TELUS new giant screen: Ten questions that TELUS can’t answer

Dear Mayor Robertson,

(18 Feb 2015)

Thank you for your role in passing the bipartisan unanimous motion just two weeks ago seeking a reduction in unneeded / superfluous light in Vancouver. I am writing you today to share my concerns about Telus’ new sign bylaw amendment application at 520 West Georgia Street. As a downtown resident and as a father, I do feel that a lot can be learned from my personal experience and my family’s experience about living in front of Telus’ giant screens at BC Place. I do realise that Telus has made efforts to describe this new giant screen on Georgia Street in terms that are different from its screens at BC Place, but please take my word (amongst scores of other residents’ testimony) that a whole new slew of suffering will be caused for nearby families irrespective of degrees of intensity or type of content if this new screen is approved. (Recall that Telus fiddled with the brightness and operating hours of their screens at BC Place for months, with little reduction in the suffering caused to nearby families.)

To the surprise of many, VanCityBuzz has recently published a photo with the heading “One of the projectors and the projection being tested at TELUS Garden” which seems to depict Telus’ completed purchase, installation and testing of their new giant screen as though it was a fait-accompli. As a citizen who insists on due diligence in civic affairs, I admit that this type of contemptuous corporate behaviour infuriates me. I wonder if it frustrates you also.

Over the last while, I have worked with a number of other downtown residents to prepare a list of ten questions that emphasise our main concerns with Telus’ new sign bylaw amendment application, and I ask that you please have a read before making your decision concerning Telus’ application. I do understand that Council may choose to convene a public hearing at which time I look forward to conveying to you in person and with more backstory, the elements that make up our primary concerns.

Thanks for your attention to this file and to the important precedents that may be created therein.

With regards,

David Cookson

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 City Council must say NO to TELUS’ new giant screen application

‘Application to Amend Sign By-law—520 West Georgia Street’

Ten questions that must be answered:

  1. Telus’ new proposed giant video screen is only two blocks away from the closest residential high-rise building (amongst others). In Telus’ own application, when addressing line-of-sight, Telus admits that ‘The Hudson’ at 610 Granville is only 176 meters away. Scores of families will suffer. Is this not why we have bylaws to protect us?
  2. Telus is favouring corporate interests over family interests, this despite the pain and suffering that Telus has caused and is still causing to thousands of families living near Telus’ screens at BC Place. Screens and homes simply don’t mix under any circumstances, even when care is taken to mitigate the effects. Have we learned nothing?
  3. Telus is misleading the public by claiming that the new giant screen is “only viewable in low light conditions” (i.e. in the evenings, which is incidentally the most invasive time of day for nearby residents). However, in Telus’ own application, Telus admits that they intend to run the screen during several daytime events such as the Sun Run. So which is it?
  4. Telus is misleading the public by claiming that the new giant screen “will not feature advertising”. However all that will be required for Labatt to feature Budweiser ads (for example) will be for Telus to rent a single office at Telus Garden to Labatt. In Telus’ own application, Telus admits that they intend to allow “brand recognition” (which precisely means advertising) on the screen for tenant businesses at Telus Garden. Has Telus not simply narrowly redefined the word “advertising” just to suit their current proposal?
  5. In the year 2015, no-one uses outdoor video screens to learn about community events – one would have to stand there staring and waiting for 15 minutes to glean anything valuable. The vast majority of people use their smart phones or they listen to the radio, while others use the internet at home. People without internet or radio access are generally made aware about upcoming events at the community centres that they frequent. Can anyone really claim that they’ve ever learned about any community events from the outdoor screens at Future Shop on Granville Street?
  6. Telus is misleading the public by claiming that the intensity of the new giant screen will be “lesser than that of a handheld smartphone or laptop” by using the measure ‘nits’ to describe light intensity. What Telus is failing to explain is that ‘nits’ are a measure per square meter and so the bigger the screen the bigger the disturbance. Can these misleading claims (which work really well in short news-cycles) really go unchallenged?
  7. Telus is misleading the public by claiming that the disturbance caused by the new giant screen will be “exactly the same as that of normal lights from an office building”. This is patently ridiculous given that video screens themselves are dynamic (i.e. they move and flash) and are designed to draw your attention. Why else would anyone install a projection device on the outside of an office tower if not to draw people’s attention?
  8. Exposure to flashing and dynamic (i.e. moving) video imagery must remain a voluntary activity for residents living in residential buildings nearby, not something that they are held captive to nightly. Would subjecting local residents to this nightly harassment really be a ‘best practice’ in the most densely populated residential neighbourhood in the country?
  9. Council recently passed a motion seeking a reduction in superfluous outdoor lighting in Vancouver. Would permitting Telus’ proposed amendment not fly directly in the face of this unanimously supported Council motion?
  10. Telus has shown utter contempt for the City of Vancouver’s bylaws at BC Place where Telus continues to operate and earn the advertising revenues from their giant outdoor video screens. In 2012 the Mayor and Council unanimously passed a motion demanding that the BC Place screens be brought into compliance but Telus has ignored this request for three years. Should companies that act deplorably be granted special permissions by the City?

