Why the Broadway Plan now? And Why all the Fuss about our Model?
City Conversation #54: Why is the 500-page Broadway Plan being rushed through after mere days of review? And why has our 3D model become its litmus test?
May 18, 2022—My remarks to City Council at the meeting to consider the Broadway Plan.
The Broadway Plan’s contemplated towers, looking east from its western border near Arbutus—ours is the only accurate model available—3D model images by Stephen Bohus, BLA
As we have rushed up to this meeting, mere days after the final Broadway Plan was finally shared by city staff, all 493 pages of it, I found myself asking, “Why are we getting so much information, so late? What’s the rush?”
I know that the easy answer to “What’s the rush?” is that we have a housing affordability crisis. We get that. What we don’t get is “Why has it taken so long to get information that is voluminous, yet disingenuous?”
Why is it that literally for years, ordinary citizens like me have had to collect the information that underlines our increasing concerns about this Plan? Why have we had to model the Broadway Plan instead of city staff? Perhaps because we have discovered that the Broadway Plan’s proposed density can be achieved without much high-rise at all and feel it important to illustrate what the high-rise option might really look like. Why is it that city staff have declined to provide you, Council, with the bigger picture development “pipeline” that should be there to explain the Plan?
Unable to get useful information from city staff, we have done the heavy lifting, the analysis that city staff have declined to do, or if they have done it, to share it.
Members of the Fairview/ South Granville Action Committee met recently via zoom with several but not all members of Council. This committee includes amongst its members some very experienced, credentialed environmental scientists and engineers, who assembled literally dozens of peer-reviewed studies conclusively demonstrating the climate and sustainability disaster that is concrete high-rise. Some of these studies were even prepared by city staff, yet have not been re-tabled as part of the Broadway Plan’s process, possibly because they run counter to the “high-rise for all” focus of the Plan.
More recently, staff tabled a Housing Progress Report with you, purporting to show the good work you and they were doing, especially for renters. But there is no objective data available behind the bar charts in that report. Again, private citizens have stepped up.
Frustrated by staff’s unwillingness to provide data on the true state of housing, especially where approved by spot rezonings, of which more than 380 have been initiated during this Council’s term, we dug deeper. And “dug” is the operant word.
First we went to more than 380 individual Shape Your City websites, one for each spot rezoning, in order to find the most basic data: what was proposed, how many of what type of housing; and what was the status of each rezoning. There is no centralized assembly of that basic data that is accessible to and usable by citizens in their neighbourhoods. We had to go separately to a completely different building permit database in order to find out which projects have moved forward and which are languishing as derelict homes or vacant sites—and there are many.
Perhaps some of our housing affordability crisis might be explained by what we found:
· Of the more than 380 spot rezonings commenced during this Council’s term, only half have been approved so far—the balance are grinding their way through city staff—they have not reached the public hearing stage that civic administrations advise are delaying housing delivery;
· Of the half that have been approved, only half of those have actually applied for building permission. The average time from an approved spot rezoning to getting its first phased permit, usually to dig a hole in the ground, is two years. Perhaps an accelerated approval process at city hall might make that easier?
· Many of the half of spot rezonings that have not received initial building permits have nonetheless received demolition permits to clear away the existing housing that will someday be replaced—meanwhile many tenants have been evicted, much housing has been destroyed, many sites have become vacant, derelict lots. Some have been flipped, resold at a premium based on the promise of higher density under the Broadway Plan, with the premium costs to be passed on to the eventual occupants as higher sale prices or rents.
· Of the half of the spot rezonings initiated during this council’s term that have received building permission, only five have been completed, representing 684 homes, of which 17% are rental, 83% are strata. Other completed projects were started by previous Councils.
· This is trickle-down economics at its worst and it leads to the range of anguished, polarized debate that you will hear over the next while.
Our research on more than 380 spot rezoning city websites shows that there are more than 60,000 spot rezoned homes that have been approved but not completed, more than half of which are rental—that’s twice the staff’s projection for the entire buildout of the Broadway Plan. There are another more than 60,000 homes contemplated but not yet applied for, including the Broadway Plan, the Jericho Lands, Skeena Terrace and many others. So if the Plan is approved, how long will it be before any of this has any impact on the immediate affordability crisis—local history suggests a very long time, several years, in fact, since the Broadway Plan assumes no changes to the business as usual glacial pace of staff review.
As we have published this data in various posts and most recently, our 3D model of what the Broadway Pan contemplates, city staff have occasionally challenged our data in social media. Each time we become aware of such a challenge or question, we have responded, “Let’s sit down and compare your data to ours.” Each time when we reach that moment and make that suggestion, we are greeted with silence. That’s why our 3D model is used by the media—there is no other, even when they ask the city for it.
Council, you may have unanimous staff support for this Broadway Plan, but you most assuredly do not have anything close to citizen support. Please send this flawed Plan back to staff with suitable instructions, so that when the Broadway Plan comes back, it comes back with today’s opponents as tomorrow’s supporters, as used to be the case in this city.
Call to Action
The speakers list for the Broadway Plan now exceeds 200, is in fact closed to further speakers. Council will resume hearing speakers on May 25 from 3pm. To listen to those presentations, click here.
For those citizens currently sitting on the sidelines, thinking “It doesn’t affect me,” know that the Broadway Plan is the template for the Vancouver Plan, which covers the entire city and is up for Council approval in a month, in mid-June. It will write the Broadway Plan onto every quiet corner of every city block, every treed hill in every park, every close and distant vista in our decreasingly fair land. Please review the Vancouver Plan. If you agree with it, say so. If you disagree with it, or as with many, don’t understand it, say so. There is no compelling reason for it to be considered before the next civic election.
Vancouver’s civic election is October 15th of this year. Lots more damage can be done to our city before that date—and it will continue, and worsen, unless TEAM for a Livable Vancouver elects a majority (6 of 10) City Councillors—less than 6 and not much will change. If you are concerned that what you’ve just read is an example of what’s wrong with our city, and want to bring back its livability, join TEAM and work with us to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.
Today’s question: Do you like the Broadway Plan? Why or why not?
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I am a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). I am semi-retired for the moment, still teaching and writing, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on my 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. I am the author of the award winning Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” I am also a member of TEAM for a livable Vancouver, a new political party dedicated to restoring a livable Vancouver starting with the 2022 civic election. Although I am not a candidate for TEAM or any other civic party, City Conversations are generally congruent with TEAM policy, so if you like the ideas that I’m writing about, please consider joining TEAM.