The Rize at Broadway and Kingsway in historic Mount Pleasant was approved April 17 by Vancouver city council, opposed only by Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr. Minor amendments approved by council will not meaningfully address the issues raised by 139 speakers over six nights of public hearings.
The city’s lack of response to the groundswell of Mount Pleasant community concern is a sign of systemic failure. As one resident at the hearing commented, council’s approval of the Rize is like a one finger salute to the East Side of Vancouver.
Most of the pushback came from the local community, but Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) also backed the community opposition. This project has the potential to set a city-wide precedent at a time when four other community planning processes are beginning—in Grandview, Marpole, the West End and the Downtown Eastside.
Prior to the council decision, the Globe and Mail paraphrased Brent Toderian, the City’s former planning director: “... councillors shouldn’t be afraid to reduce the size of a tower proposed for a historic neighbourhood if approving the project as is would turn residents throughout the city against density … and councillors should make it clear when they deliver their decision on Tuesday how they see new buildings fitting into established areas if they hope to encourage city residents to welcome density.”
Council’s approval of the Rize project clearly signalled they do not respond to community input. This will indeed negatively impact current and future planning processes. In total, 288 speakers had signed up, but sudden rescheduling just before the Easter weekend undermined the chance for 149 of those signed up to speak. City changes to the public hearing process bylaw, passed after the Rize hearings began, also limited public input.
The community were willing to accept increased density. But they noted that the proposal was unreasonably tall and bulky and the poor design did not fit the neighbourhood. Confirmed by a 2,671 person petition presented by Residents Association Mount Pleasant (RAMP), they requested any additional height and density to be accommodated within conditional increases to 70 feet high and 3.0 floor space ratio (FSR) as already allowed under the current C3A Zoning and Guidelines.
Misrepresentations and incorrect information were used by staff in their presentations.
For instance, the C3A Zoning and Guidelines were misinterpreted or ignored. Lee Chapelle is a Mount Pleasant resident and former property use Inspector with the city who enforced the city’s zoning bylaw. Chapelle responded to the remarks made by Coun. Meggs and city planner Yardley McNeil, echoed later by the mayor in his statement to the press, about their claim that the Rize could be built to 150 feet in height under C3A zoning with no amenities. Chapelle quoted the relevant sections from the city zoning bylaw contradicting staff and council. Previous precedents required relaxations in height to be earned. Also, maximum 3.0 FSR limits the height that could be achieved.
In fact, the council report itself states in Appendix J that development permitted under existing zoning for the Rize site is only 70 feet in maximum height.
When the Community Plan was approved a year and a half ago, the community was promised substantial influence in interpreting it. However, the city has ignored or distorted many of the plan’s key directions for this site.
There are three sites identified in the plan for more height and density; of which two sites call for rezoning, but the Rize site does not. Yet, planner Yardley McNeil stated at council, the Rize “...is the largest of the three where we think that is the site where you will achieve greatest height and density and the consequent greatest CAC’s …”
Lee Chapelle pointed out that the Rize site is actually the smallest of the three sites at ~ 1.3 acres while the other two are ~ 2.3 acres and ~ 3.2 acres. Chapelle stated “...If council truly believe that the Rize is the largest of the three sites, as they appear to, and that influenced their decision to approve ‘the tallest building for all time’ here, then this process is corrupted beyond repair.”
What must change? Checks and balances are needed in planning processes so our communities can have confidence in the results of legitimate neighbourhood-based planning.
Elizabeth Murphy is a former Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department; Senior Development officer for BC Housing; and private sector project manager. She ran for councillor with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) in the 2011 Vancouver civic election.