Opinion: Revised proposal for 28-storey tower on West Broadway lacks process

Jun 22 2019, 2:09 am

Written by Justin Long, a Vancouver resident of 13 years working in artificial intelligence and exploring BC’s outdoors.

I have a magic wand that allows me to neutralize my competition with a single wave of “Not In My Backyard.” If a group of residents organize and have a legitimate concern about a public process, that’s okay I just waved the NIMBY wand. They’re now the scourge of the earth.

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In early 2018, Jameson Development secured approval for a 16-storey market rental housing project at 2538 Birch Street, on the corner of Birch and West Broadway. In general, most neighbours were okay with the project, with a few architectural exceptions.

Suddenly, soon afterwards, the developer expressed an interest in rezoning for 28 storeys. Currently, the Broadway Corridor where the development site is located has an average 11-storey height. So how did Jameson suddenly decide to nearly triple the existing average height?

2018 approved proposal for a 16-storey tower:

2017 artistic rendering of the approved 16-storey proposal for 1296 West Broadway. (IBI Group / Jameson Development)

2019 proposal resubmission for a 28-storey tower:

May 2019 artistic rendering for 2538 Birch Street (formerly 1296 West Broadway) in Vancouver. (IBI Group / Jameson Development Group)

May 2019 artistic rendering for 2538 Birch Street (formerly 1296 West Broadway) in Vancouver. (IBI Group / Jameson Development Group)

The development is being considered under the city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Project or MIRHPP. Until the Broadway Subway is completed, rezoning applications will not be considered unless they meet three specific exemptions.

Under this pilot program, 20% of housing must be rented at rates defined as affordable for household incomes between $30,000 and $80,000. Look at the existing site: it’s quite possible that the bottom fifth of the building will house moderate income families where the view is blocked by surrounding buildings, and the top 80% of units will soak in one of the most beautiful views of the city – at the rental rate of the developer’s choosing. Who is benefitting with this program exactly?

Now comes the terrible NIMBY. What does the Fairview/South Granville Action Committee oppose exactly? I met with two committee members Ian Crook and Sean Nardi and learned their biggest concern is actually the abuse of public process.

The committee, in general, supports the redevelopment of the Broadway Corridor and has some very good ideas for a bustling community. But MIRHPP has a flaw. Is this committee opposing development or trying to stick to a plan?

At what expense does this workaround of public process look like? The city is spending thousands – if not millions – taking in public input and developing a proper Broadway Corridor plan.

2538 Birch Street Vancouver

May 2019 artistic rendering for 2538 Birch Street (formerly 1296 West Broadway) in Vancouver. (IBI Group / Jameson Development Group)

The Broadway Subway is a big deal and when done right it can create an entirely new neighbourhood that allows small business to thrive and preserve the unique livability of the area.

What if all that planning money was wasted public funds and instead we got mono-block towers that helped 20% of the residents while providing astronomical rents to the other 80%? How does this help our economy? What employment centres are we creating? Are we incentivizing wage stagnation?

I’ll offer my own experience of urban hell. I’ve lived in towers taller than 25 storeys and the gap between renter and building governance means not knowing your neighbours, a more transient residency, the increased likelihood of crime (yes I’ve literally found people bloodied and unconscious in my lobby), elevator waits up to five minutes, and more restrictive bylaws. It’s one person’s anecdote, but when the entire neighbourhood swears by this lifestyle you have to wonder if people have enough energy to participate in the community.

So it seems to me that my local action committee might have a point: planning and public consultation have an important place in the development process. They’re not saying “Not In My Backyard” – they want respect for the law. And we should expect the same from developers and city council, too.

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