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‘Rushed’ West End planning process needs better outreach: residents

Davie Street walkshop planned for March 8

West End Residents Association president Christine Ackermann says there are concerns that the planning process is rushed. "Less time for a community means less outreach to the community." Credit: Shauna Lewis

Poor community outreach, a rushed planning process and limited rental stock options were just a few of the concerns West End residents raised during a city-led information session held Feb 26.

As part of the West End community planning process, Vancouver city staff hosted the drop-in session to discuss ideas and opportunities around future housing options.

“We’re talking and looking at everything from shelters for the homeless, to social housing opportunities and partnerships, to rentals, to ownership. It’s a full continuum,” West End city planner Holly Sovdi says.

The two-hour information session attracted about 50 people: a majority of them were seniors.

“I think it’s important to get involved and engaged with city planning for the West End,” says West End Residents Association (WERA) president Christine Ackermann, who attended the session. “Housing, in particular, is such an important issue. It’s good to have diversity at the table.”

But Ackermann says she is aware of community concerns regarding the planning process.

“I have heard [from the community] that the process is very rushed,” she says. “That doesn’t mean that they’re not doing a good job. It’s just difficult with the timeline. Less time for a community means less outreach to the community.”

Randy Helten agrees. He says awareness about the plan and information sessions is extremely low.

Helten, of West End Neighbours, an adhoc group of concerned citizens opposed to spot rezoning, says the city needs to be more proactive in providing information to the community about the community-planning process.

He suggests mail-outs to residents about future information sessions and events.

Area resident Duncan Wlodarczak says the voice of the younger demographic has also been lost in the process of determining what the West End will look like.

Wlodarczak, 27, says he supports the revitalization of old rental stock as well as the building of new towers and urges other young renters to get engaged in the process.

“The rental rates aren’t going to [drop] lower by not having development,” he says. “Older buildings offer a certain type of affordability, but it’s also important to replenish the stock.”

Resident Heidi McDonell, who suggests that the city hold meetings on the street to “better engage with people,” says she would like to see more two- and three-bedroom rental units built in the area.

According to the city planning department, approximately 80 percent of the rental stock in the West End is made up of studio apartments.

“We have to change the narrative from just talking about one-bedrooms and condos,” McDonell says. “A lot more thought has to go into what’s developed.”

The city has four community planning processes on the go: Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, the Downtown Eastside and the West End.

City planners are hoping to acquire more community input from West End residents during a walking tour planned for March 8. A series of community open houses are also scheduled for April.

A draft of the West End community plan will be released in the summer.

The West End planning process, which began in April 2012, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.