 

Firenze responds to false accusations

In an article published by the Vancouver Courier, a senior Vancouver School Board official accused the Firenze Strata Corporation of delaying construction of the International School.  The February 5th article written by Cheryl Rossi contains serious inaccuracies.  Unfortunately, the Courier appears to have made no attempt to verify the information before publishing this misinformation..

Here is the response written by the Firenze Strata Council:

Memo:     To the Residents of the False Creek Area   via FCRA

From:  Strata Council for the Firenze

Re:  Correcting the Record

We are certain that most residents of our neighbourhood are aware that the International Village School is to be built adjacent to our property.  We realize, as much as anyone, the need for this school, support its construction and anxiously await its completion.

We write to you as a result of an article published in the Vancouver Courier on February 5, 2015 under the headline “VSB (Vancouver School Board) settles with reluctant strata”.  The article was not accurate and contained incorrect information and erroneous conclusions.

Among other things, the article quotes Jim Meschino, Director of Facilities for the VSB, as saying that the right to build the schools foundation through our existing parkade was included on the land title.  This position has always been strenuously disputed by the Strata Corporation and, indeed, was to be subject of the court application which was on the verge of proceeding, but for the settlement reached between the VSB and our strata.  Just because this issue was not tested in court does not mean that we abandoned our firmly held position on this issue.  It simply means that both parties resolved to settle instead of waste resources in court.

He is quoted as stating that this was something that we either forgot or did not want to acknowledge.  This too is strenuously disputed.   The Strata Corporation did not forget or not want to acknowledge this, but rather we have maintained throughout that the documents at land title never authorized what the VSB was attempting to do.

He is also quoted as stating that the owners of the Firenze were concerned that the school would negatively affect our property values.  This also is strenuously disputed.  The Strata Corporation is keenly aware of what the issues are for our owners and, other than the units directly in line with the school walls,  a concern that property values would be negatively affected was not then and is not now one of them.

By way of background our residents have always been aware of the plan to build a school adjacent to our building from the time before they purchased their units.  We were surprised and shocked, however, when the Vancouver School Board  approached us and informed us of their requirements (demands) in order to meet their construction schedule.

Either through lack of planning, miscommunication, or oversight on the part of the VSB there were a number of issues that we, as a strata council, needed resolved before we could allow the construction to begin.  There were many issues (and no doubt there will be many more during the construction process) but just to give you an idea of the magnitude of our concerns here are some examples.

THE VSB demanded access to our parkade to construct several foundation pillars which were required to hold the weight of the new school which is being built directly above our parkade.

This was a shock to us as we had  expected  that because the school had been planned before the Firenze was built that the builder would have made the foundation strong enough to support its weight.   We suspect this requirement was as a result of changed construction plans.

We informed the VSB that before the construction could proceed we required an independent engineers report to assure us that the alterations to our foundation would not result in any compromises to our existing foundation.   This was not something the VSB offered, rather they acceded to a request which we made in this regard.

We were also concerned with the amount of insurance coverage in place in the event of a catastrophic failure and required assurance that our property would be adequately protected as a result of the VSB construction.  This had to be negotiated.

We were also told that in order to re-enforce our foundation 150 of our residents needed to be displaced from their parking for a minimum period of 6 months.  We had to negotiate the conditions under which this would happen and what compensation, if any, the residents would be entitled to.

We were also shocked to learn that the developer’s promise to the VSB of over 30 parking stalls for school staff parking was to be satisfied with the spaces that we, up until that moment, believed were ours for guest parking.  There was nothing registered on our Title to state that the VSB parking stalls were to come from the guest parking stalls allotted to the Strata Corporation.  This demand needed to be negotiated and researched.

Further the plans for the new school did not include a garbage room and the VSB advised us that they would be converting two of “their” parking stalls into a garbage room.  This was proposed to be placed in our main vehicle entrance.  This needed to be negotiated.

We could go on, however, highlight these several issues simply to give you an idea as to the magnitude of the issues the VSB brought to us along with their tight construction schedule.  All these issues, and more, needed to be addressed. There are also many unrelated issues that do not even involve the Strata Corporation as to why construction has been delayed and even if any delay can be attributed to the VSB’s need to obtain the consent of the Strata Corporation,  it was not, and never was, an issue of the Firenze trying to block construction but rather was an issue of the strata council doing their duty to protect, as much as possible, the investment and rights of our owners.

All these issues and many more needed to be negotiated and we, as a volunteer council, made ourselves available to the VSB at significant personal cost in order to deal with them.

