City Council sends False Creek South's future back to the drawing board

Oct 29 2021, 3:14 am

In response to backlash, Vancouver City Council has put a stop to the current redevelopment planning process for the vast city-owned parcels of False Creek South.

After hearing from roughly 120 public speakers over the course of three days, city council unanimously decided to put the planning process on hold, and essentially send back any planning efforts back to the drawing board with city staff. A number of amendments put forward by several councillors also saw support across party lines.

“This is practically a council love-in, a first for this council,” said COPE councillor Jean Swanson during the public meeting late this afternoon.

When city staff from the municipal government’s real estate division first presented their concept earlier this month, they asked city council to consider what is being proposed to them through the City of Vancouver’s landowner perspective, with a goal of maximizing value and ensuring the new building developments, infrastructure, and public spaces and amenities are 100% self-funded by the project.

The municipal government’s Property Endowment Fund owns 80 acres of False Creek South between the Granville Street Bridge and Cambie Street Bridge. The neighbourhood on former industrial lands was built in the 1970s and 1980s, with the homes and businesses on leases set to expire between 2036 and 2046.

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False Creek South map. (City of Vancouver)

False Creek South Vancouver

The City of Vancouver owns 80% of the False Creek South neighbourhood. (City of Vancouver)

The concept would have strived for significant phased redevelopment to increase the number of homes from 1,849 units today to 6,645 units upon full completion beyond the 2040s. There would be a housing tenure mix of 2,350 units of market strata leasehold, 2,020 units of market rental, and 2,275 units of non-market and co-op — roughly one-third share for each housing type in an effort to align with the community’s original mixed-income vision.

The centre of the site would see low-rise and mid-rise buildings, while towers were envisioned for the western and eastern ends, including a 500-ft standalone residential tower next to Granville Island, and a cluster of towers replacing the parking lot and False Creek Public Tennis Club next to SkyTrain Olympic Village Station.

The neighbourhood’s total floor area on city-owned land would grow from 1.862 million sq f today to 6.643 million sq ft — from a floor area ratio (FAR) density of a floor area that is 1.3 times larger than the size of the land area to 3.4 FAR upon full buildout.

Existing condition:

false creek south plan vancouver

Existing condition of False Creek South. (City of Vancouver)

First phase:

false creek south plan vancouver

Potential concept for the future of False Creek South. (City of Vancouver)

Second phase:

false creek south plan vancouver

Parcels of existing buildings in False Creek South that could be demolished for new uses, with the density relocated elsewhere in new development. (City of Vancouver)

false creek south plan vancouver

Potential concept for the future of False Creek South. (City of Vancouver)

According to the city staff, due to the existing low-density restrictions, the entire 80 acres has a relatively low estimated combined market value of $550 million, despite its prime central waterfront location just across from the downtown peninsula.

But city council unanimously leaned away from making a decision based on the lens of a landowner, and instead approved directions that addressed concerns of existing residents, who generally wanted to see gentler changes that allow their multi-generational families to remain in their homes for the foreseeable future.

“It was incredibly moving to hear from so many residents who love their neighbourhood and who genuinely want to welcome new low-income and middle-income into the area,” said OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, who put forward the key amendments driving the forthcoming planning process.

“False Creek South residents spoke about being part of a mixed income, mixed tenure, neighbourhood. Residents told council how much they valued being part of a community where kids run around without a fear of cars, and parents raise kids without a looming fear of eviction. This should be the case everywhere across Vancouver. Council heard the stories from residents, and acted in response.”

charleson street false creek south

Charleson Street looking east, from south of Charleson Park (left) in False Creek South. The decommissioned railway is also shown (right). (Google Maps)

Instead, over the coming weeks, the city will now begin a formal negotiation process on expiring strata leasehold leases, starting discussions on lease extensions, while exploring some redevelopment opportunities with co-ops. This addresses immediate concerns from residents who said they felt highly strung for years by the uncertainty of their leases.

Planning work on False Creek South will also transition from the real estate division to the urban planning department led by chief planner Theresa O’Donnell, with extensive public consultation on the future of the neighbourhood starting in 2022.

“The decision taken by council tonight will move the renewal of False Creek South forward by renewing leases to alleviate stress for residents, and by launching into a community planning process that will enable the existing residents to help set the vision for the next evolution of the neighbourhood in a way that respects them, builds on the livability of the area and welcomes new neighbours by adding new homes. The community needs to grow, but we are better working together,” said independent councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung.

Her amendments directing city staff to preserve Charleson Park and explore non-profit organization partnerships to offer more affordable housing were approved.

City council also approved an amendment proposed by NPA councillor Melissa De Genova that appointed Green Party councillor Pete Fry and TEAM councillor Colleen Hardwick as council’s liasons to this rebooted planing process.

“False Creek South has been internationally recognized as an example of ‘getting it right’ in urban design since its inception in the mid-1970s,” said Hardwick, who has been an advocate for preserving False Creek South, adding that today’s decision provides her with a “deep sigh of relief.”

“The original plans took advantage of the best knowledge of the day for creating livable communities. This complex neighbourhood was designed and constructed drawing on an exceptional interactive consultative public process. The right thing to do today is to build on these achievements. I am encouraged that the City of Vancouver has reaffirmed its commitment to False Creek South as a truly livable community.”

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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