St. Andrews Rezoning Approved

It was a historic event last night (agenda here). Long serving Councillor Madoff said that she couldn’t recall being part of a longer approval process since the Eaton’s Centre in the 1980s. Looking to the audience there were a lot of familiar faces as we all gathered for the third time. Crowds were not quite as big as they were the first two nights and moods were generally tempered on all sides.

So what happened as the evening progressed?

For context make sure to check out my A Deeper Look article that was written after August 27th as well as my A decision with many implications article that was written after September 17th.

Mayor Helps started the proceedings by acknowledging that Councillor Young had moved 3rd reading of the required Rezoning bylaw back at September 17th. This meant that he was able to speak first on giving his reasons for why the proposed Bosa Blue Sky Properties project should be approved or not.

Councillor Young – Voted to Approve

He began his comments by speaking to how, if he thought a different project and a different proposal could and would come forward to meet the needs of North Park while not also causing long damage to the city by sitting empty then he would oppose the project. But this wasn’t the case for him and he provided a list of reasons for why:

  • City has made commitments to densify and be sustainable – corner of Vancouver and Pandora is the right location for this
  • City cannot guarantee access to sun while also promoting densification
  • Sustainable cities are closely built and walkable
  • Urban agriculture is supportable but should never be considered a true food source because primary purpose of cities is density not food production
  • Victoria needs more retail diversity
  • Project access needs to come from Mason St because City bylaws and traffic experts say that access for Pandora can’t happen
  • Project access needs to come from Mason st because the proposed 2 way bike lane for Pandora St needs to happen
  • It is unreasonable and unfeasible to expect public space to be provided with downtown developments because these developments are purpose built for private use
  • The project proposal is reasonable, has undergone multiple iterations, and represents sound planning principles

Councillor Coleman – Voted to Approve

He began his comments by thanking everyone for coming out. He expressed concerns for the Red & Blue stickers worn by hearing attendees representing the Yes & No sides at “loggerheads”. Using the example of an equally divisive James Bay development on Menzies st Coleman cautioned against pitting neighbours against each other. He then proceeded to express his support for the following reasons:

  • Mostly everyone who spoke agreed that density was coming to the St Andrews site
  • Significant changes have been made since original proposal
  • 5% of residential spaces in perpetuity for under market priced rents is a critical issue in our community and first example of inclusionary zoning in the city
  • Though it may take a while to get used to new density, adjustment will happen
  • Have to remember, we’re not ‘fixing what is bad’ just making neighbourhood “more glorious”

Councillor Isitt – Voted to NOT Approve

Councillor Isitt read a long statement that included many reasons for why the proposed project should not be approved:

  • Test of sufficient community support had not been met – project does not have social license necessary to proceed
  • There could be a better project for the site because specific improvements are needed to Bosa proposal
  • Important to say “no” so that discussion with North Park can continue and it needs to continue because North park residents know their community
  • Value of St. Andrews site property will continue to grow even if project not approved
  • Redevelopment doesn’t have to come through conflict – look at Capital Park for example where local community profited
  • Project got off on wrong foot and never recovered
  • Project not permeable space and doesn’t support small business
  • Important for city to support urban agriculture
  • Bosa project does not protect or support local greenspace
  • St. Andrews site is heart of City and if Bosa proposal is approved city will be moving to the future with a broken heart.

Councillor Madoff – Voted to NOT Approve

Started her comments by speaking to growing up in North Park back during a time when it was not known as North Park. She praised the strong growth and community engagement by a wide demographic of North Park residents and cautioned against common dismissal of basic “nimbyism”. Her reasons for opposition included the following:

  • Those who opposed the project opposed it with a clear understanding of the project
  • This project has been the first test of the previously theoretical OCP
  • Thinks of reasonable planning when considering supportability
  •  It is important to have principle based planning like in Capital Park to ensure strong project supportability by neighbourhood
  • Creating winners and losers is the worst thing a project can do
  • The process has perhaps failed everyone
  • Had changes been made to the proposal back when she wanted changes made to the proposal it would have been approved back in August 27th when it finally came forward to hearing
  • Things just needed to be moved around to be made more supportable and outward looking
  • Doesn’t support “swallow bitter pill and feel better” mantra – check out Unbuilt Victoria and see why

Councillor Alto – Voted to Approve

Thanked everyone for coming, spoke to how this proposal has been a long process that has tested ability to find a “tolerable solution”. Said she’d spent many hours re-reading submissions and that she considers all proposals from position of looking for “balance” and consistency with city policy. Her reasons for support included:

  • North Park planning documents and efforts have consistently seen densification and change coming to St Andrews site
  • 1996 North park plan was created by broad section of North park community and OCP section on North Park reflects this original plan.
  • Developers rely on city plans
  • Everyone says affordability is major challenge of our times – this project gives 5% units as affordable rental in perpetuity
  • The application has been redrawn & rejiggered many times in response to community needs and requests

Councillor Lucas – Voted to Approve

Started off by speaking to the importance of “listening”, how she didn’t expect there was much ‘listening” in the Bosa application process and that throughout it all she’s tried to avoid all the unnecessary rhetoric. She then expressed a wish for a common language to be used even in neighbourhoods, even when made of diverse people. She then provided the following reasons for support:

