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Vancouver council approves Northeast False Creek development

The plan for the former industrial area adjacent to Vancouver’s central business district envisions a completely reconfigured road system that will include the demolition of the heavily used Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The concept plan for a substantial new downtown Vancouver neighbourhood got the go-ahead at city hall Tuesday, after councillors agreed that Northeast False Creek should get more subsidized rental housing, more consultation with the Chinese community and an Indigenous name.

But it took hours of debate, as councillors argued over the multiple issues raised by the plan for the area, which is supposed to bring in $1.7-billion worth of community benefits, add more than 10,000 people to the area, and repair damage done to the Chinese and black communities when the city pursued "slum clearance" plans in the 1960s.

Councillor Hector Bremner, with the minority Non-Partisan Association on council, attempted to get a vote on the concept plan delayed, saying there were too many unresolved issues.

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"We have an opportunity of a lifetime to shape our city for centuries with this," Mr. Bremenr said. "It's clear that folks out there want more time to review. Nobody feels we have 100 per cent confidence in where we're going."

As well, he said the plan provides for housing for multi-millionaires and the poor, but not much for middle-income Vancouverites.

But Vision and Green councillors said it is a first step that sets overall directions, with many more refinements and information to come.

"It will take a number of years to build out," Mayor Gregor Robertson said. "I don't underestimate the amount of work still to be done."

He was enthusiastic about what the future neighbourhood will bring to the city.

"This will only magnify the incredible downtown that we have. It is one of the largest expansions of social housing in B.C. history."

The plan for the former industrial area adjacent to Vancouver's central business district envisions a completely reconfigured road system that will include the demolition of the heavily used Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, a significant new park, a waterfront filled with shops, restaurants and activities, and promises of at least some housing that local Vancouverites can afford. Twenty per cent of the units are supposed to be affordable, according to city policy.

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Staff still need to produce an implementation plan and a financial strategy by August, since council's goal is to have all $1.7-billion in new community amenities paid for by a combination of city land sales, developer fees, and subsidies from other levels of government.

The plan was strongly supported by Vancouver's black community, which worked with an American consultant to come up with ways to recognize and revive the historic area that was home to many African-Canadians in the first half of the 20th century.

However, the massive plan outlined in the 177-page report raised a lot of other concerns.

Chinese community leaders felt their community hadn't been consulted enough and the new road plan for the area cut off their neighbourhood. City politicians and staff scrambled to consult with them in the past two weeks and the final plan included a requirement for more consultation with Chinatown advocates.

Many felt that a goal of having only 30 per cent of the estimated 1,000 apartments planned for city land at the east end of the viaducts dedicated to subsidized rentals was not enough.

The plan approved Tuesday said the city should explore the possibility of having 70 per cent of the units subsidized.

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Many people also opposed the idea of allowing three proposed towers in the plan, which will be clustered at the foot of a new Georgia Street extension, to violate Vancouver's legendary protections for views of the mountains.

But Kevin McNaney, the planner overseeing the Northeast False Creek process, said that two international panels have recommended that some taller buildings be allowed to punctuate Vancouver's skyline, especially on the east and west ends of the downtown.

The city already has allowed other towers in the west, including the Westbank Vancouver House under construction around the Granville Bridge, to intrude into the view cones. City staff expect rezonings for the area to start in the spring, although it will take up to 20 years to completely build the plan as envisioned.

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