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Tense West End meeting

'This process is a sham in my view': participant

"I am also concerned about a comprehensive community plan in the West End," Qmunity's Jennifer Breakspear said. "But I'm also concerned about another form of housing, and that's the housing of this vital community resource centre." Credit: George Smeltzer photo

Tempers flared when nearly 200 people took part in a City of Vancouver–hosted community forum on affordable housing and West End development on May 13.

“This process is a sham in my view,” Bill McCreery, former parks commissioner, told city staff.

“It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction by council and the planning department to try and shore up some support on an emergency basis.”

McCreery wonders why the city is only consulting residents now, a year after implementing the Short Term Incentives for Rental [STIR] program.

The STIR program offers developers incentives to build rental housing in Vancouver. Vision councillor Geoff Meggs says it keeps an election promise to spur the development of needed rental housing in the city.

“In order to do anything about affordability, we are going to have to try to increase [rental] supply, and STIR is a small piece to be able to do that,” adds Jill Davidson, senior housing planner for the city.

West End advocacy groups aren’t sold.

“The amount of supply we are getting out of the STIR program isn’t really going to make a huge drop in the bucket for affordability,” says Christine Ackerman, director of the West End Residents Association.

COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth, who called for the May 13 meeting, believes the $4.57 million allocated to develop the now-approved rental high-rise at Bidwell and Davie could have been better spent on a new resource centre for the queer community.

Woodsworth is urging West End residents to get more involved in the decision-making process for the contentious development proposed for 1401 Comox St.

“People need to understand the choices that can be made for that project or any development,” she says.

Woodsworth encourages people to request community amenity contributions for the Comox St development, rather than market rental housing.

Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of Qmunity, which has been promised space in the Comox St development, says the location will suit BC’s queer resource centre well.

“I’m concerned about a lack of consultation regarding development in the West End,” she told the meeting. “I am also concerned about a comprehensive community plan in the West End. I share those [concerns] with you.

“But I’m also concerned about another form of housing, and that’s the housing of this vital community resource centre,” she said.

Qmunity’s current home is “decrepit and pitiful,” she continued. “We have an opportunity to better serve you. We have an opportunity through 1401 Comox St.

“Yes, I’m selfish,” she said. “I want that development for what it could do for Qmunity. I want that development for what it could do for the West End. What I’m saying is please don’t stand in the way of this one development,” she appealed.

Her appeal was met with sneers and boos.

“It’s an awful lot of expense to build a high-rise that nobody wants in the neighbourhood in order to come up with a community space,” countered Diane Cote, who has lived in the West End for more than 30 years. “The money should go to a community space.”

A summary of the information gathered at the meeting, as well as results from a city–run West End community-needs survey, will be available online next month.

    For more information and to fill out the survey go to: http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/westend/materials.htm