After 18 months of planning, community consultation and a marathon hearing at city hall, Vancouver City Council approved a new community plan for the West End Nov 20 that, among other things, promises to strengthen the Davie Village as the city’s gay hub.
The new plan aims to provide a clear but flexible framework for considering long-range and shorter-term goals regarding development in the area, rezoning applications, livability, heritage designations, rental housing, street beautification, transportation and public benefits.
It also — for the first time and in contrast to the city’s last West End plan, drafted in the late 1980s — recognizes the gay community’s historical and ongoing cultural connection to the Davie Village and promises to support, celebrate and enhance that connection.
“I’m a little bit emotional,” Councillor Tim Stevenson told council moments before the motion passed.
“Our community has been recognized when we began the Pride Week here at city council, we now have an LGBTQ advisory committee, we’ve achieved civic status for the Pride parade, we have rainbow crosswalks in the West End and now, for the first time, the community is actually embedded in the plan.”
“I know for a lot of people it’s hard to imagine what that means,” Stevenson continued. “I couldn’t have imagined doing this even 10 years ago, 15 — 20 years ago would have been laughable. And now nobody laughs and everybody recognizes that this is the right thing to do . . . so I am grateful,” he said, his voice catching with emotion.
“The community has come a long way.”
The plan was approved by a council vote of nine to two after an exhausting 12-hour meeting that heard from more than 40 public speakers.
All councillors voted in favour of the plan except NPA Councillor George Affleck and Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr, who backed Affleck’s motion to defer the plan until spring 2014, pending more public consultation.
Carr told council that while the plan had merit, it needed more revision and clarity, particularly in areas pertaining to social and market-rental housing initiatives in the lower Robson and lower Davie Street areas.
The new plan will introduce more laneway and social housing to the central hub of the West End, while high-rise and other larger-scale developments will be designated to the fringes of the neighbourhood. It promises to maintain and create more rental stock, widen sidewalks in the commercial areas, add decorative lighting and green space, protect heritage buildings and increase the area’s walkability.
It also lists finding a new home for BC’s queer resource centre, Qmunity, among the priorities in its public benefits strategy. A separate hearing on Dec 17 will consider a rezoning application from Jim Pattison Developments and Reliance Properties that, if approved, would give Qmunity $7 million in Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) funds.
“The fact that Qmunity has been named a priority has absolutely delighted our constituents,” said Dara Parker, the organization’s executive director.
“I have heard nothing but tremendous support for us receiving a new purpose-built facility, and people just feel that this is a long time coming. And I think there is just a sigh of relief in the queer community that finally, we are receiving one central hub where everyone can be supported and feel included,” she told council.
While Parker says Qmunity’s current location in the Davie Village is prime, it’s too small, lacks basic amenities and challenges the organization’s mandate to be inclusive since its steep stairway makes it inaccessible.
Parker told council that Qmunity’s vision for a new facility includes the entire LGBT community. “It is a place where LGBT sports groups, arts groups, small businesses could all come and use us as a central community space,” she said.
“I urge the planners and the council to remain aggressive when negotiating with our developer to maintain what you’ve outlined in this strategy,” she added.
“I’d like to praise the city’s commitment to Qmunity as an identified amenity priority,” said Drew Dennis, who sits on the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee, which contributed to the plan.
“I’d like to say that this has been a long-standing wish item, but the reality is that it’s been a long-standing need item,” Dennis said, before applauding Stevenson for “advocating strongly, loudly, persistently and proudly” for the gay community and a new LGBT community centre.
Christine Ackermann, president of the West End Residents Association, says her organization supports the LGBT community’s inclusion in the plan, as well as the incorporation of laneway housing, green initiatives and a focus on creating greater walkability in the area.
But Ackermann expressed some concern about the plan’s proposal to allow building owners to convert underutilized space in their buildings into rental accommodations.
She says underutilized space could be a laundry room, storage room or boiler room and fears the policy may give owners a green light to transform these spaces into rental space, leaving tenants without needed amenities.
Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer made a motion to delete that section of the plan, which council supported unanimously.
Of the 40 speakers, approximately 10 urged council to postpone passing the plan until more public consultation could be held.
Critics of the plan argued that they needed more time to review the 200-page document, which was released publicly only on Oct 26, along with a rezoning policy added Nov 6.
Randy Helten, former head of the West End Neighbours community group, said the city’s public consultation efforts regarding the plan were flawed and weak. He told council more input and clarity is needed, especially around rezoning issues, before the plan should be approved.
“We’re not getting clear answers, and more time is needed for good and clear discussion,” he said.
City planners collected approximately 7,000 responses during 110 consultation events over the 18-month planning process. Consultations involved traditional methods such as forums and open houses and innovative outreach such as neighbourhood walkabouts and youth-targeted art workshops.
Council says the new plan is a “living plan” that can be subject to more input and future considerations.
“I do believe that this has been an exhaustive and thorough consultation process,” Parker said. “I really do feel that the plan reflects the priorities that were expressed throughout the consultation.”
“The fact that the LGBTQ community is recognized and celebrated and focused on in some aspects of the plan is an indication of how far we’ve come politically,” she added, “and I think that’s incredible because we do have a very long history in this neighbourhood.”