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West Enders talk land use with city staff

Housing, zoning, transit, beautification among issues raised

City planner Holly Sovdi is in listening mode during the Davie Street "walkshop," March 8. Credit: Jess Munitz

Sidewalk expansion, less vehicular traffic and more public, open-air seating were just a few of the changes West End residents say they want for the neighbourhood under the area’s community plan.

The requests were collected during a walkabout on March 8, after approximately 15 residents and 10 city staff gathered at Burrard and Davie streets for an afternoon city-led public “walkshop” to discuss land use on Davie Street. Participants were asked to think about the design elements that make up the street and the gay village and were encouraged to share their concerns and ideas during the walk and subsequent debriefing session.

“The intent today is to think about the next 30 years and how we want to grow and evolve,” West End city planner Holly Sovdi told the group.

Throughout the walk, participants voiced concerns about architecture, street and laneway lighting, transit, safety, land use, zoning and neighbourhood beautification.

Sovdi told participants that feedback would be recorded by staff throughout the day and added to the information being gathered for the plan.

“I’m against those sandwich boards,” said outspoken gay resident Hugo A Go-Go, pointing to the many commercial signs that adorn the sidewalk. “I think they should get rid of them all; the sidewalk is too small.”

City staff agree that more sidewalk space is needed in the gay village and are supportive of Davie Street’s economic development, with a focus on revitalizing existing businesses and attracting new ones.

The group also raised the perennial issue of adequate rental housing.

“I’m a huge rental advocate,” says Dean Malone, of the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee, adding that it’s important for the area to offer a spectrum of rentals, from affordable housing options to others that offer rents at market rates. “I think that adds to the economic diversity of our community.”

Residential developer Jason Gordon, of Gordon Nelson Inc, also participated in the walk. He says he didn’t like hearing there might not be mixed-use buildings along the street and says he supports a focus on street life, wider sidewalks and fewer cars.

Gordon Nelson has faced opposition in the past after tenants of Seafield Apartments, which the company previously owned, were told they would have to move out because of renovations.

The Residential Tenancy Office (RTO) ruled in favour of Gordon Nelson, permitting the company to raise rents in the building by 38 percent following an arbitration hearing in 2009. Gordon Nelson had originally asked for a 73 percent rent hike. The tenants fought the “renoviction” for two years at the RTO before winning their case in 2011.

The company sold the building shortly after but has since purchased other residential buildings. Gordon says he’d like to buy more buildings in the West End.

For Dara Parker, executive director of Qmunity, BC’s Queer Resource Centre, the top priority is to find a new home for the organization.

“As a unique queer community asset that’s not commercial, it’s really important that we have a voice in this process and that we hopefully identify a new space through this process,” she says. “We’ve been working with the city to make sure that we can hopefully identify a new facility.”

Parker says Qmunity has not found anything concrete but says the consultation process between the centre and the city is ongoing and has been “very productive.”

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

Additional walkshops are planned for March, and a series of community open houses are 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.

For updates about the plan, visit vancouver.ca.