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Residents pack community forum to demand new West End plan

City councillor and planner say they'll push for a plan

Affordability, livability and diversity are at risk in the gay village if the city ignores a request for a new West End community plan, concerned residents say. 

 
“We want a plan and we want it now,” George Stephenson, former director of the West End Residents Association (WERA), told a community forum Jan 31.
 
“And not after six or seven or eight buildings are up,” he added.
 
“We’re not against density and we’re not against development,” says WERA’s current president, Brent Granby. “But [development] should conform to the urgent needs of the city.”
 
The West End needs a comprehensive new community plan because the old plan “is out of date,” Granby says. The last city plan for the area was done in 1986-87.
 
“We need a plan so we can have quality density in the West End, and we need community amenities to go with density as well,” he adds, pointing to the need to consider community centres, libraries and spaces for seniors and the gay community.
 
Granby and Stephenson were among the nearly 100 community members who gathered in the basement of St Paul’s church to discuss the need for a new West End plan.
 
Participants were encouraged to share their experiences and brainstorm what they value most about life in the West End. 
 
The city has identified the need for more rental housing but hasn’t made it affordable, Granby told the WERA-hosted forum. “The city needs to go a step further and mandate functions of the buildings to make them more affordable.” 
 
Granby linked diversity to affordable accommodation and livability, saying that without affordability, the community’s diversity will erode.
 
“It’s like a three-legged stool,” he explained. “And if you only have two legs in place [the stool] will fall down.”  
 
“It’s diversity of housing, it’s diversity of people, it’s diversity of ages, it’s a diversity of lifestyle,” one resident said, describing what he values most in the West End.
 
A consensus in the forum was that the neighbourhood’s diversity, particularly its gay community, is what makes it most livable.
 
“We’re not Yaletown,” said another resident, adding that the West End’s quaintness and sense of community is what makes it unique.
 
“I’ve been hearing a lot about ‘Is [the West End] going to be another Yaletown?’ said city planner Michael Gordon. “I just can’t imagine that occurring.”
 
Gordon, who attended the forum on behalf of city staff, told residents the West End has a “distinct character” and he is “internally advocating” that the community have a plan.
 
Gordon said two of the seven proposed development plans for new rental housing under the city’s rental housing incentive program are within the West End.
 
An as yet un-submitted development application is being considered for a new tower on Cardero and Harwood, and the application for 1401 Comox St has yet to go through a public open house, a city requirement in the application process. 
 
Vision Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson supports the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental [STIR] program to provide more market rental housing. But he agrees that the West End needs a new plan.
 
Stevenson, who is gay, says he proposed a motion in 2008 requesting that the West End top the list of areas requiring new local planning.
 
That motion died when the last municipal election was called, he says. Now he is waiting for city staff to report which community they feel needs a new plan the most. But he is prepared to advocate for the West End again.
 
“If we’re not first on the list I’ll make a motion to put us first on the list,” he promises.
 
Stevenson says he considered requesting a moratorium on development applications for the West End until a community plan is in place. But he was advised by the city’s legal department that a moratorium would infringe on the rights of potential developers and would be considered illegal, he says.    
 
NPA councillor Suzanne Anton agrees the West End needs a community visioning plan, but says STIR is not the answer. “Here was an opportunity to actually put tax dollars into a community and instead it went into development,” she says.
 
Anton thinks the 4.7 million in city taxes allocated to STIR should have gone to initiatives with greater public benefit such as a queer community centre or refurbishing other community centres in the area. 
 
“There’s a lot of public need in the West End,” she says, adding that market rental housing owned by a private developer is no way to spend public dollars.
 
Granby says the only way WERA would support the STIR program was if it was reviewed and mandated to consider eco-sustainability, affordability and livability within the development and rezoning process. “We don’t support any development that doesn’t create affordability and ecological sustainability.” 
 
The city says it will know within a year which Vancouver neighbourhood has been approved for the next local area visioning plan. Local areas currently competing for a plan are Kitsilano, Marpole, Grandview and the West End.