The filing of the petition in Supreme Court was not a “last resort” as Mr. Meschino is quoted as stating in the article. The parties were still in negotiations when the VSB filed the petition seeking an injunction to, among other things, allow them onto our property to start construction of the foundation for the International Village School.  The petition also demanded return of any money we had made renting out “their” parking stalls.  We were disappointed that they would take this action as it would never be conducive to good neighbour relations. The result was we had to look past this and believe we are justified in feeling that it was as a result of significant flexibility and generosity on the part of this strata council that an agreement was finally reached.

As a result  of the rush to build a newly configured school, with all the attendant structural and parking issues, our residents were put in a position of having to pay a significant  amount in legal fees to protect their interests.  This is not fair to our residents.

This council was looking forward to putting all this behind us and moving forward with a co-operative partnership with the VSB.  This hope has been challenged but not dashed by the February 5th article in the Vancouver Courier.

We understand this is the first time the VSB has constructed a school adjacent to private residences.  There are many lessons to be learned from this project.  We sincerely hope that future developments will go much smoother as a result of the lessons learned from the construction of the International Village School.

This council is committed to doing whatever is necessary to move forward with this construction in order that our community will benefit from this much needed amenity.

Firenze Strata Council

 

Another Giant Media Screen

On February 11, 2015 a community open house was held regarding an application to allow a large retractable screen on the new Telus Garden building in downtown Vancouver.

Henriquez Partners Architects, on behalf of Westbank Corp. and TELUS, have applied to the City of Vancouver to amend the Sign By-law to permit an 7.5 m x 11 m media sign on the west facade of the building at 520 West Georgia Street, facing Seymour Street.

Another giant screen flashing images into the urban realm? Didn’t council just vote in favour of limiting outdoor light pollution? Read more from recent media coverage.

David Cookson, a renewable-energy specialist who has spoken against the lighted billboard at B.C. Place, says he’s concerned for residents living near Telus Garden. Listen to Rick Cluff’s CBC Early Edition interview on the subject. Global News also covered the Telus high-rise screen story.

The screen still requires approval from Vancouver city hall. What do you think? Give your feedback.

January 30, 2015 – Our Judicial Review Application before Justice Sewell Concludes

The judicial review application is now concluded and we await a decision.  The second, and final day before Mr. Justice Sewell in BC’s Supreme Court opened with Concord Pacific again taking the floor to announce that it would seek costs against the FCRA.  Justice Sewell expressed his surprise, opining that costs were not commonly awarded in cases of judicial review.  This was particularly apt in this instance as the FCRA application was brought against the City of Vancouver.  Concord Pacific then budged its way into the proceedings on its own motion.

The second issue raised by counsel for Concord Pacific pertained to the FCRA’s application to have the Court declare the the City of Vancouver should declare that no further commercial parking should be allowed on Lot 9.  In its response to our petition for judicial review, the City replied that if could grant a permit for commercial parking on application.  Our request to the Court was based on our position that Concord’s  hardship status apples only to the sales centre, not to the need to allow commercial parking.  Concord Pacific of course objected to any such curtailing of their commercial activities.

Next up – the City of Vancouver.  We were anxious to hear whether there was any real evidence to support Concord’s hardship status.  Sadly, we were disappointed to hear nothing new.  For the most part, the City’s lawyer simply stated that the City of Vancouver “adopted” the positions assumed by Concord Pacific.

Further, the City maintained that the park would not be delivered in the next three years therefore our petition was unnecessary.

Bob Kasting, counsel for the FCRA summed up our petition, re-stating that notwithstanding all the evidence submitted by Concord Pacific and the City of Vancouver, this wasn’t a petition for a park.  It was a petition challenging the commercial use of a site zoned for exclusive park use.  While the Director of Planning may have jurisdiction to ‘relax’ zoning provisions, he did not have jurisdiction to change the use of the land.

In closing, we do want to thank Bob for all his work on our behalf.  In our view, it’s clear — prime waterfront property which is zoned for public use as a park should not be used for exclusive private parties, for sale functions, or high end displays of waterfront living.  The “hardship” excuse to allow this was simply that – an excuse.  We hope the Court will agree.

January 30, 10 am in Supreme Court

The City will present its case for granting “hardship” status to one of the country’s wealthiest private companies on January 30, 2015 at 10 am.

Concord Pacific’s Vancouver sales centre is built on land that is zoned for exclusive park and recreation use.  The City has allowed this on a “temporary” basis for the past decade.  The provision used by the City enables a “relaxation” of zoning if otherwise the owner would suffer unnecessary hardship.

The FCRA is asking the Supreme Court to review this decision.  Is it correct?  Is it reasonable?  Concord was successful in being named as a full party to this dispute.  For a full account of day 1 of this case, see our previous posting.

