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Broader than Broadway: Corridor plan sets tone for city’s direction

The plan for almost 500 city blocks along and around Vancouver’s Broadway looks to steer the future of the city’s ‘second downtown.’

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The plan for almost 500 city blocks along and around Broadway is entering its final stretch, as city hall looks to steer the future of the area as Vancouver’s “second downtown.”

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The Broadway plan focuses on an 8.6-square-kilometre area, but observers and decision-makers say it will have implications for the direction of the city and broader region for generations to come.

The plan includes adding significant density and towers in the corridor and introducing new kinds of apartment buildings into quieter side streets. The newest draft of the plan was released this month for public review, and the city is urging the public to take the final chance in the next two weeks to provide feedback about how to add space for homes, jobs, business, culture and amenities along the Broadway subway line that is under construction.

Council is to vote on the plan’s final version in May, and just one month later is expected to face an even bigger city-building decision: a Vancouver-wide plan. The Broadway plan decision could set the direction of the citywide vision, observers say, and these two votes will be among the most-watched of council’s four-year term, which ends with the October election.

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Postmedia News asked five mayoral hopefuls for their views on whether the Broadway plan puts Vancouver on the right track for the future. Four candidates were supportive of the plan, to varying degrees and with different concerns, while one expressed serious hesitations.

Construction on the subway line along Broadway in Vancouver.
Construction on the subway line along Broadway in Vancouver. Photo by Mike Bell /PNG

What’s in the plan?

City hall says the plan looks to boost the Broadway corridor’s population from about 78,000 residents to as much as 128,000 over the next 30 years, and from 84,000 jobs to closer to 126,000.

The plan would not immediately change the underlying zoning setting what a property owner is entitled to build on a given site, said Matt Shillito, Vancouver’s acting director of special projects. But its new policies would create opportunities for larger kinds of development in many areas, he said, each of which would need rezoning.

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That means if Vancouver’ approves the plan in May, decisions on the first developments will likely fall to the mayor and council after October’s election.

The plan recommends the most density near the subway stations, with mixed-use developments up to 40 storeys combining residential and commercial space.

The lowest-density residential blocks of the Broadway plan area, including some relatively quiet parts of Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, are mostly detached houses, duplexes and smaller-scale strata developments. The plan would pave a path for apartment buildings up to six storeys on side streets, and up to 18 storeys in select locations for buildings with below market units, depending on lot size.

In some of those lower-density areas, extra height and density could be considered for projects that include a ground-level local business or child care.

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The city wants to carefully handle the “apartment areas,” mostly on quieter side streets off Broadway, that include old three-storey walk-ups containing much of Vancouver’s affordable rental stock. More than 80 per cent of apartment buildings in the Broadway plan area are more than 50 years old and many are affordable because of their age. But many also need massive repairs.

Construction where the new Broadway SkyTrain will cross the Canada Line at Cambie and Broadway.
Construction where the new Broadway SkyTrain will cross the Canada Line at Cambie and Broadway. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

The plan envisages buildings up to 20 storeys in those apartment areas. That height is being proposed, Shillito says, to promote redevelopment without forcing tenants out of their neighbourhoods. The idea is that a developer could replace a three-storey walk-up with a 20-storey rental building where at least 20 per cent of the space is at below-market rents, and 80 per cent at market rents. Tenants displaced by redevelopment would get financial compensation from the developer, and have the right-of-first-refusal to move into the new building at a 20 per cent discount to citywide average market rents.

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That 20-storey tower height, while still too high for many critics, is a reduction from a previous plan version that considered towers as high as 25 storeys in those areas.

City hall made the five-storey reduction after hearing “loud and clear” during earlier rounds of engagement that people wanted taller buildings closer to the subway stations, Shillito said. “So we’ve tightened up the areas where taller buildings could be.”

Some believe 20 storeys is still far too tall, while others worry it may not be enough to achieve the city’s goals.

Helen Lui, who works for a non-profit residential developer, has concerns that reducing apartment heights from 25 to 20 storeys could hurt the viability of rental developments.

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“To me, it seems obvious they did that to appease opposition,” Lui said. “I’d like more height and density.”

Brian Palmquist, a Vancouver architect, said the proposed 20-storey developments would be neither affordable nor appropriate for those neighbourhoods.

Overall, Palmquist doesn’t believe Vancouver’s existing and future population necessitates what he calls the “frightening” density outlined in the plan.

Others disagree.

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby was eager to throw his support behind the Broadway plan, calling it “a step in the right direction” for adding transit-oriented housing needed to accommodate the region’s growth.

