Letter to Council (June 25 Public Hearing): Opposing omnibus rezoning – Regulation Redesign – Amendments to Zoning & Development and Parking By-laws

June 24, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re:  Public Hearing – 1. Regulation Redesign – Amendments to Zoning & Development and Parking By-laws

June 25 Public Hearing
Agenda: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200625/phea20200625ag.htm
Report: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200625/documents/phea1referralreport.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) opposes this omnibus rezoning.  While the intention of streamlining and improving the permitting process is a good one, this report goes much further than simply improving processes by suggesting alterations to many sections of the Zoning Bylaw. This is a very controversial rezoning that should especially not be going to a virtual Public Hearing during a pandemic.

Among our concerns:

  • The city is combining a large number of amendments on unrelated issues as an omnibus change to the Zoning and Development By-law for various zoning schedules, for various Official Development Plans, for the Parking By-Law and other land use documents.
  • The changes to various different zoning types (C, I, RS, RT, RM etc.), By-laws or Plans are too complex to be all in one report and should be separated into multiple reports that could provide detailed information and explanation on the impacts of the various changes.
  • Although there now are ‘red-line’ documents provided to show what is changed in context with the original by-law, there still is no detailed explanation of what each amendment means in practical terms to the built forms or development process. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for Council and the public to really know what is changing.
  • Suggested changes are substantive alterations to zoning and regulations, with a variety of impacts, not just minor text amendments, which simplify the language or streamline the process.
  • There are substantive new powers proposed for the Director of Planning to vary zoning bylaws without going through the Board of Variance. The current Council should maintain checks and balances on the powers of the Director of Planning, and know it has a big responsibility to future-term Councils to ensure good governance.
  • There was no substantive public consultation which dealt with the specifics of the many changes to various sections of the Bylaws. Public Hearings are not a substitute for full, public engagement. They are one tool in a bag of many that together complete a proper engagement process. It is typical for the public to provide input prior to the staff’s recommendation for referral to a Public Hearing.

This rezoning, without adequate detailed explanations, all lumped together in one report, is very difficult to understand. It needs those relevant documents and more details to be included, or at least referenced with links, and further clarifications as to its effects, divided into related zoning types in separate reports, with separate presentations at Public Hearings.

And adequate public input needs to be included in the drafting of this smorgasbord of changes, sufficient to be understandable to a lay public, before they are referred to public hearing. Until this occurs, CVN opposes these amendments. Continue reading

Letter to Council (for June 23): Opposed to ‘Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law to Increase Rental Housing in the C-2, C-2B, C-2C, and C-2C1 Commercial Districts’

June 22, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re:  Referral to Public Hearing –10. Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law to Increase Rental Housing in the C-2, C-2B, C-2C, and C-2C1 Commercial Districts

June 23 Council Agenda: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200623/regu20200623ag.htm
Report: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200623/documents/rr10.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) is opposed to this controversial rezoning amendments going forward as proposed. The process used to bring this proposal forward to Council was flawed, and it is not appropriate to refer controversial rezoning amendments such as this to Public Hearing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the many concerns we have with the current proposal are as follows:

  • At the November 26, 2019 City Council meeting, Council gave direction to staff to protect existing rentals by bringing forward a report to consider “to amend the Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan to extend rental replacement requirements to C-2, C-2C, C-2b and C-2B-1 zoning districts city-wide. There are many existing rental units in the C2 zones that should be protected by this policy amendment first.
  • This proposal is in conflict with the Interim Rezoning Policy for Kitsilano and West Point Grey that requires a “collaborative neighbourhood-based process” which has not, as yet, taken place. Additionally, the IRP restricts rezoning to projects already approved to proceed, and to future collaborative neighbourhood-based processes that focus on rental-only zoning along Broadway and West 10th The other area covered by Interim Rezoning Policy east of Vine for the Broadway Plan is exempt from the proposed C2 changes.
  • No neighbourhood-based context has been considered.
  • There are two parts to the proposed rezoning:
    • The proposal increases outright development for strata by:
      • raising the height of the commercial level that also increases the views of the residential above, increasing both value of units and land,
      • decreases or eliminates setbacks, front and back, that allows more FSR to be landed than would be allowed under current zoning.
    • It adds conditional rental development with relaxations to heights of 72ft. and six-storey without any differentiation between major and minor arterials or consideration of neighbourhood context.
  • No notification has been given to affected or adjacent properties for advanced consultation prior to referral.
  • It increases development pressure, land values and property taxes for small businesses, which undermines those businesses that were already struggling even before COVID.
  • It implements a citywide, complex and controversial rezoning proposal in July in a pandemic with audio only (Council and speakers) in a virtual public hearing.