  • It is important to follow our OCP
  • The applicant has worked through the process
  • If we “pick and choose” when to apply and follow OCP & strategic plan, then how can we be successful?
  • 11 affordable housing units will be provided and new residential units of many sizes are being provided
  • Many jobs will be provided through construction process and with operation of new retail spaces
  • There have been concessions made by all sides and approving this project will provide vibrancy to all sides

Councillor Loveday Voted to NOT Approve

Started off by speaking to how the “process” clearly didn’t work “for both sides” but that he appreciated so many people, especially so many young people weighing in. Speaking as the North Park rep and a former North Park resident Loveday praised the unique “bit edgy” community working hard to “rebrand” and also rebuked those who’d spoken during the hearing of North Park being scary, dirty and unsafe. Lovely’s reasons for opposition included:

  • Inappropriate massing – unsupportable because it is built out to complete edges of the site
  • There will be too big of an impact on Vancouver greenway and Mason St Farm because the proposed project is too big
  • Wants 5% affordable housing to be “mandatory” not “extraordinary”
  • Proposal does not have community support

Of note is that Loveday also spoke of how it wasn’t good that North Park made some folks feel unsafe expressing opinions and that the Bosa proposal had changed but not enough. Change is coming to St. Andrews site but it has to be good change so that the site can be a true gateway to the city.

Councillor Thornton-Joe – Voted to Approve

Thanked everyone for making submissions, says she’d been rereading comments made over the years. Also spoke to it being a hard decisions with reluctance to creating  “winners and losers”. Said it is important to look at neighbourhood support along with planning principles to see is a project comes together on balance as supportable. Speaking to how she likes to “say yes in her backyard” Thornton-Joe gave the following reasons for support:

  • The project didn’t have many variances & went with OCP
  • Job of council to make things clear & fair
  • Spent a lot of time in her own garden figuring out the shade issue with respect to possible impact on Mason St Farm, said Bosa thought about this too
  • Mason St access has to be from Mason st because bylaws say so
  • On issue of concern for Wellburns, not in consideration purview
  • When considering neighbourhood hopes and dreams, planing documents say major change predicts for area
  • Proposal complies with planning principles and proposal changes have been made in response to neighbourhood concerns
  • Though the majority of housing may not be affordable, it is rental
  • As chair of regional housing trust fund, unique that 5% of units will be affordable without requiring government support
  • Comparisons to Capital Park in James Bay aren’t “apples to apples” to North Park
  • Victoria Vital signs report said “affordability” major local issue

Mayor Helps- Voted to Approve

Even with project approval guaranteed, Helps also moved to approve the project. Listening to her reasons for doing so was quite intriguing. Much more professional and nuanced than those given by Isitt, also slightly surprising. Helps said she would speak on three themes including the following:

How she feels: Said that hearing all the untruths (about both North Park and developers) back on August 27th made her physically ill the following weekend. Most upsetting was hearing from so many folks that they didn’t feel safe coming to Council to speak during the public hearing because they disagreed with North Park (who opposed the project). She spoke to how the City strategic plan commits to Innovating & Leading as well as Engaging & Empowering Communities but that the Bosa process failed for which she holds herself accountable. To that end, Helps committed to significant city wide improvements in land use process in line with pre-CALUC meeting process that is used by the James Bay Neighbourhood Association.

What she heard during the public hearing: Heard a lot of traffic concerns but cautioned that it is important to remember that Bosa development will be 21st century development with 21st century customers which will mean less 20th century transportation. Heard a lot of concerns about the farm but cautioned that it is important to recognize innovative urban agriculture component of Bosa proposal. Heard a lot of concern that not enough and not affordable  enough affordable housing provided which worried her because of Affordable Housing taskforce work on inclusionary zoning. Heard a lot of young people say, if you approve the project we won’t be back to which Helps said, “we’re listening” but democracy is messy.

With respect to threats of Mason St Farm dying if the project is approved, Helps said it can’t be “either or with the farm” because there is still lots of opportunity for community to keep it alive, perhaps through a Land Trust. Spoke of how there are two definitions of neighbourhood representing the RED (no) and BLUE (yes) sides to the Bosa proposal but expressed hope that there is still lots of community engagement to come as the project is actually built.

How she is voting and why: Spoke of how she’d been urged to have courage from the NO side to vote no and also told to have courage from the Yes side and vote yes. This was confusing but knew she needed to vote with courage. Regarding references to Capital Park made throughout the night, Helps pointed out that everyone from Michigan St (st across the road from the development) had been opposed to the project because that is what happens. Finally, Helps said she had to think about the 300 or so folks (e.g., those who will live in the 210 new rental units) who couldn’t contribute to the approval process because they are not yet residents.

Looking Forward

It will be curious to see what actual changes are made to the City Land Use development process. Where it was good to see acknowledgement by Mayor Helps that the current process is broken, I’m not sure her definition of “broken” is as nuanced as it should be. Significant change is needed but it is important to remember that this change needs to include change to underlying bylaws and policies, not just change to how these same bylaws and policies are read. Or not read for that matter.

From a media coverage perspective, it was interesting to note how one news camera was there for the first 20 minutes or so, one showed up just as Mayor Helps was making her comments and the third camera showed up to interview folks after the final decision had been made.


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