Carmen D’Onofrio, president of the Commercial Drive Business Society, calls the recently released Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly recommendations a “good framework” for further discussion about the community plan.
The business society represents more than 400 members — businesses and property owners from Venables to East 13th Avenue.
The citizens’ assembly, which describes Commercial Drive as the “heartbeat” of the neighbourhood, issued more than 270 recommendations early this month, including ones specific to Commercial Drive such as introducing bike lanes on the Drive from East 14th to Graveley Street; pedestrian improvements such as wider sidewalks and parklets; and, unless otherwise noted in the report, to retain current zoning of four-storeys throughout Commercial Drive from the Grandview cut to Pender Street with the goal of maintaining affordability and character.
The assembly’s report also lists specific recommendations for Broadway and Commercial, calling for mainly mid- and low-rise buildings — not towers — to accommodate growth around the SkyTrain Station, with a site for a 12-storey building.
“It’s a great starting point. It was a thoughtful process. I covered a lot of areas,” said D’Onofrio. “It’s hopefully something that provides a framework where the stakeholders now within the community sit down and look at each recommendation, look at the feasibility, look at the opportunities to see what can be implemented, where to find common ground and then move forward.”
D’Onofrio’s family owns long-time Commercial Drive business Kalena’s Shoes and he works at Stile Brands, a wine, beer and spirits importing business.
He said it’s important to get the community plan right because “the street is such a unique area, so if we get it wrong, it’s going to be tough to fix.”
D’Onofrio said the business society is in favour of “responsible development and responsible density” and he added that it understands the importance of the transportation hub at Commercial and Broadway.
“What we would like to see is responsible development. What is very important for us is the character and heritage of the neighbourhood. We want to make sure that the Drive remains an authentic neighbourhood and it remains one of the best places in Vancouver.”
He didn’t pinpoint what building heights he thinks should be allowed around the SkyTrain station, but he said it’s important future buildings integrate into the neighbourhood in terms of matters such as colour schemes, facades and materials used.
“I think it’s really important that rather than debate whether it’s a 10 storeys or 15 storeys or 20 storeys — obviously I’m making up numbers, but instead of debating how high something is, does it fit into the neighbourhood? Is it keeping the same look as what the street is trying to achieve or what it’s known for,” he said. “That’s something we need to look at and analyze and be more specific about.”
When asked about the bike lanes proposal, D’Onofrio called Commercial Drive a destination neighbourhood that attracts not only people who live in Grandview-Woodland and in Vancouver, but visitors from around the Lower Mainland.
“What we don’t want to see is Commercial Drive being seen as a commuter route. It’s really important [that] whether it’s bikes, cars, transit or people, that we don’t want people to just travel through Commercial Drive,” he said, adding that there are existing bike networks close to the Drive that could be improved.
“The Commercial Drive Business Society believes it’s important to study and discuss the idea of a bike lane on Commercial Drive — look at the positives and the negatives and determine what is already existing and how the existing cycling network can be improved and then go from there.”
As for building heights along the Drive, he cited a vision document the business society created in 2012, which calls for heights from four to six storeys.
“The reason being is that a lot of the mom-and-pop operators who make up the fabric of the Drive, the biggest challenge that they’re going to be experiencing is the taxes,” he said. “Where it’s a single-storey building, but they’re paying taxes for the second, third or fourth storey that [doesn’t] already exist. So that’s putting a lot of downward pressure on their businesses and it’s also jeopardizing their operations. That’s something we want to hopefully address. So does that mean we need to go to four or five or six storeys? I think we need to look at it.”
On Wednesday, Vancouver city council referred the citizens’ assembly report to staff to review and analyze with the goal of integrating its work into a draft community plan, according to a post from Coun. Andrea Reimer. She noted the revised community plan is expected to be completed in spring 2016 and presented to council for consideration and approval.
Meanwhile, a group called Streets for Everyone released a statement Wednesday endorsing the citizens’ assembly report, citing the recommendations calling for pedestrian improvements, better bus access and separated bike lanes.