The presentation to Mr. Justice Sewell will conclude on January 30, with the City of Vancouver’s opportunity to justify its decision to allow commercial activities on park-zoned lands.

OOPS. City’s Planning Boss files 2nd affidavit to say he read the FCRA’s submission on Concord’s application to renew the “temporary” permit allowing their sales centre to operate on park-zoned land

In his evidence, Mr. Jackson’s first affidavit filed on December 22, 2014 indicates all the factors he took into account when granting “Hardship” status to Concord Pacific.  Conspicuous by its absence  was the submission made by the FCRA indicating our objection to renewing the  permit which would have resulted in 10 years of selling condos “temporarily” on a site zoned for exclusive park use.

This web site, the  FCRA’s tweets and Facebook page pointed out the fact that Mr. Jackson neglected to take the community’s position into account.

Now Mr. Jackson has filed a second affidavit, claiming that of course he took our position into account.    Not a surprise given the overwhelming negative response from the public to the omission of any reference to the community’s objection.

We are still awaiting word on a Court date to complete the presentation of this case in BC’s Supreme Court.

Would Concord Pacific suffer “unnecessary hardship” if it wasn’t allowed to sell condos on land zoned for exclusive park use?  The City of Vancouver says “Yes”.  The FCRA says “No.

We are continuing our efforts to have safe parks and playgrounds

The FCRA has sent the following email to the Mayor and Council in the hope of changing the City’s policy of not accepting calls about used syringes in parks and playgrounds.  In response to this email, Dr. Penny Ballem, the City Manager, has responded that she is following up with staff.  We await action on this important issue.

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am writing to bring your attention to a city policy that significantly increases the health and safety risk to children using municipal playgrounds.

You will appreciate that used syringes which are discarded in playgrounds pose a risk to children who may pick up such articles and cause serious harm to themselves or their playmates.  Parents or caregivers  who take their children to our playgrounds are aware of this danger and are anxious to report such articles to civic authorities.  Similarly, interested residents, runners, dog walkers etc. who spot these articles in parks and playgrounds want to keep the area safe from obvious hazards.

The 311 system was developed at considerable public expense to facilitate such reporting.  Many residents have a cell phone and will call 311, only to be told that the city doesn’t accept those calls.  As you likely know, the City has contracted out the needle pick-up service.  We are advised that 311 will not forward calls to an outside agency.

We have made numerous attempts to have the 311 administrators change this policy in order to ensure that playgrounds are safe for children.  However, 311 stands firm in their position that all residents should attend parks with paper and pen, and at least one free hand, so they can record the needle pick number and make a second call.  All this, presumably while maintaining control over their children. 

The False Creek Residents Association has been working closely with the Police Department and the Parks Board to improve safety in local parks.  Senior representatives on our working group, Inspector Howard Chow and Park Director Bill Harding, have been very helpful and supportive.  We appreciate their active involvement and commitment. Both would like to see this problem solved.  Neither have been able to influence the 311 policy.  Parents and caregivers are anxious to work with civic officials, to be an extra set of ‘eyes’, and assist in keeping public areas safe.  The current policy is a barrier to this important aspect of engagement.

We are advised by 311 administrators that the policy is based on the preference of the outside contractor to have the personal information of the caller.  This apparently trumps children’s safety.

We hope you will agree that children’s safety is paramount, and the City should do whatever is necessary to ensure that used syringes, used condoms, and other hazardous materials are removed as soon as possible from the playground area.  We have a collection of photos of syringes in playgrounds, hidden in play structures, strewn on the ground, on benches, in the grass etc.  I can provide these if necessary.

If the City can have a ‘one stop service’ for tax collection, surely we can extend the same concept to the collection of used syringes from children’s play areas.

 
Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and prosperous new year.
 
Fern Jeffries
Co-Chair, False Creek Residents Association

No Pretense – Chief Planner Brian Jackson admits to the Court that he did not consider the FCRA submission

On December 12, 2014 the FCRA presented its case for Judicial Review of the City’s decision to grant Concord Pacific an extension of its temporary permit for the Sales Centre located on land zoned for exclusive park use. The city allowed Concord to build the sales centre on this land (Lot 9 of the BC Place/Expo District) on the basis of “hardship” as outlined in the Vancouver Charter.

In closing the proceedings for the day, Justice Sewell asked that the City clarify its consideration of hardship.  The City has responded with this affidavit filed by Brian Jackson, General Manager of Planning and development.

Before we filed for Judicial Review – in fact, before we even considered legal action, the FCRA wrote to Mr. Jackson outlining the reasons we objected to the renewal of the permit.  Obviously, we addressed the issue of “hardship”.

In his affidavit to the Court, Mr.Jackson refers to all the information he considered before issuing a 3 year extension for Concord.  What is not listed is our May 3 submission.

A clear admission that the City has made its decision without hearing from the community.