This week, City Council approved a massive rezoning request by developer Wall Financial Corporation for Shannon Mews in Kerrisdale. Kerrisdale is but one of many neighbourhoods forced to mobilize against unwanted development over the past two years. Before last Tuesday’s meeting a protest was held outside City Hall, organized by a group of activists from City Hall Watch and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver under the banner: “The Rezoning Process is Broken — Let’s start Fixing it.” Over a hundred people took part outside and eventually filled the council chambers. Many residents of other neighbourhoods joined the Shannon Mews community in solidarity, having faced similar rezonings in the recent past. Others still will be facing unwanted developments in their neighbourhoods later this year.

The July 26th, 27th, and 28th public hearings act as good examples of Vision Vancouver’s planning and consultation regime. There were two significant rezonings taking place. The first regarded a series of three high rises directly across from the Olympic Village. The developer was asking for an increase in density of 50% and a dramatic increase in height above the existing zoning. Over a dozen speakers spoke against the proposal. Most were concerned about the impact of the development on the affordability of the surrounding area, as high towers creep up False Creek into Mount Pleasant. These concerns were left almost completely unaddressed by City Council, and the rezoning was passed with only Councillor Ellen Woodsworth voting against.

It’s about a lot more than viaducts.

On July 27, council’s Standing Committee on Transportation and Traffic voted to begin a comprehensive planning process for the future of the False Creek Flats, including exploring the reconfiguration or removal of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts into the East side. The idea of reducing or removing freeways is something lots of folks are talking about, but this plan, called the Eastern Core Strategy Study, is about a lot more than just freeways.

At the heart of the study is the acknowledgment that reducing or completely removing the viaducts will bring fundamental change to this area, one of the last areas in the city with the potential for major redevelopment. The initial phase of the study, as adopted by council, will take what staff calls a “big picture” look at the flats, including “land use and development potential” should the viaducts come down. This area includes not only city-owned lands, but also lands owned by Providence healthcare (the Catholic authority which runs St. Paul’s hospital) and developer giant Concord Pacific.

Although the first phase of the strategy carefully avoids defining what it means by “development” (the staff presentation to Council focused on uses like parks), the elephant in the room is, of course, opening up what’s currently an industrial wasteland bisected by freeways to commercial real estate development. Read: condos.

There is a renewed grassroots effort to stop condo development on the site of the historic Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hastings. Worthington properties currently has plans to build 79 condo units on the site. The project may be approved by the Director of Planning, Brent Toderian later this summer unless there is a public outcry. In order to force a hearing, the public has until August 12 2011 to address concerns to:

Alice Kwan: 604.871.6283, and
Scott Barker: 604.873.7166,

A coalition of community groups has launched a website called The DTES is not for condo developers, which includes a petition and outlines the coalition’s concerns about condo development in the “heart” of the Downtown Eastside. The 100 block of East Hastings includes many community assets that could be negatively affected by gentrification, including the Carnegie Community Centre, Insite, and 400 low-income housing units.

The coalition is calling on the City to reject the developer’s proposal, and asks “the Pantages owner to sell the property at its 2010 assessed value of $3.7 million to the City of Vancouver.” Worthington Properties bought the Pantages Theatre in 2004 for only $440,000. Worthington also purchased the adjacent lots, spending just over $1M to assemble the block for redevelopment. By 2010, the City assessed the value of the lots at $3.7M. But when Worthington Properties tried to sell the block to the City in the spring of 2010, the corporation asked for a price well above market value, and City Council turned down the offer at an in camera meeting on March 22, 2010.

The developer has made millions simply by speculating on an affordable block. Beyond that, they are now insisting on even more profits instead of working with the City to restore one of Vancouver’s three historic theaters, and to build desperately needed social housing. When the City makes every reasonable attempt to purchase a property to meet the ‘public interest’, but the owner won’t sell at a fair price, the City’s next legal step is expropriation. Under the provincial Expropriation Act, the City has the authority to expropriate properties to meet its policy goals in the public interest.

Many Vancouverites are wondering what the City is doing to make Vancouver affordable and therefore liveable. Unfortunately, the City’s main affordable housing initiative over the past two years has produced no new affordable housing.

Under the guise of a program supposed to “address the issue of rental and affordable housing supply in Vancouver,” the City has handed tens of millions of dollars over to real-estate developers through tax breaks in order to ‘incentivize’ unaffordable market rental development. It is but one an example of Vision Vancouver’s neoliberal approach to fiscal policy, pushing aside the interests of residents for those of big business.

The policy in question is called the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR). It was adopted in June of 2009 with limited public discussion or consultation. Some residents have been fighting it ever since.