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Council approves new West End plan

Gaybourhood one of three Vancouver areas to be reviewed

Not one but three Vancouver neighbourhoods will be reviewed and renewed following city council’s approval of a staff recommendation to execute comprehensive community plans simultaneously this fall.

City council adopted the recommendations at a Planning and Environment Committee meeting on July 28, kicking off community planning processes for the West End, Grandview-Woodland and Marpole.

Although the West End placed only third on the community priority list, staff explained that the area has seen the largest population growth, has significant housing issues and ranked highest in social indicators.

The report says it’s possible to conduct three plans at once, but more funds and staff will be needed to do so.

Matt Shillito, senior city planner, says the updated community plans will take into consideration the modern issues that communities face, including sustainability issues, affordability, housing demands and catering to an expanding and aging population. Shillito also says the new plans will be completed more quickly than usual (they usually take three years) and will place a greater focus on improving and diversifying public engagement.

“There is concern within communities that solutions will be imposed from above without adequate consideration of neighbourhood voices and priorities,” Shillito acknowledges.

But “each neighbourhood can and should have a distinct response to the challenges reflecting their unique character and their specific issues,” he says.

“Please hurry. Please do this quickly,” West End Resident Association president Christine Ackermann told council before the staff recommendations were put to a vote.

“We’re very excited that we’re almost on the threshold of this to begin,” she said.

While Ackermann welcomed the opportunity for the West End to get a new community plan — something many residents consider long overdue — others were less optimistic.

“The report is seriously incomplete,” Dan Fass told council during the meeting.

Fass said the report fails to include outcomes from the public consultations held regarding the neighbourhood plans. He also said the cost of implementing the plans is vague, as it refers only to the $630,000 additional funds needed to execute a third community plan, rather than the total cost of the project.

“Let’s get some clarity. Let’s have some opportunity for debate,” Fass said, urging council to send the report back to staff for more detail.

The West End Neighbours group, which has been asking council to withhold permits for spot rezoning without a comprehensive new plan, supported staff’s recommendation. But spokesperson Randy Helten remains skeptical.

“I still think the devil is in the details, and I still have a high level of caution in the whole thing,” Helten told Xtra. “It is a complex document, with profound impacts on not only the West End but also the entire city.”

“The chance to participate in a community plan process is likely a positive direction for the future of the West End, but residents will need to ensure they have meaningful opportunities to participate in determining the terms of reference for the West End plan to ensure the plan serves as an appropriate and reliable framework for future neighbourhood change,” he said in a statement.

Lesbian Councillor Ellen Woodsworth suggested council’s decision be deferred until fall, pending more community awareness of the report.

“Council has had very little time to address what is before us, and some questions were raised in council [by community members] in terms of trust,” she said.

Fellow COPE Councillor David Cadman and NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton supported Woodsworth’s motion to defer the vote.

Anton thinks the report needs revision. “Part of it is incomprehensible; part of it is ungrammatical,” she said. Without revision, the report is “disrespectful to the community, disrespectful to the visioning and implication committees, disrespectful to colleagues on council and disrespectful to the democratic process.”

Woodsworth’s motion failed 7-3.

“I have to say I’m very disappointed with Councillor Woodsworth,” said Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson. “She has been wanting this and talking about this for some time, as have I and others on council. And here it is and I see no reason at all to defer this to fall. I think that a delay — certainly delaying the West End — would be detrimental.”

City staff will begin drafting terms of reference for the three neighbourhoods this fall. Shillito says citizens will get to review the terms and adapt them to reflect their neighbourhoods’ needs.

The report also upholds the city policy that limits rezoning initiatives during the planning process. Staff says only under “exceptional circumstances,” which include social or supportive housing or heritage retention consideration, will rezoning proposals be considered.

The policy is in effect “so as not to divert focus on the program or preempt the outcome of the planning process,” explained city planner Brent Toderian.

The Grandview-Woodland and Marpole plans are expected to begin immediately, while the West End plan is set to start at the end of the year, after additional staff are hired.

Staff says information from the West End Mayor’s Advisory Council report, released this week, will also be considered in the design of the neighbourhood plan. The city says it will take approximately 21 months to complete all three plans.