In the end, no one at the council table liked what the developers of the Rize Alliance complex planned for Broadway and Kingsway had to offer. After one of the most extensive set of public hearings in recent history, with more than 100 speakers spread over six nights, we were left with this: Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr wanted the whole plan scrapped and taken back to the community. Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer declared: “My layperson’s opinion of the building is it’s ugly.”
Reimer’s colleague Raymond Louie introduced a multi-part motion that seemed as concerned about the $6.5 million the developer was kicking in for community amenities for the extra density he was being granted as it was with the “ugly” building. That would be, at 19-storeys, the tallest in Mount Pleasant. When Louie was asked what effect his motion would have on the height, he replied, “It may be nominal.”
While Carr insisted the proposal did not comply with the Mount Pleasant Community Plan passed in November of 2010, both staff and Vision councillors begged to differ. Vision’s Geoff Meggs said the community plan had a rendition of what should be built where the Rize Alliance project is planned and it looked remarkably like the developer’s proposal.
But given the pushback from the community, you really have to wonder what has happened in the past year-and-a-half since the community plan was passed.
The answer is somewhat complex. You could start by looking at who was pushing back. There were three factions. Not all of them are actually from Mount Pleasant. What planners, politicians and pundits have observed is that some of the most vociferous opposition to this development and most new development in the city, which is being built in the name of densification, is coming from a group who, at another time, would have been considered crackpots.
But thanks to social media, this group has been able to join together as a movement. During the last municipal election many of them populated a party called the Neighbours for a Sustainable Vancouver. They figured most prominently in the protests around the STIR projects designed to provide much needed affordable rental housing—most controversially in the West End.
They gained traction because the STIR program, like the HEAT shelters for street homeless, was rolled out with pitiful little community consultation.
Now they are ubiquitous and joined by Downtown Eastside activists who are up in arms, most recently over the project filling the space on the Pantages Theatre site on Hastings. They decry this housing targeted at people with modest income as “gentrification” that will drive the locals away. They will only be satisfied if housing in their ’hood is social housing.
A second group of folks in the Rize Alliance opposition are actually Mount Pleasant residents who want no changes and basically reject the community plan that clearly allows for three sites where towers can be built: the Kingsgate Mall property; the IGA site at 14th and Main; and the third where the Rize is being proposed.
The third group is also made up of Mount Pleasant residents and, while they say they support densification, they have many criticisms of the existing plan. And in that they are not alone. You may consider Louie’s amendments demanding changes to the design “prior to issuance of a development permit” as significant. That’s what Mayor Gregor Robertson would have us believe. Or it could just be lipstick on a pig.
And that’s because of one more troubling point: the $6.5 million the city is getting for amenities in exchange for increased density. For some, the question is whether the shape and size of this complex reflects pressure from the developer to maximize his profits or the needs of the community to have a structure that will enhance their neighbourhood.