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Gay input sought for new West End plan

'The LGBTQ community is a huge part of the West End,' says assistant director of planning

"This plan will impact how the West End changes over the next 20 years," says West End resident John Whistler. Credit: James Loewen photo

Vancouver city planners say they will visit pubs in the gay village to gain community input for the new West End plan they’re drafting.

“The nightlife in the Davie Village is important to the whole LGBTQ community across the city, and we want to talk to people that hang out at the Fountainhead on a Friday night,” says Kevin McNaney, assistant director of city planning.

“The LGBTQ community is a huge part of the West End, and the Davie Village is part of the character of the West End,” he says.

McNaney says Vancouver’s planning department is “very concerned” about issues of importance to the gay community. Gathering the community’s input will be crucial to developing a working community plan, he says.

“We’re trying to create as much avenues as possible so that people are more comfortable talking with us. Community feedback is hugely important,” he says. “We want to hear from as many people in diverse groups across the West End as possible throughout the spring and summer.”

City staff will also host more open houses, community walking tours and coffee shop dialogues, as well as conduct a survey to find out how people who live, work and play in the West End want the neighbourhood to change, if at all.

The new West End community plan is expected to take approximately 18 to 21 months to complete. It’s one of three neighbourhood plans currently being reexamined by Vancouver city planners, along with Marpole and Grandview-Woodland. The outcome will directly influence each area’s streetscape, character, development, parks, community amenities, historic elements and rental housing.

On May 12 city planners held the first of three open houses in the West End.

Community members who attended cited the overall lack of affordable housing in the West End as their biggest concern.

“I think we’re getting to the point where we’re maxing out on the market on how many people can afford to rent here or afford to buy here,” says Brenda Diffley.

“What attracts people to the West End is the diversity,” says Wes Hargreaves, but the growing income gap between neighbours is threatening that diversity, he believes.

Hargreaves, who rents in the West End with his partner, is worried the gay village could turn into another Yaletown, or a “vertical suburb” as he calls it.

Several gay people at the open house urged city planners to consider the community’s unique needs when drafting the new plan.

“Looking at planning and looking at the character of our neighbourhood, we really need to make sure that places like Qmunity have space,” Hargreaves says.

Richard Engelhardt agrees. He would like the West End to have “a nice mix of community space and residential and green space.”

As president of OUR Spaces, the group hoping to build a multipurpose queer community centre, Engelhardt attended the open house to learn more about community planning and the ways in which organizations can obtain future amenity space.

“We’re looking for a location to place the community centre we’d like to build, so we’d like to be engaged with the city to see how that would fit in their plan,” he says.

McNaney says the city is aware of the need for a new queer community centre and says the city plans to take that into consideration when reviewing the area’s amenities options.

Housing affordability is another key issue the city will examine, he says.

“This plan will impact how the West End changes over the next 20 years,” says West End resident John Whistler. “What needs to happen is that the queer community has to come out and participate, because if you don’t participate, you’re not going to get heard.”