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‘The West End needs a new plan,’ residents say

Community must be consulted about area's new development proposals

 A city-mandated consultation process has grown heated as many West End residents opposed to proposed high-rise developments in their neighbourhood are urging the city to review and renew a conscientious development plan for the community.

“Vancouver is growing. More people are coming here. It is a beautiful city and there is a need to build more buildings, but it should be done according to a proper plan that is done through consultation with the community,” Randy Helten told a small group of protesters that gathered Dec 9 near the proposed site of development at 1201-1215 Bidwell St, formally the home of Maxine’s Hideaway at the base of the gay village.

Helton, who is a program coordinator with the West End Residents Association but hosted the protest as a member of an ad-hoc group of citizens concerned about livability in the West End, says the community has been left in the dark regarding development plans.

“Most of the people living in the West End – a community of almost 50,000 people – did not hear a single thing about this,” Helten claims.

“The rezoning applications that we are seeing now are some signs of the unintended consequences that are being slipped through without a lot of people knowing the real implications of this,” he says.

Millennium English Bay Properties and Henriquez Partners Architects submitted a rezoning request to the city that would increase the allowable density from a maximum floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.20 FSR to 6.27 FSR. The increase would secure 98 condo units and 49 units of market-rental housing in a proposed 210-foot residential tower that would sit on a 4-storey podium base with retail space at street level.

As a C-listed heritage building, the city has stipulated that the façade of the 100-year-old building at 1215 Bidwell be preserved.

Helten says that’s simply not enough.

“Saving a façade is not heritage preservation,” he says. “The West End needs a new plan. The idea that the department of planning is rezoning individual lots and giving significantly greater density than is allowed in zoning limits is simply too much,” he added. “They [the city] need to involve the community.”

The proposed Bidwell St development is just one of a few projects to fall under the city’s newest rental housing initiative, the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program. The initiative is aimed at curbing the rental housing shortage by providing incentives to encourage development of new market rental housing.

Under STIR, certain development fees are waived, and permit processing is expedited, provided the new suites remain rental property for 60 years or the life of the building.

Many West End residents say they’re worried the new initiative could potentially cause a flood of “radical rezoning” requests, leading to a slippery slope of high-rise development applications in the community.

“If this is approved it will probably set a precedent for other rezoning applications,” Helten says.

Other residents fear the aesthetics and overall character of the community will be altered.

“It’s going to cause a complete change in the streetscape,” says Rusty Ker.

“What we have in the West End is an incredibly successful community,” says Louise Clark. “It’s economically diverse. It’s culturally diverse. It’s a genuine community.

“All we’re looking for now is a plan to maintain and sustain and have a vision for the kind of success we already have.”

“We believe there should be a proper community consultation process so that everyone knows what’s going on,” Helten says. “We can look at the vision for the West End for the next generation or two. [But] once a building goes up, it’s up for 60 to a hundred years, so I think it’s important to take the time, look it over very carefully and make sure people know what is happening.”

Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson would not comment on the 1215 Bidwell St development application because it’s currently going through a public hearing.

However, during an open house Nov 24 to discuss the rezoning of another proposed development, this one at 1401 Comox St, Stevenson said no city-led development plans for the West End are on the table.

A public hearing on the Bidwell St application is scheduled for 7:30 pm Dec 10 at City Hall.