Vancouver city staff have decided that taxpayers should get a say in how the valuable land in False Creek South, home to a 50-year-old city experiment in affordable urban housing, should be developed.
For the first time, the city has solicited suggestions from every Vancouver resident about how to redevelop a specific neighbourhood. Generally, that input is sought mainly from the neighbourhood in question.
It means residents from all over will be able to voice their opinion this month on the future of the 33-hectare area that encompasses the land south of Granville Island between the Burrard and Cambie bridges. The land is owned by the city.
“We want to engage everybody who owns that land,” deputy city manager Karen Levitt said Monday. “We have to do due diligence as the owner.”
The area is a complex mix of housing and legal agreements that comprise 27 separate parcels, including 700 individual strata leases in 13 buildings, seven co-ops, six non-market social housing apartment projects and four market rental ones.
When False Creek South was being built out in the 1970s and 80s, there were many 60-year leases signed that are coming to an end soon.
Residents there who have been trying to renegotiate leases and to plan for new development for almost a decade, are dismayed by the latest twist in what has been a difficult road to get some certainty about their future.
“We’ve been at this an awfully long time,” said Richard Evans, who has lived in a co-op unit since 1986 on the former industrial site that was redeveloped in the 1970s as a model new community for affordable, central-city housing.
Residents say the latest process introduces a precedent that will affect thousands of residents living on city-owned land in other parts of Vancouver.
“This is the first time that the city has started planning or real-estate planning on city-owned lands where there are existing homes – so a lot of people are watching this process unfold,” said Mr. Evans, who is the head of the community’s RePlan project.
RePlan is a community-led effort to come up with guiding principles for any future development in the area, which is on prime waterfront land on False Creek.
The consultation with people inside and outside the area in 2017 resulted in a focus on retaining the community cohesion and character of the neighbourhood, while adding a possible million square feet of development, primarily along Sixth Avenue and near the Olympic Village Canada Line station, along with infill.
But the conversation between the city and the neighbourhood stalled in May, 2018, when residents said they wanted some definite answers from the city about the many leases on units and buildings they live in before they talked about any future redevelopment of those buildings.
Ms. Levitt said she appreciates how dismayed the residents are with the whole situation.
“We very much know people are frustrated and upset.”
But, she said, the goal now is to drive the whole project forward as fast as possible to settle both the lease issues and the future-vision and development goals.
“This is now in the city manager’s office and I am driving the project.”
Once the city as the landowner has public input on what all Vancouver residents want from the area, it can move ahead as a regulator to initiate a new plan for the area. And then, as landlord, it can renegotiate leases.
Mr. Evans said it has been hard to understand what the city exactly wants. Several different councils have endorsed the community’s efforts to re-envision the area.
As well, agencies such as Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing have seemed enthusiastic about the residents’ desire to create a “campus of care” with much more housing in the area for seniors and homeless people.
But, Mr. Evans said, there has been resistance moving forward.
“We’ve been trying to get to the level of real intentions for a long time.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
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