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City council amends West End zoning bylaws for greater density

Stevenson says changes will provide more housing options near gay hub

Randy Helten opposed the Jan 23 rezoning motion because, he says, the public was not sufficiently consulted. Credit: Shauna Lewis

Vancouver City Council has approved bylaw rezoning amendments that will provide social housing, laneway housing and increased density in the lower Davie Village.

The rezoning amendments, which will also affect Denman and Robson streets, were the final details in the city’s West End Plan, released Nov 20, 2013. 

Councillor Tim Stevenson called the bylaw changes “significant” and said they will have a positive impact on the gay village by providing the community with additional housing options near the gay hub.

“This means that there will be a lot more housing, a lot more social housing and a lot more rental housing in the West End,” Stevenson said, prior to the motion’s passage by a vote of seven to three on Jan 23.

“I’m very excited that finally we’re going ahead with this, and I’m very disappointed at councillors [George] Affleck, [Adriane] Carr and [Elizabeth] Ball because, once again, they have tried to thwart the will of the people over their own politicking,” he added.

Affleck, Carr and Ball opposed the bylaw changes because they say West End business owners were not sufficiently consulted about how the rezoning changes could affect them.

“This is not an insignificant decision,” Carr said before voting against the bylaw recommendations. “It deals not only with the form and character in how the West End will be developed; it also sets forward a process . . . I am not confident that the details and the process are thoroughly thought through enough with the public to achieve significant enough buy-in.”

The motion stops spot rezoning, Affleck acknowledged, but it also creates the impression that city hall is making decisions about zoning without any discussion with the public.

The Jan 23 city hall hearing on the amendments attracted approximately 20 speakers. Notification of the public hearing was sent to West End residents Jan 2, city staff confirmed. Speakers expressed mixed reactions to the bylaw proposals.

“I am opposed because I think they need more work,” said West End resident Risa Smith.

Smith said allowing towers to be built in close proximity to each other on the periphery of the West End village would affect the livability of the area. It would be “a little bit of a glass prison for people on the inside.”

“This is a 30-year span, and this zoning has a long time frame,” she added. Making changes without adequate public consultation is “contrary to logic, especially when those changes relate to changes that are supposed to have social benefit,” she said.

Randy Helten agreed that more consultation was needed before the bylaws were amended. A longtime advocate of no spot rezoning without a comprehensive community plan, he opposed both the new West End Plan and the bylaw amendments because he believes the consultation process was flawed.

“I am asking city council to reject the proposed amendments,” he told the hearing. “Please send them back to the entire West End for proper consultation.”

Other concerns expressed at the hearing included a lack of street maintenance, high vehicle and bicycle traffic in the West End, a need for better street lighting and more effective transit.

“Where is the livability in a high-density area if you have no bus service?” one speaker asked.

But Brent Granby, former executive director of the West End Residents Association, said the bylaw changes are needed. “We need rental housing in the West End and we need affordability, and I think these bylaw changes will support that.”

Granby also supported laneway housing, calling it a “transformative type of housing in the West End.”

Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association, also supported the motion.

“We see the zoning amendments as key to the [West End] Plan’s success,” he told council. “They are consistent with the plan that went forward, and we were well consulted in that process.”

Stevenson is thrilled with the outcome of the motion.

“It’s 30 years since we’ve had changes, and people in the West End have been begging for a West End plan for the 12 years that I’ve been councillor,” said Stevenson, who dismissed allegations of a lack of consultation.“This has been a transparent process and one that has been clearly advertised throughout the West End.”