Density Bonuses for Developers

The City has proposed changes to the definition of “social housing”    that will enable developers to build rental housing projects that qualify for a bonus in allowable density if 30% of the units are available for low income residents. Unfortunately ‘low income’ doesn’t mean minimum wage earners or welfare recipients. They couldn’t afford the $912 for a bachelor apartment. That is the rent level that qualifies developers for the bonus in density. The new definition means that the entire 100% of units will be called ‘social housing’ even if only 30% are available to lower income residents.

Further, the proposed changes give staff the authority to approve the density bonus without public hearing or any scrutiny by elected officials.

On March 24, 2015 Council held a public hearing on this proposed changes. The FCRA spoke against the amendments. Following is the presentation we made to council. The Public Hearing has been extended to Thursday, March 26, 2015. If you agree, you have an opportunity to be heard, either by speaking to Council on the 26th, or by writing to: Mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca, or by signing the petition launched by our neighbours at the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY): https://www.change.org/p/vancouver-mayor-and-city-council-vote-no-to-the-proposed-amendments-to-the-downtown-official-development-plan-on-march-24-2015

Remarks to City Council, March 24, 2015
I am here speaking on behalf of the FCRA because we believe that the proposed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) before Council today impact all neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

I want to raise 2 issues:

The need for democratic accountability in decision-making; and
The importance of accommodating deep core need residents in social housing across the city

First, the issue of democratic accountability:
I find it impossible to understand from the city’s material whether the decisions on density bonuses are made by elected officials or by public servants. If by both, in what order are these decisions made. Is it proposed that Council look at decisions made by public servants only after significant time, money and energy has been spent planning for the increased density? Or before? Will there be a public hearing? Will the community have a meaningful opportunity for input into decisions before additional density is granted?

I urge you not to compromise the importance of elected officials making decisions about whether or not to grant a density bonus. I have spoken in the past of the appearance of conflict of interest when developers donate huge sums of money to candidates. Having the public service make decisions around lucrative density bonuses raises the same level of suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest. We know that many city staff members later turn up as highly paid consultants for, or employees of, developers. Have their previous favourable decisions put them in line for such lucrative contracts? We wonder.

In my view, the city must ensure its policies and practices protect its staff from suspicions of abuse or corruption and even the appearance of conflict.

Density bonuses are serious business. Density bonuses exempt developers from zoning – zoning that was approved after public hearings; approved by elected officials according to the provisions of the Vancouver Charter. That whole scheme of accountability will be undermined if you allow density bonuses to be granted in private by anonymous bureaucrats, rather than up front, as part of a public and accountable democratic process.

Second, I want to say a few words about the definition of “social housing”:
This revamped definition forever takes developers off the hook for building housing for income assistance recipients. This revamped definition ensures that the DTES will continue to be the only place in the city for people on welfare to live. The city-wide definition excludes the most vulnerable who require housing at the welfare shelter rate. This is bad social policy.
The FCRA believes that there is significant evidence showing that strategies such as Scattered Site Housing, and Inclusive and Mixed Income developments have better results than high density enclaves of high need, high risk, high impact individuals.

The FCRA wants to see social housing across the city – social housing defined in the traditional way, for example, as the term was used when the Harcourt Government launched HOMES BC: housing for people at the shelter allowance rate, housing with rents geared to 30% of income (RGI); and housing for people who can pay rents at low end of market (LEM). With the developers delivering ‘turnkey’ buildings for social housing, the combination of these 3 groups should ensure viable projects.

If Market Rental Housing is required to ensure the viability of social housing projects, those units cannot be considered ‘social housing’. Market rental housing is not social housing.

There is no evidence to support the notion that increasing the supply of market rentals decreases the number of residents requiring assistance with affordability.

In summary, changing the definition of ‘social housing’ that will apply city-wide calls for a city-wide debate as it is the entire city that is impacted. To do otherwise, in my view, shows serious contempt for the recent Supreme Court of BC decision.

Ryan Reynolds movie to shut down Georgia Viaduct in April

The City of Vancouver has agreed to daily shutdowns of the Georgia Viaduct from April 5 to 18 for the filming of Deadpool (featuring locally grown actor Ryan Reynolds).

Details of the closure

April 5: Georgia Viaduct closed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

April 6-16: Georgia Viaduct closed from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. After the road reopens at 3 p.m. there will remain a 100-metre section of the viaduct that will be limited to one lane.

April 11: Georgia Viaduct closed from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The production has also optioned the possibility of using the viaduct on April 12, 17 and 18.

More information can be found at the city’s website.

Park Safety Fair this Saturday—See You There!

People value the time they spend in city parks, whether walking a dog, playing basketball, or having a picnic. How do we keep our parks pleasant and safe?

With a host of partner organizations, FCRA is proud to be a part of the Park Safety Fair at Andy Livingstone Park on Saturday, March 21, 2015, from 10:00am to 3:00pm.

Come meet us and participate in the many other activities we have planned.  ParkSafetyFair

Bruce Allen chimes in on Green Light campaign

Each weekday, CKNW-AM (Vancouver) broadcasts an editorial commentary by Bruce Allen called Reality Check, in which Allen provides his point of view on a current event or recent news story.

On Thursday, March 12, 2015, during his editorial comment on Tacky Homes, Movie Theatres & Green Lights, Allen said he was sorry to hear about our judicial review loss and encouraged us: “Keep those green lights going people—if only to remind us that in Vancouver today developers rule.”

The Battle of False Creek

BC Supreme Court Justice Sewell decided that the Director of Planning has the power to change land use if “enforcement would result in unnecessary hardship.”

Although to us laypersons, it seems most unreasonable to see one of Canada’s wealthiest private companies enduring ‘hardship’ if not allowed to sell condos on park-zoned land, by the Standard of Review in judicial review applications, Justice Sewell determined Mr. Jackson’s granting hardship status was reasonable.

No public hearing is required; no Council approval is required. If Vancouverites want more public accountability, the wording of the bylaw must be amended. Read more at F.C.R.A False Creek Residents Association v. Vancouver (City),  2014 BCSC 1674—2014/09/03 

Justice Sewell also accepted the position put forward by the City and Concord Pacific that the park delivery was not imminent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In that light, using the park-zoned land for commercial purposes was not contrary to the public interest. Of course, we, as representative of the public would disagree.

In losing the Judicial Review Battle of False Creek, we have not given up. The FCRA will continue to fight for green space in our community; for public waterfront access; and for honouring the zoning of lot 9 as park and recreation.

We will continue to shine green lights in our windows calling for the City of Vancouver and Concord Pacific to fulfill a decades-old contractual obligation to complete Creekside Park and the Seawall.

static.squarespace.com

 

Buy a bulb, turn it on nightly, remind the City of Vancouver that we expect the park to be a park, and not the site of more towers.

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

—————-

 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