unbiased survey would want to know how many people desire that type of housing. As well, during the virtual workshops, staff’s position was that sections of the Broadway Plan area, particularly along the southern border, would see single-family homes replaced by new apartments. Why is staff creating a plan to aggressively rezone areas and pressure long-term Vancouver residents to leave their homes? Who are we building the city for?


To this point, the Phase 2 Emerging Directions specifies the area around Granville and Broadway as a “centre.” This “centre” includes the section of the South Granville Village from 11th. – 5th Avenues, truncating the village to only the area from 16th to 11thAvenues, and jeopardizing dozens of small businesses in an area that has already lost many long-standing businesses due to skyrocketing rent and property taxes. As well, this particular “centre” has a unique extension that covers 8th Avenue & Pine Street, where a developer recently proposed a 40-storey wood framed tower (read here). Should we consider this to be simply a happy coincidence?

 
We are surprised that at this point in the planning process, staff has not articulated what the appropriate type of dwellings are that should be constructed in the Plan area. How much of it will be rental, or co-ops in the tradition of False Creek, versus private ownership? Are condominiums contemplated as a solution to the housing shortage?


Other Factors Requiring Consideration when Developing the Broadway Plan


The materials presented to date are silent on the impact of the proposed Jericho Lands development, the Senakw development by the Burrard bridge, the False Creek South redevelopment, Oakridge, the Heather lands, the massive redevelopment by Concord Pacific at the old Molson Brewery Site, and how those developments will dovetail (or not) with the Broadway Plan. During the workshops, we asked the Broadway Plan team whether they had accounted for the number of homes planned for these major projects, and adjusted the number planned for the Broadway Plan area. The answer that City lead planner for the plan, John Grottenberg, provided was, “Yes, we’re talking to the Senakw team,” which does not, in our opinion, answer the question at all, and raises doubts about whether planning is being done in a holistic manner. This is a significant omission.


During the virtual workshops, questions were also raised about schools, community centres and parks in the scope area, and staff provided weak, vague, non-specific answers that suggest a lack of planning for these resources in neighbourhoods that are school, park, and community centre deficient. All of the schools in Fairview are at capacity, and it is our understanding that most, if not all schools in the Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant Plan areas are also at capacity. Again, staff responses to these questions were cagey, seemingly demonstrating little concern and planning for these critical resources. When a city representative was asked about the locations and plans for new schools in two workshops, he offered the same vague response twice, “I’m speaking with the VSB regularly.” What does that answer mean? Staff have clearly spent an immense amount of time adding density to the Plan area – when are they going to invest time planning for the resources that families, students, and seniors (who are the fastest growing population in the City), need to live in the Plan area? 


In addition, on May 27, 2020, Council approved a resolution requiring staff to produce granular data with respect to population and development activity in the City (among other things). Staff has failed to comply with Council’s requirement. The data required to be produced ought to be the foundational elements of any planning activity, given plans will lead to budgetary requirements for, among other things, possible capital outlays required to meet plan objectives. It has been demonstrated that this data exists, yet is unclear why it has not been produced. There are no proprietary rights to this information. The advantage goes to the party with the better information in any exercise, and we ask what is being withheld from the public view, and why.


Making Broadway a Great Street

 

During the Phase 2 workshops, the Broadway Plan team spoke at length about plans to reduce it to four lanes (read here), and make Broadway “a great street,” by increasing foot, transit and rolling journeys; however, the team didn’t mention their plans to manage and expedite vehicular traffic and improve traffic safety in shoulder neighbourhoods. A City representative was asked about this, and she said that they “would look at it later.” Staff also said that room would be made for commercial vehicle travel and resident “medical trips,” but concerningly left out details about personal vehicle travel for business and errands. Staff clearly have ambitions to restrict personal vehicle travel that are out of step with reality. Increasing foot, transit and rolling transportation is positive; however, the emerging directions to date are geared towards constricting traffic on Broadway and other major thoroughfares through the scope area, which will make personal, commercial, and transit trips increasingly difficult. 


The Plan area is a significant thoroughfare and staff are seemingly making dangerous assumptions about the amount of vehicular traffic that will be converted to subway traffic. First-hand neighbourhood experience and logic tell us that their conversion estimates should be kept conservative. Furthermore, while fossil fuel powered vehicles are projected to decrease, the number of electric vehicles is projected to increase dramatically. If vehicular traffic is constrained on major thoroughfares instead of being planned for, it will detour through neighbourhoods, exacerbating a serious traffic problem that is already happening in neighbourhoods throughout the City, thanks to chronically poor traffic planning. This flow-through neighbourhood traffic makes neighbourhoods extremely unsafe for existing residents, as well as for the seniors and families for which the Broadway Plan purports to be planning. As opposed to simply talking about making Broadway “a great street,” Staff should provide the current and predicted vehicular traffic and transit ridership data, along with the studies which defend these predictions, so that we all can make informed decisions about our community, together. 


Conclusion


The capital expenditure outlays required by the Broadway Plan and the larger Vancouver Plan will run into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. No business, operating with budgets the size of the City of Vancouver, would undertake a planning exercise as a prelude to such major expenditures, without the benefit of all the facts. In that regard, the Plan and the participants have been hamstrung by this lack of foundational information. Transparent data, facts, as well as sound planning guidelines (e.g., seats in schools, m2 of greenspace/person), should have formed the basis of the Broadway Plan and its Guiding Principles on Day one, and should have formed the basis of every discussion. The missing facts, data, assumptions, and details, which have been discussed here, should be publicly disclosed months before any plan is delivered to council, to allow meaningful independent analysis to be performed, and conclusions drawn as to the implications for this Plan. 


It is hard to understand how recommendations to Council can be considered credible when there are such obvious gaps in the public engagement process. It will be equally hard for residents to understand how Council could consider a plan in the absence of such data. 

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