CVN opposes this referral to Public Hearing and we request that instead the report be referred back to staff for more work and revisions to address the concerns we have raised and to engage in further public consultation. Continue reading

Letter to Council (June 9): Opposed to Item 1. Changes to 2020 Council Meetings Schedule – Increasing Public Hearings in July

June 7, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Item 1. Changes to 2020 Council Meetings Schedule – Increasing Public Hearings in July

June 9, 2020 Agenda: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200609/regu20200609ag.htm
1. Changes to 2020 Council Meetings Schedule
https://council.vancouver.ca/20200609/documents/comm1.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) is opposed to the addition of so many Public Hearing dates for the month of July during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is proposed that Public Hearings be added for July 7, 9, and 28, plus a reserve on July 16, 2020.

The calendar of Public Hearings would then show dates scheduled for June 23, 25, July 7, 9, reserve on 16th, 21, 23, 28, then Sept. 15, plus potentially other reserve dates.

If this goes ahead, in July alone there will be 5 public hearing dates plus reserve of one or more, as well as 2 public hearings in the last week of June. And this doesn’t include the numerous Council and Standing Committee meetings that will be taking place during the same time frame, or the potential inclusion of ‘controversial’ rezonings within some of these hearings.

This places enormous pressure on Council, staff, and the public. For a Council elected on the premise of improving public engagement, this is highly problematic. Even in normal times it is too much, far less in a pandemic. Please reconsider adding these public hearing dates to July. Continue reading

Letter to Council (June 9): Referral to Public Hearing on CD-1 Amendment: 2538 Birch Street (formerly 1296 West Broadway – Denny’s site)

On June 5, 2020, CVN sent the following letter to Vancouver Mayor and Council.

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Referral to Public Hearing -1. CD-1 Amendment: 2538 Birch Street (formerly 1296 West Broadway – Denny’s site)
June 9 Council Agenda: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200609/regu20200609ag.htm
Report: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200609/documents/rr1.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) is strongly opposed to this controversial rezoning going forward as a referral to Public Hearing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restrictions on public participation in order to deal with the pandemic crisis should not be used opportunistically on projects like this that have substantial opposition both city-wide and from the local community. If approved, this project would set a huge precedent for the Broadway Corridor.

We remain concerned about the virtual electronic Council meetings and Public Hearings. The technology has not been reliable and it is not the same as having Council present in chambers as required under the Vancouver Charter that is now temporarily suspended for the pandemic crisis.

City Hall Council chambers were created so that government business could be conducted in plain sight, before the public, transparently and out in the open as per the Vancouver Charter.

We appreciate that Council raised concerns about referring this project to Public Hearing when Council considered the referral back in March and that staff withdrew the report from the Council agenda in April.

CVN continues to oppose this referral to Public Hearing during the pandemic. We request that the report be held and not be referred at this time. Continue reading

2 letters to City Council for May 26 & 27: ‘Social housing’ definition, development and permit processes

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to agenda topics for meetings this week of May 25, 2020 at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text of the letters further below.

  1. Motion B.4 (May 26): Defining Social Housing Consistently and Transparently in the City of Vancouver
  2. Agenda Item 1 (May 27). Development and Permit Process Improvements

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LETTER 1

Re: Motion B.4: Defining Social Housing Consistently and Transparently in the City of Vancouver
May 26 Motion B.4: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/documents/motionb4.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) supports this Motion.

