Neighbourhoods jockeying to be next in “community vision” renewal queue

Angry West End residents, fearful that as many as four new rental towers will hurt their community, tabled a 2,000-name petition at council Thursday during a lengthy debate.

Their demand: that no buildings be permitted in excess of six storeys, that the community be consulted on any rezoning and that development be guided by a comprehensive plan. Many residents told council that major developments should be stopped until a new West End community vision is in place.

Sounds reasonable, but the petition reflects a growing demand in neighbourhoods across the city to go to the front of the queue when it comes to renewing “community visions” that act as a supplement to the city’s zoning rules.

A motion proposed by Councillor Ellen Woodsworth would have moved the West End to the front of the line.

Since it took almost 20 years to complete the nine community visions now in place, jumping the queue will determine whether or not a given “vision” will be updated this decade or sometime in the 2020s.

Mount Pleasant is currently at the top of the list and its plan may be ready for adoption this fall. Grandview Woodland is expecting to go next, based on strong hints from the last council, and that community has already put in a lot of energy laying the groundwork. Should the West End come next? Or Dunbar, which has made similar demands?

Planning director Brent Toderian told council his department has resisted the idea of a queue, preferring to pick the next community for “revisioning” by the application of nine criteria. They are: development pressures and rate of change; opportunity to build a cohesive community; recreational, social and cultural services; quality of life; appropriate housing; an opportunity to create/enhance a unique community; existence and relevance of plans; impact and availability of transportation.

Which neighbourhood would you pick?

Council punted the issue back to staff for consideration in an upcoming fall report on the future of the community visioning process city-wide. Then, in a nod to the crowd, councillors directed staff to “implement an innovative approach to engage the West End community in an open discussion on issues of community needs, including affordable housing.”

Complicating the West End controversy is the fact that very few sites exist in the community where the tower developments generating so much anxiety could receive any consideration. Only one tower is allowed per block and many West End blocks are already taken. Even fewer blocks have sites that might come into play.

Council has already approved one project at Bidwell and Davie under the Short-Term Incentive for Rental program (STIR), creating the first new rental housing in the community for many years. Another proposal, yet to come to council, would replace an old United Church on Comox. A third could add another rental tower to the Beach Towers project on Pacific.

But it is evident that community leaders, who were vocal in demanding action to protect and create rental house during the 2008 election, have changed their minds. A moratorium on rezoning, pending a new community vision — implicit or explicit in most of Thursday’s presentations — would freeze the West End for a very long time. Unless, of course, a different community goes to the head of the line.