The newly minted Vancouver city council made its first significant decision of its term Wednesday in beginning the process to develop a city-wide plan that aims to give residents, business owners and builders more certainty about how neighbourhoods might be developed.
The unanimous vote on a motion introduced by Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr was not a surprise since many of the councillors elected and re-elected in the Oct. 20 election campaigned on the need for a plan that would better map out how growth should be accommodated across the city.
“This new council is making our mark,” said Carr in her closing comments before the vote. “This is a new era that is going to be very different in terms of engaging people in the discussion of what kind of city we want Vancouver to be.”
Critics of the city’s current approach to development have argued so-called spot rezonings in neighbourhoods have ignored community voices who want more say, for example, in what type of housing, businesses and public amenities should be allowed in their areas.
Harland Bartholomew wrote the last city-wide plan in the 1920s. In 1992, the city launched a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood planning process called CityPlan, but it was stopped by the previous city council in 2010 before it was completed.
The previous council focused on developing community plans in Marpole, the Downtown Eastside, Grandview-Woodland and the West End while continuing to allow spot rezonings for highrises and other buildings, which saw residents push back and complain about lack of consultation.
In her motion, Carr recommended a city-wide plan incorporate a long list of requirements, including creating neighbourhood planning bodies, increasing affordable housing, growing local jobs, updating the city’s transportation plan to fit with the plan, improving public amenities, reconciliation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Green Party Coun. Pete Fry successfully added an amendment to Carr’s motion that said the new plan should be informed by “equity, spatial justice and the fundamental right to housing.” COPE Coun. Jean Swanson also got majority support for an amendment to ensure measures to protect renters from “renoviction, demoviction and gentrification” be included in drafting the plan.
Prior to the vote, Gil Kelley, the city’s director of planning, told council that overall development in the city would continue under current planning processes and that the city’s 10-year-housing strategy would continue to be implemented and serve as “a building block” to the plan.
“This is an opportunity to look quite broadly and quite deeply into the city’s future,” Kelley said. “So I would say policies—whether they are recent or old—are fair game for review. I think this exercise, honestly, is more than a review of existing bylaws and plans. It’s an opportunity to actually think bigger than Vancouver has done in generations, perhaps.”
Stuart Smith, a board member of Abundant Housing Vancouver, told council the non-profit agency believes housing is a human right and that “housing in every neighbourhood in Metro [Vancouver] can and should be affordable and, most importantly, available to all.”
Smith said he was pleased to see the new council wants a city-wide plan, but warned it is not a panacea to making Vancouver more affordable. He argued planning is not neutral, democratic or scientific.
“It could be the next step forward, or it could tighten the stranglehold,” he said of a new city-wide plan.
In terms of a timeframe to develop and finalize a city-wide plan, Kelley said “there’s no substitute” for taking time to conduct engagement and do “the big picture thinking.” Along the way, he added, some experimentation and interim moves could be done that will likely be consistent with the final plan.
“We look for those opportunities to make some quick wins,” he said.
Carr’s motion requested a public engagement process be launched in the spring of 2019.