This proposal is an important first step to redress the current situation, which misrepresents the actual social housing being developed by including primarily market rental housing within the designation. As a result, benefits such as CAC and DCL waivers are awarded where they are not deserved, while the actual need for social and affordable housing remains largely unmet.

Further, the City’s definition of social housing is completely out of step with all other levels of government, leading to confusion in the minds of the public and potential lack of coordination with government partners.

There is a clear need to have more actual social housing developed for lower income and homeless people in Vancouver. We urge Council to support this Motion as a needed first step to more fully addressing this issue. Continue reading

4 letters to City Council for May 12: Cambie Corridor, rental housing, development applications, Housing Vancouver Strategy

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to agenda topics for meetings this week of May 11, 2020 at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text of the letters further below.

  1. Motion B.3 (May 12) – Working for More Housing Affordability in the Cambie Corridor
  2. Motion B.4 – Rescinding Motion to Include C-2 Zones in Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan
  3. Motion B.6 – Improving the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Development Application Processes
  4. Motion B.7 – Recalibrating the Housing Vancouver Strategy post COVID-19

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LETTER 1

Re: Motion B.3- Working for More Housing Affordability in the Cambie Corridor
May 12 Council Item B.3: https://council.vancouver.ca/documents/b3.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) supports this Motion. It is very clear, as the Motion states, that in the Cambie Corridor, the development of new units that are built, under construction, approved or under review, will not meet the Cambie Corridor Plan’s goals for affordability. And this reflects the problem which exists in Vancouver, that of housing affordability for people of lower incomes, and the need to solve that problem.

The City needs to address the shortcomings of the Cambie Corridor Plan, and move to increase the percentage of ‘social housing’ called for in the Plan.

The core problem is that under the City’s current definition of social housing, the majority of units provided are not actually affordable. Prior to 2014, the City defined ‘social housing’ as: “…residential units, purchased by a government or a non-profit housing group using available government funding, for housing senior citizens, handicapped persons or individuals or families of low income”. The current definition defines it as any “rental housing where 30 per cent of the units are affordable to households with incomes below Housing Income Limits (HIL)”. Add to that the current City policy that considers any building in which 30% of its units are affordable to people with incomes below the HIL to be 100% social housing, and you find a policy that needs re-evaluating. This also produces a condition where the city is appearing to be gaining many more units of affordable housing than is actually the case. Continue reading

5 letters to City Council: Rezonings, COVID-19, SROs, Public Hearings, Climate vs Vancouver Building By-law, etc.

The following letters were sent to Vancouver Mayor and Councillors pertaining to upcoming agenda topics this week at City Hall. Please see the list at top, with actual text in order below.

  1. Referral Reports – Continued Practice of Referring Rezonings to Public Hearing
  2. Motion B.2 (April 28)- Ensuring All Vancouver Residents Can Comply With Public Health Guidance (support)
  3. Motion B.3 (April 28) – Private Single Room Occupancy Cleaning Cost Recovery (support)
  4. Motion B.4 (April 28) – Strengthening Representative Democratic Practices in Vancouver (support)
  5. Agenda Item 3 (April 29) – Climate Emergency Requirements for New Housing 3-Storeys and Under [topic relating to Character Houses] (opposed, with reasons)

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LETTER 1 – April 27, 2020

Re: Referral Reports – Continued Practice of Referring Rezonings to Public Hearing

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) opposes these continuing actions by the General Manager of Planning and Council.

CVN outlined our concerns (in our email of March 30, 2020:1124AM) that emergency powers are to be used judiciously for emergency purposes to deal with COVID-19. We further stated:

Public hearings require full public involvement and should not proceed under emergency order
unless they are truly of an emergency nature. Rezoning is not an emergency so referrals to public hearings should be suspended until restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

We continue to believe that rezonings are not an emergency issue and note that the provincial emergency order to allow electronic meetings did not extend to Public Hearings that are covered under Section 566 of the Vancouver Charter.

