VANCOUVER — Over the next 30 years about 10,000 people are expected to move into the West End, the city’s oldest and densest neighbourhood.
But in order to do that without making wholesale changes to the character of the neighbourhood, the city is considering the unique plan to allow multi-storey laneway housing on some of the areas wider lanes.
It is also changing how property owners can use their land, limiting most of the future residential development in the West End to rental housing only.
And those places along Georgia and Gerard where it will allow rezonings for condos, the city will insist that 20 of any new housing be devoted to social housing.
The changes are contained in a new community plan that the city has been working on for at least three years.
On Wednesday, more than 45 speakers lined up to tell city Council what they thought about the plan, which still needs to be adopted. Many spoke in favour of the opportunities the plan will create for new affordable housing. Others, particularly from the West End Neighbours group, argue that the plan is too aggressive and will result in tall towers in places where there shouldn’t be any.
The creation of a new community plan has become a divisive issue as the city struggles to protect a large stock of affordable rental housing in the West End. Three years ago, when members of WEN vociferously opposed the selection process for Mayor Gregor Robertson’s West End Advisory Committee, he was accidentally recorded asking whether these opponents were “f . . . .n’ NPA hacks”.
Years ago when land prices began to rise dramatically, the city put in restrictions to prevent the wholesale destruction of rental housing. Those restrictions cause condo developers to look elsewhere, resulting in densification in other neighbourhoods.
But now the city wants to offer some certainty to the West End which accounts for one-third of all rental housing stock in the city.
Brian Jackson, the city’s chief planner, said his department wanted to retain much of the character of the neighbourhood, which has 23,000 residents.
“With the West End plan, we took a character-based approach with planning. We wanted to make sure that whatever growth is going to happen we would maintain the character of the West End. This was primal in our direction,” he said.
With its close proximity to the central business district, 81 per cent of the housing units in the West End are rental.
Under the proposal before council today, the city would create special opportunities for infill laneway housing of up to six stories behind a number of existing rental buildings.
Jackson said the proposal would allow property owners who build infill laneway housing to reinvest into their existing buildings. All of the new housing would be rental.
Jackson said the West End has the widest lanes in the city, at 33 feet, compared to 20 feet wide in lanes elsewhere in the city. Allowing laneway housing would also allow for greening of the area, he said.
The new plan also considers some changes to the village areas of Robson, Denman and Davie streets, including removing residential zoning from those strips. It would create a new business district along Alberni street between Bute and Thurlow.
Jackson said the changes, if adopted by council, would limit growth in the West End to about 20 per cent, compared to 23 per cent across the rest of the city.
Community amenity contributions from allowed developments would be used to replace aging recreational and community services, as well as fund a new community centre for the area’s large gay and lesbian community.
Eric Kowalski, the executive director of the West End Seniors’ Network, said he also believes the city needs to do more for the area’s large seniors community, including a new purpose-designed centre for the area’s large seniors community. Building it into a new West End community centre would not work, he told council.
“Their needs are so specific we need a space people can come to,” Kowalski said.
Charles Gauthier, the executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area, told council the group generally supports the new plan, particularly the creation of the new Alberni district.
But he said the city also needs to widen some sidewalks and put in more traffic signage.
With car traffic declining in the area and more people walking or cycling to work, there are plans to also remove rush-hour zones from the major neighbourhood thoroughfares.
John Whistler, the chair of the city’s Active Transportation Policy Council, said the city needs to further limit the impact of commuter traffic coming from and going to the Lions Gate Bridge. Many commuters continue to run lanes and use the West End’s quieter streets to cut time off their travel.
Whistler also suggested the city make changes to the area around Denman and Davie, which he said would allow Morton Park to become a gathering spot for tourists and residents.
“This could be Vancouver’s Times Square,” he said.
He also believes the city should raise on-street parking rates to free up more parking and reduce speeds. “I don’t believe that 50 kilometres an hour is safe on any streets in the West End.”
Source: The Vancouver Sun