As expected, Vancouver City Council has given the final green light to the Northeast False Creek Plan, which will signal the controversial demolition of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts.
The plan to remove the elevated arterial bypass between downtown Vancouver and the Eastside neighbourhoods was approved in a vote by City Council this afternoon following very tense and hostile debates amongst councillors beginning early this morning and a marathon, day-long hearing on January 31 with close to 100 public speakers.
Councillors voted in party lines, with Vision Vancouver councillors supporting the project and the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) councillors voting against. NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball was absent from the vote.
The plan will demolish the viaducts, which are currently used by 45,000 vehicles per day, and Expo Boulevard and create a new, smaller road network on the ground level.
Pacific Boulevard will be reconfigured as a new bi-directional, six-lane road that meets a four-lane extension of West Georgia Street from Beatty Street.
A new neighbourhood will emerge around the new road network and waterfront area, with up to 12,000 new residents including 3,250 residents within 1,800 new social housing units.
Much of the social housing will be located within the new Hogan’s Alley city block – on the eastern end of the viaducts – to acknowledge Vancouver’s early African Canadian community.
“This is a part of Vancouver that was bulldozed under the direction of previous City Councils and no doubt there is an important step to cultural reconciliation and redress,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson in his closing address during the meeting.
There will be a a new entertainment district based on allocating the lower floors of the buildings for retail, restaurants, and bars, in addition to office space. Altogether, between 6,000 and 8,000 new jobs could be created.
A new community centre with a public ice rink that doubles as the new practice arena of the Vancouver Canucks will be built on the site of the Plaza of Nations.
Other major public amenities include the extension of the seawall and a reconfiguration of the existing park space in the area and the construction of 11 acres of new park space that will effectively expand Creekside Park.
“I think it’s important to be moving this forward,” said Robertson. “No doubt the core of this is addressing the need of affordability and livability.”
Councillors also approved several proposed amendments to the plan, such as the requirement of 100% rental stock for residential spaces built on City-owned land, the designation of Prior Street as a neighbourhood street, the renaming of the Northeast False Creek area with an indigenous name, and a $30-million fund to improve the Chinese Cultural Centre.
As well, the creation of a ‘Georgia Gateway’ at the new intersection of West Georgia Street and Pacific Boulevard, through the allowance of three higher buildings that slightly protrude into the view cones, was approved.
But a proposed amendment by NPA councillor Hector Bremner asking for the creation of a flat development cost levy and flat rate community amenity contribution (CACs) was rejected. It also requested clarification on the required levies and CACs to support the public amenity plans, including social housing.
The project is expected to cost $1.7 billion, including $360 million for the viaducts demolition and new road network and $603 million for social housing. Originally, when the project was first proposed in 2013, the project’s cost was pegged at $130 million.
The new cost was repeatedly noted as a major cause for concern by NPA councillor George Affleck throughout today’s debates. He challenged the ability of the project to be self-funded through developers with minimal risk to taxpayers and asserted the need for funding from provincial and federal governments, which has not been secured.
“A $1.7 billion price tag is a massive cost and a massive concern to me,” said Affleck. “It could potentially lead to significant debt and, therefore, a real generational problem where the future kids, especially if we hit a recession or if developments slow down, if we’re in the middle projects, take on the costs. There are a lot of unknowns on how we’ll this on.”
“We have no clarity today on where that money will come from… there’s no turning back on this. And I’m guessing this number will go up.”
Both Affleck and Bremner questioned the plan’s ability to create the right type of housing needed for Vancouver’s working population, and whether the CACs should go towards more social housing instead of real public amenities.
“I am worried that we are providing the ability that will have multi-million dollar condos and social housing, but nothing in the middle for the majority of the residents in the city,” continued Affleck.
Conversely, according to City staff estimates, a $90-million retrofit of the viaducts could extend the lifespan of the viaducts by another 50 years and address concerns over their potential condition during a seismic event. A full replacement of the viaducts for a 100-year lifespan would cost $120 million.
Demolition work on the viaducts and the construction of the new replacement road infrastructure is expected to begin in 2019.
The major redevelopments, largely by Concord Pacific and Canadian Metropolitan Properties, and the new parks and public spaces will emerge between 2021 and 2035.