And further, at present, the City has not shown itself to have the ability to conduct a Public Hearing, in this time of pandemic emergency, in any way that approaches the concern with the health and safety of the public, which is necessary, or that enables a proper form of communication between the Council, Mayor and their constituents, as required under the Vancouver Charter for Public Hearings.

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Letter to City Council: Democracy and remote Public Hearings during COVID-19 emergency

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council on April 13, 2020, regarding fundamental topics of democracy in the context of plans to shift to electronic Public Hearings.

April 13, 2020
City of Vancouver Council

Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Remote Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) acknowledges that Council requires emergency powers to deal with emergency issues in emergency situations. However, we strongly challenge whether most, if not all, issues requiring a public hearing are, in fact, emergency issues. And we have stated those concerns in an earlier letter (April 5/20).

What this letter addresses, for the record, are our deeper concerns around Democracy itself, and the notion of public hearings as a part of that system of governing. A simple definition of democracy: government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them or their elected representatives.

City Halls and Council chambers were created so that government business could be conducted in plain sight, before the public, transparently. Not secretly, not in back rooms, out in the open. It gives citizens the opportunity to see their government in action. It builds public trust.

Public hearings are a way for the public to express their opinion on important issues that Council is deliberating. At the best of times, this process is educational to both parties, and is useful in making important decisions. It is an important element, but not the only one, in the process of public engagement. And there is a value in its face-to-face discussions.

When contemplating changes to this part of our governing process, even for emergency situations, care must be taken to retain that transparency, that trust. What is currently being proposed will seriously challenge both the transparency and the trust. Our understanding of the current options for citizen participation in public hearings being proposed by staff, and our concerns:

1. In-person procedure at City Hall

a. Speak in Council chambers to faceless Councillors in an empty room; receive audio questions from Councillors. Mayor and Council are remote for health and safety issues. You are, in effect, risking your life to participate in this democratic process.
b. Wait to speak in the room outside of Chambers, physical distancing, and limited numbers. Or downstairs, again, physical distancing, limited numbers.
c. If too many speakers, line up outside, 2 meters apart, masked up, around the building or down the block, as necessary. Remember, while Mayor, Council, staff, and all other presenters/participants, save the City Clerk in Chambers, are firmly and comfortably ensconced at their offices or in their Dining Rooms.

2. Online connection with Mayor and Council (and other presenters/participants?)

a. An exclusionary method, as it assumes all interested parties, who do not or cannot for various reasons, face the current challenges of not self-isolating during a pandemic, are either possessing of the needed technology, or are well versed in the use of said technology.
b. Speakers are required to sign away their privacy rights in order to participate(see 3b below).
c. Staff should be showing a speaker’s presentation slides online.
d. Text of proposed amendments should be clearly shown on Council Chambers screen and online.
e. Staff has indicated they have no interest in any methods of verifying the identity or location of speakers; leaves this option open to corruption by non-citizens and outside interest groups.
f. Incredible lack of detail available for exactly how this is going to work.

3. Speaking to Council over a telephone line

a. Talk about impersonal communications.
b. The speaker must give their consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information, to be stored on servers in the United States, and which may be accessed in the U.S. or internationally. Many will be reluctant to do so.
c. No details on how this works, as there will have to be a lineup, if more than one caller; how are you notified of your turn; sitting on hold for hours (?);
d. Again, no visual connection to whom you are talking.
e. Staff has indicated they have no interest in any methods of verifying the identity or location of speakers; leaves this option open to corruption by non-citizens and outside interest groups.

General comments on these options: Continue reading

Letter to City Council: Changes to Meeting Schedules – Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency (for 14-Apr-2020 meeting)

The following letter went to Vancouver City Council on April 13, 2020 in reference to a Council meeting scheduled for April 14.