If the city can approve more rental homes, the provincial and federal governments can help to make those homes more affordable, Eby said, and there’s an alignment of governments and private sector interest right now to make that happen.

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“I just don’t want to miss this opportunity,” Eby said. “But it does require that co-ordination, and the first piece of it is this Broadway plan.”

Eby’s riding of Vancouver-Point Grey includes Kitsilano, the eastern part of which falls inside the Broadway plan area. The westernmost subway station now under construction is at Arbutus Street, but like most of Vancouver’s council, Eby wants to the subway eventually to continue through his riding to the University of B.C.

The minister said with 25,000 people expected to move to Metro every three months for the next few years, the number of homes being built is “terrifying.”

“The math is alarming and should be a huge concern to every city council that cares about livability and is concerned about homelessness and displacement,” he said.

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As for the Broadway plan, Eby said: “I hope that council is recognizing the decisions they make on this plan are not for the next 10 years. They’re making generational decisions about how many people are going to be able to live in this area of the city, that will echo through the next six or seven decades. … So I hope they’re ambitious, and I hope they’re aggressive.”

Artist’s conception of the area around a subway station in the new Broadway plan.
Artist’s conception of the area around a subway station in the new Broadway plan. Photo by City of Vancouver graphic.

What do the candidates think?

Four of five leading mayoral candidates support the Broadway plan’s direction: independent Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who is running for re-election, Non-Partisan Association candidate John Coupar, Progress Vancouver’s expected nominee Mark Marissen, and A Better City’s Ken Sim.

But Coun. Colleen Hardwick, who is seeking the nomination of TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, is critical of the plan and the subway project in general.

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Stewart wants the Broadway corridor to be “the most exciting place in Canada to live, work and play. But it’s only going to happen if we adopt a bold approach.”

“This isn’t something we’re building for the next few months,” Stewart said. “This is something that’s going to shape our city forever. This is our second downtown. And we have to get it right.”

Stewart believes the most recent draft is “close” on the right densities and building forms. But he has concerns, especially around making sure the plan does not force renters out of their neighbourhoods. He, too, shares concerns that reducing apartment tower heights could hurt the viability of redevelopments while maintaining strong-enough tenant protections.

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The NPA’s Coupar has some concerns but agrees with the plan’s general direction.

“It makes sense to have density at the hubs,” said Coupar. “It’s a 30-year aspirational plan so people shouldn’t get the wrong impression that once this passes, all of a sudden, it’s just going to happen overnight.”

Coupar, a three-term NPA park board commissioner, is concerned the plan doesn’t provide additional park space and appears to “weaken” existing protections to make sure new buildings don’t cast shadows on parks or block view corridors from Queen Elizabeth Park.

Progress Vancouver’s Marissen, a former federal Liberal strategist, thinks the plan is good in general. “If there’s any way we accommodate this kind of growth,” he said of Metro growth forecasts, “we definitely need the Broadway plan.”

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“The big question for everybody is: what kind of a city do we want to be?” Marissen said. “Do we want to be a welcoming, thriving, multicultural city? Or do we want to be a sleepy sort of Palm Springs?”

Sim was unavailable for an interview, but sent an email saying he thinks additional density on subway routes is good for the environment, businesses and vibrant communities.

“I want to make Vancouver a 15-minute city where work and amenities are near where we live,” Sim wrote.

Stewart, Coupar, Marissen and Sim also support the idea of the Broadway subway extending to the University of B.C.

TEAM’s Hardwick was critical of the Broadway subway project before she was elected to council in 2018. At that time, she said she preferred streetcars. Now that the Broadway line is under construction, she says there needs to be a “serious discussion of the cost” of an extension to UBC, and “consideration of other options such as light rapid transit.”

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Hardwick is also more critical of the proposals for land use along Broadway.

“Redeveloping the Broadway corridor makes sense, but I have serious questions about whether this is the right way to do it,” she said. “It is based on the idea of cramming as many people into the area as possible, without regard for census data, existing zoning,” or the major planned developments at Jericho Lands and Senakw at Kits Point, expected to provide thousands of new homes. She also has environmental concerns around high-rise construction.

Mike Harcourt, a former Vancouver mayor and former B.C. premier, likes the plan’s general direction, but isn’t sure about some of the proposed building heights and densities.

“But change is coming,” Harcourt says, and Vancouver needs a plan for this vital corridor.

“Either you look in the rear-view mirror, or you look out the windshield,” Harcourt said. “I think people have to look out 30 years ahead, rather than nostalgia for what’s there now or in the past.”

dfumano@postmedia.com

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Broader than Broadway: Corridor plan sets tone for city’s direction Source link Broader than Broadway: Corridor plan sets tone for city’s direction

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