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Davie BIA expansion likely

Members reiterate commitment to gay Village

THE GAZPACHO IS GETTING WARM: Davie Village BIA president Vince Marino (right) and executive director Lyn Hellyar at the AGM, Sep 28. Both say the Village's gay character is not in jeopardy. Credit: Sarah Race photo

The Davie VillageBusiness Improvement Association (BIA) is in a holding pattern now, having all but dotted the Is and crossed the Ts in its bid to join forces with the business and property owners of Denman, Lower Davie and Lower Robson Sts in an expanded BIA, provisionally titled the West End BIA.

At the Davie BIA’s annual general meeting (AGM) Sep 28, the membership approved a provisional budget of half-a-million dollars for the proposed, expanded organization.

It then elected only seven out of a constitutionally-allowed 12 directors to sit on its board of directors in anticipation of Vancouver city council’s green light to the proposed expansion.

If council approves the expansion, the new BIA will seek to fill the remaining positions with members from the new districts, giving those new areas five out of 12 votes on an expanded board.

The membership also reaffirmed its commitment to two resolutions passed at last year’s AGM: To “empower the representatives of the existing Davie Village area to determine the identity of the Village;” and to “empower representatives of the ‘expansion’ area(s) to determine the identity of that area as would be the case under an independent BIA.”

The resolutions were repeated in the wake of ongoing misgivings from some Davie Villagers that a broadened BIA would dilute rather than strengthen the Village’s gay character.

Outside the AGM, Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva, who initially had reservations about the expansion, says he is now “reassured” that the original three-and-half block area comprising the Village will retain its gay personality–regardless of the 16 and a half blocks that may or may not come into play in the new year.

When the resolutions were first passed, outgoing BIA president James Steck expressed confidence in the organization’s willingness and ability to protect the Davie Village’s gay character, whether it expands or not.

“We’ve developed our tight-knit community here and I would hate to see the rainbow banners disappear because someone didn’t like them,” he told Xtra West at the time. Steck has now returned to the board, joining fellow queers Vince Marino, Barry Piersdorff, Donal Hebner and Renata Aebi.

BIA president Marino has always maintained that the Village’s gay character is not in question. He dismisses suggestions that the BIA’s revised website downplays the area’s gay character.

“I’m sure there are lots of opinions out there, but we haven’t seen anything come in by e-mail expressing any concerns” about the site, he says. “If there is feedback, we’d love to hear about it,” he adds.

BIA executive director Lyn Hellyar has consistently promised that the Pride flags will keep flying in the Village, whether the other districts of an expanded BIA choose to fly them or not. The West End BIA will be more of an umbrella organization, she explains, bringing together four distinct areas, each with their own distinct personalities.

In March, Xtra West reported some reluctance among some Denman St merchants to hoist the gay rainbow in their area.

Peter Vaisbord, BIA coordinator for the city of Vancouver, says after a two and a half year survey-and-consultation process with the residents and business and property owners of the proposed expansion area, the project now hinges on the results of an informal notification exercise to determine the level of support for expansion. The results, due in a few weeks, will give the BIA and Vaisbord a clear idea of whether the expansion is a go or not.

If the results look positive, Vaisbord will present the findings to city council, which is then expected to send out formal notification to property and business owners in the expansion area with a deadline to register their official support or opposition by the end of January 2007.

“If one-third of the property owners or business owners oppose the BIA expansion, then the expansion does not move forward and the existing BIA continues. If there is support for the expansion then the new BIA [will start] Apr 1, 2007,” explains Vaisbord, who says the information he’s getting shows anti-expansion feedback below the all-important one-third level.

Hellyar says the surveys she’s conducted have similarly yielded little negative feedback.

According to Vaisbord, once area property owners and merchants became familiar with the BIA’s rationale for a larger entity–increased clout before city council, a bigger budget with greater financial tools to handle common concerns such as safety and security, and reduced levies to the city–they tend to see it as a “win-win situation for their areas while still preserving their [respective] areas.”

All that and a new spending ceiling cap of $1.6 million if the plan becomes a reality. The current spending cap for the existing BIA is $800,000.

“We will be paying a lot less for a lot more,” Hellyar concludes.