April 13, 2020
City of Vancouver Council

Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Changes to Meeting Schedules – Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

April 14 Council Item 1.: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200414/documents/comm1.pdf

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) recognizes the need for emergency powers to deal effectively with the COVID-19 emergency. City Council meetings are currently being convened electronically to enable appropriate physical distancing. Options for public participation are being considered. We have stated our concerns regarding these issues in an earlier letter (April 5/20).
CVN letter April 5, 2020: https://coalitionvan.org/posts/cvn-letter-5-april-2020/

The April 14 Meeting Agenda, Item 1, Changes to 2020 Council Meetings Schedule,
proposes the first electronic Public Hearing for May 5, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the questions posed by ourselves and other citizens have yet to be answered, and public participation is highly problematic (see earlier CVN letter sent today, Apr.13), we would urge Council not to approve this change and to instead not schedule any Public Hearings until restrictions on public assembly are lifted.

Thank you,

Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs

On behalf of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods Continue reading

Letter to Council: Electronic Council Meetings and Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

This letter went out to Vancouver Mayor and Council on April 5, 2020, regarding Council discussions about possible significant changes to meetings and Public Hearings.

April 5, 2020

City of Vancouver Council
Dear Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors,

Re: Electronic Council Meetings and Public Hearings during COVID-19 Emergency

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) would like to thank Council for not referring the rezoning reports to Public Hearings at the March 31, 2020 Special Council Meeting.

However, some other issues arising from that meeting are cause for our concern.

  • While we recognize the need for special powers for the City under a state of emergency, as recently provided under BC ministry order, we remain of the opinion that these should be used judiciously for emergency purposes to deal with COVID-19. Only the most urgent of business should be undertaken at this time under emergency order, not business as usual.
  • Public Hearings for rezonings do not meet the test for emergency powers and are not covered by current provisions under the BC Order M083. This deals with “Vancouver Council or body” meetings, not Public Hearings .
  • The City Manager advised Council at the meeting that staff are in discussions with the province to expand the provisions of the emergency order to include Public Hearings.
  • Council was advised that staff, without debate, would be establishing procedures for electronic Council meetings and Public Hearings, However, it is Council who has to approve the Procedure Bylaw, so it is Council who will have input into and approve any emergency procedures as well.
  • The public should also be consulted and have input into any proposed procedures for this emergency.
  • The City Manager also advised that Public Hearing referrals should continue. It was suggested that the ‘non-controversial’ rezonings would come forward to Public Hearing first and the  ‘controversial’ rezonings would come later. Exactly how and who would determine what is ‘controversial’ or not, or when the issue would come forward, was not stated. It is not appropriate to make referrals to Public Hearings at this time of crisis when the public cannot be effectively engaged.

Public hearings require full public involvement. There is no clear indication when the restrictions on public assembly will be lifted. If the restrictions remain for more than a couple of months, this can always be revisited.

This is especially important for rezonings of a controversial nature, such as the 28 storeys at the former Denny’s site, Birch and Broadway that is to be considered for referral to Public Hearing at the April 14 Council Meeting.  This should definitely not be going forward under emergency powers.

In addition to withholding non-emergency issues and Public Hearings during the COVID-19 crisis, the public notification process for development should not be disregarded.

On the City’s website there is notification that onsite signs for development will not be provided. We are alarmed that development is proceeding without proper onsite notification signs for the general public to be aware of what is proposed. The demise of the print version of the Vancouver Courier further undermines this situation.

We appreciate the challenges that arise with this crisis. However, emergency powers should be used judiciously for emergency purposes and not for the convenience of pushing through project development without proper process.

We implore Council to not delegate its powers to staff to implement emergency procedures for non-emergency business that would further weaken the democratic process.  The COVID-19 emergency powers should not be used to carry on business as usual without proper public process as required under the Vancouver Charter at a time when the public is struggling with a pandemic.

Sincerely,
Larry Benge, Dorothy Barkley
Co-Chairs