By all accounts, it looked like a riot. There was pushing and shoving, cops and security guards trying to control the crowd and death threats being uttered: “There will be blood in the streets.”
As a bully whipped up the crowd, egging them on to greater heights of excess, little old ladies feared for their safety.
No, this wasn’t some drunken crowd spilling out of a hockey game. It was a meeting at city hall last Monday afternoon of the Development Permit Board.
I have this report from some of the participants.
The bully was our own merchant of fear and loathing, graduate of the Anti-poverty Committee school of public relations and now the lead thug with the Carnegie Action Project, Ivan Drury; smart, charismatic and relentlessly hostile.
The issue before the permit board and its advisory panel was approval of a project that has languished for years; Marc Williams’ development of 138 East Hastings, former home of the Pantages Theatre.
As regular readers may recall, Williams has been consistently vilified by Drury et al. over this project. When Williams got his mitts on the property in 2005, he tried to convince the city that the 98-year-old Pantages should be saved. This class “A” heritage building was the oldest remaining vaudeville theatre in Western Canada. He offered to restore it, build social housing on the three adjacent lots and benefit from the density bonus the city would allow him to add value to a property somewhere else in the city.
Buddies of Williams inside city hall at the time say that the city’s cultural services threw up roadblocks to saving the building. A “Cultural Precinct” being promoted by the provincial government for Downtown Vancouver was the hot thing. The Pantages was just in the wrong part of town. So it deteriorated to the point where it had to be demolished.
Williams did that and reconfigured his plan to build a mix of social housing and affordable (400 square feet for about $250,000) condos.
Not good enough for Drury and his crowd. It was social housing or nothing.
And by this time Drury was armed with support from a few dozen academics from Simon Fraser University and the University of B.C.; all of them joining in to beat the drum against “gentrification” in the Downtown Eastside that would surely destroy that world.
The scholarly set first entered the fray in an attempt to stop development in Chinatown. While they weren’t all that successful, along with the Carnegie crowd and a group including former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, they managed to convince the city to allow them to develop a community plan for the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District. Carnegie Action would co-chair the committee alongside Harcourt. If nothing else, that simply empowered Drury and his pals to carry on raising hell.
Monday afternoon was the latest display of such behaviour.
Williams appeared before the development permit board and its volunteer advisory board to present his plan. It clearly met the city’s housing criteria, which includes both social housing and “middle tier” housing.
When the doors opened, the Carnegie crowd rushed the meeting room.
Advisory member and architect Foad Rafii recalls: “Before anyone even spoke they were outright threatening everybody.” That included two older women who were in favour of the project as well as Williams.
If this was approved, one man in the crowd screamed, “People would die.”
But approval was inevitable. The Development Permit board simply applies policy that council has passed. After seven hours, that is what happened.
This modest proposal for 100 units with 20 per cent social housing, a means test for condo buyers and, apparently, a 15-year moratorium on selling is hardly a tidal wave of gentrification.
As Rafii sees, even if it were desirable, there is simply not the money to only build social housing. “The alternative is to let the neighbourhood rot.”