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Comox St development halted pending more consultation

But mayor's advisory committee won't decide project's future: city spokesman

Despite lobbying for rental housing in the city, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has put a stop to proposed development plans for a residential tower in the West End, pending more community consultation.

The site at 1401 Comox St has been slated for development, but in the wake of contentious public meetings last spring that opposed the development, the mayor halted the project.

“We’ve heard from the West End community that people are concerned about new development in their neighbourhood,” Robertson said in an Aug 31 statement.

“There’s no question we need more rental housing both in the West End and throughout Vancouver.

“We’ve shown that we’re not afraid to look at creative options, whether it’s the STIR [Short Term Initiatives for Rental Housing] program to get new rental built, laneway housing, secondary suites or modular housing,” he added. “But we need to do it in a way that also builds trust and public confidence in the way the city consults with neighbourhoods.”

The Comox site owners and developers, Westbank and the Peterson Group, say they’re not concerned about the stoppage to facilitate greater consultation.

Westbank president Ian Gillespie says, however, “the fundamentals of this project are so strong, that at the end of the day common sense will prevail.”

The project will happen eventually, he adds.

Gillespie says he will use the pause to better communicate with the West End community and clarify what he calls “misinformation” regarding the proposed development plans. He says his company and the city have failed to properly engage the community regarding the Comox St development.

Randy Helten is a member of West End Neighbours, a non-profit community group that’s been skeptical of recent developments in the West End.

“It’s very positive news,” he says of the mayor’s announcement. “It’s a sign that the city and developers are listening.”

“We look forward to having a really good conversation with project stakeholders,” Helten adds.

Qmunity’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear says the mayor’s announcement spurred mixed emotions. The queer resource centre is potentially slated to share amenity space in the proposed tower once built and now will have to wait longer until the centre can move from its Bute and Davie streets location.

“Obviously we are disappointed that it’s slowing the process,” Breakspear says. “But we are also pleased about moving in to a greater collaboration with the community,” she adds.

Breakspear says she is always on the look-out for a new space, but says her focus remains on the Comox site.

For her part, COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth says she’s pleased the mayor is “bowing to the pressure from the community and COPE [Council of Progressive Electors] to have a consultation process before proceeding with a spot rezoning of this high rise.”

“Residents were clear in the petition signed by over 9,000 people that what they want is a halt to all spot rezoning until there is a full, transparent, accountable plan provided that works for the community,” she says.

The city says it will be accepting applications from West End community members interested in being part of the mayor’s West End Advisory Committee, to be formed as a liaison between city councillors and the community.

The committee was approved by council vote on July 8.

But Gillespie says the city told him the future of the development wouldn’t rest in the hands of a community-based advisory body.

City spokesperson Kevin Quinlan confirms that the city did tell Gillespie that the Mayor’s West End Advisory committee won’t decide the future of 1401 Comox St. Quinlan says the role of the committee will be to engage in community discussions and relay feedback to council, not make concrete decisions regarding future city developments.

“There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding among people that the committee will be discussing Comox St and that’s not the case,” says Quinlan. “We’ve always been clear that the mayor’s advisory council was not a review panel or decision-making body for any developments in the city,” he adds.

Applications for a place on the mayor’s advisory committee will be accepted until Sept 10.

A dozen community representatives will be chosen and charged with gathering an updated list of community priorities, including new residential development issues.

During a July 8 council meeting, several constituents had called for greater transparency and community consultation in the selection of the 12-member West End Advisory Committee Robertson had proposed to address the rezoning of the West End.

Unaware that council microphones were still on at the end of the meeting, Robertson uttered expletive-laden criticisms of his constituents – comments that eventually circulated on YouTube.

The mayor later apologized for using “the usual f–bombs.”