Skip to main content

Brian Jackson, Vancouver's general manager of planning and development, said the city has no way to restrict growth unless the federal government changes immigration policies, so it has to figure out where to put new people.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's top planner is definitely not going out with a whimper.

At a packed development industry lunch Thursday, Brian Jackson lashed out at his critics, calling them hypocrites.

He said that if resident groups keep suing every time they don't like a tower project, all city projects will end up being designed by lawyers and there will be no money for community benefits from them.

He warned developers that the city might have to stop all rezoning or raise taxes by 11 per cent if the industry is successful in persuading the province to cancel Vancouver's system of extracting contributions for community benefits in exchange for density increases.

That was just the beginning for Mr. Jackson, as he gave his final speech to the building industry's association, the Urban Development Institute.

He announced in July that he would be retiring at the end of December after three tumultuous years as Vancouver's general manager of planning, during which the city has seen almost non-stop controversy over new developments and new neighbourhood plans that include densification.

Mr. Jackson's departure is one of many in what has been an unusual year for Vancouver. City manager Penny Ballem had her contract terminated earlier this week. The head of community services left the city abruptly in April, while the head of engineering resigned at the same time.

There is no sign of who might fill any of these jobs.

Mr. Jackson didn't refer to any of that, but instead directed his fire at the bloggers, mainstream media reporters, ex-city hall planners, academics and citizen activists who have been persistent critics of city planning. He said their vocal negativity has made planning more difficult.

"It has become very personal and very vicious," said Mr. Jackson.

He also accused some of them of being hypocrites, saying that ex-planners and academics who criticized him in public over density exchanged for developers' community contributions would then come to him privately trying to get exactly that for their clients or institutions.

And, he suggested numerous times, almost all of the criticism is misdirected or misinformed.

He said Vancouver has no way to restrict growth unless the federal government changes immigration policies, so it has to figure out where to put new people.

To the bewilderment of many in the audience who have been building at a record pace recently, he insisted that growth is not as significant in Vancouver as the critics have made out.

The city added 189,000 people in the 20 years before 2001, he said. And it will only add another 150,000 between now and 2041.

"This shows that growth is not out of control."

Mr. Jackson claimed that Vancouver has had fewer rezonings than Surrey, Burnaby or Richmond and that, contrary to the misinformation spread around the city, there have been only three spot rezonings in the past five years.

(Asked to specify after his speech what those were, he listed Shannon Mews on Granville Street, The Spot across from Vancouver City Hall and a piece of land at Sixth and Fir.)

The city's building-permit values have hit record highs, he acknowledged, but that's because of the increasing value of the projects, not more rezonings.

Mr. Jackson rejected the idea of solving the city's problems by developing a comprehensive new city plan, such as the one that then-mayor Gordon Campbell initiated in the 1980s. That's something that UBC landscape architecture professor Patrick Condon has pushed.

The planning manager said that would take well over three years, require at least $3-million in resources a year, and stall development – a process that would drive housing prices up even further. People who suggest that's a solution "don't have a grip on reality," he said.

Mr. Jackson did point out one major flaw in Vancouver's overall planning that he thinks needs to be fixed: the lack of zoning for townhouses.

He said they're vitally necessary but they won't be easy to introduce, because making space for townhouses is going to mean "a conflict between that and saving our heritage and rental buildings."