Author of ‘Height Study’ comes out against City’s DTES condo plan


We previously reported that on Jan 20 2011, Vancouver City Council will consider a proposal to build seven condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, and that there is significant community opposition to the plan. The City calls the plan the “Historic Area/Precinct Height Review/Study,” while critics call it a “gentrification package” for the Downtown Eastside.

This week, Ray Spaxman spoke out about the plan. On Dec 13, he told The Mainlander that he was more amenable “to getting an area plan going before we do this rezoning.”

Then on Dec 15 Spaxman was interviewed by CKNW’s Phillip Till about the Height Study, where he reiterated the problems of developing a rezoning plan without a community plan: “there seems to be a lack of attention to the impact of that density on all the facilities and services that are needed in the city as a consequence of those extra heights.”

The comments are significant because not only was Spaxman Vancouver’s Director of Planning from 1973 to 1989, but he was also hired by the City in 2007/8 as main researcher and author of the original Sept 2008 Historic Precinct Height Study.

Spaxman told The Mainlander that his contract with the city “was defined to focus on the question of height.” However, he noted his team’s concern that “by talking only about height instead of density and people, the City risks overlooking the social implications of development.”

In the Sept 2008 Height Study, Spaxman and company wrote:

The consultants stress the importance of including the broader social, economic and environmental implications of higher densities and higher buildings when planning the future of this especially complex and sensitive area of the city.

Asked about the importance of this statement, Spaxman responded:

Our comments about the social stuff is intensely important. If you want to increase the density, you have to consider all sorts of questions. What numbers of people would that produce? How many are newcomers to the neighbourhood? Where are the social amenities going to go?

In his CKNW interview, Spaxman elaborated:

It is called a height study. In fact, it’s a height and density study. What people are looking for — and you must not get [derailed] in your thinking – by believing it is only about height. It’s about density. So if you double the height, you are potentially doubling the density as well. And I think that should be of people’s concern. If the City was more up front, it would talk about what the density implications are with these height discussions.

The role of developers

The CKNW interview also touched on the influence of developers on the planning process. These exchanges were noteworthy:

Till: Why do you think the City is not being more up front?

Spaxman: [A pause] Ahhhh. I ….. think there is a lot of pressure from develop[ers].


Till: How much clout do the developers have in all of this?

Spaxman: Enormous.

Till: Enormous?

Spaxman: Yes.

In particular, the staff recommendations for the Jan 20 2011 Council meeting call for approving two condo towers in the heart of the Downtown Eastside / Chinatown – one at Hastings and Carrall, across from Pigeon Park, and one at Abbott and Pender (behind the Olympic Tent Village Site). The original Height Study analysis recommended no towers North of Pender.