After years of back and forth with the False Creek South, B.C., community, the City of Vancouver released a preliminary conceptual plan that would physically transform the 80-acre waterfront site that is situated between the Cambie Street and Burrard Street bridges.
The plan is the first step in a lengthy planning process that will see the development of market rental and seniors housing mostly along West 6th Avenue, and – if funding is obtained – replacement of the 1970s-era co-op housing.
Right now, roughly 56 per cent of the city-owned community is non-market affordable housing. Co-op units account for 28 per cent of the housing; 28 per cent is non-market rental housing for seniors and disabled people; a little over a third is leasehold strata; and 8 per cent is market rate rental housing.
Over the next 20 years, the plan would boost market-rate rental to 25 per cent, slightly decrease the non-market rental and co-op housing and keep leasehold strata apartments at nearly the same level.
Vancouver reimagines vast swath of city land around False Creek
Once new co-op buildings are constructed, the existing co-op buildings closer to the seawall will be demolished to make way for new market rental and strata condos and some non-market housing. Decades from now, once it has moved through a second phase of redevelopment, the community would have 6,645 housing units (more than triple the current number). A caveat is that the supply of affordable housing is dependent on non-market housing providers and co-ops finding the funds.
Once built out, the City envisions a tenure composition similar to the 1976 version of False Creek South.
“The target of the suggested approach is by the end of phase two, there is one third co-op and non market, one third market rental, one third strata,” said deputy city manager Karen Levitt, in an interview last week, alongside urban design consultant Chuck Brook.
“It’s just a starting point for a discussion for the director of planning to lead, and there are many things that will go into that discussion,” she said. “There are many variables – financial feasibility obviously being one of them.”
If co-op residents choose to stay in False Creek South, they will have a choice of housing types, said Mr. Brook, who is working with the City’s real estate division.
According to the publicly released artist’s rendering, the first phase, from 2022 to 2040, would include several co-op buildings built on vacant land along busy West 6th Avenue, along with a strata building and a new elementary school. There will also be tall market and non-market residential buildings near Cambie Bridge, in vacant spaces and on under-utilized parcels. An artist’s rendering shows seven potential highrises to the west of Cambie Bridge and a 500-foot tower near Granville Bridge.
“Those [co-op] residents are given an opportunity, if they want to stay in False Creek South, to relocate to a variety of housing types. It’s not just along West 6th Avenue,” says Mr. Brook.
Nathan Edelson, former senior planner for the City and long-time project manager for the neighbourhood association, says if outside funding is not obtained, then he expects the City would likely offer greater density in exchange for some below-market housing. He says that wouldn’t translate into the same amount of affordable housing the community enjoys today.
The plan has other critics, including University of British Columbia professor of urban design Patrick Condon. Prof. Condon calls the plan a “missed opportunity” for the City to significantly increase the amount of affordable housing.
“The City can choose to be motivated by the actuary values ascribed to that site, which lead to a city that is unaffordable by all. Or, they can adhere to the legacy of False Creek South and advance that legacy towards the city that is affordable, to the people who need to live here,” he says.
As well, he questions why the low and middle-income housing is pushed to the least desirable part of the site.
“The reason for tearing down the co-ops is to put higher density in those locations, which the plan suggests will be much higher density, and in a very different urban design form.
“Those co-ops were organized as community clusters with an inward-facing courtyard. That was a specific design intention, so when your kids are playing, they can be observed by all the families living there … but the schematics for the new plan show that that will not be the motivation for the new design. Maximizing density will be the motivation for the new design.
“It’s disappointing that the affordable units have been pushed to the back of the site … In this proposal, the middle class affordable housing is almost removed from the site while the rest of the city land is given over to market rentals and strata that will only be affordable to the top 10 per cent of income earners.”
Mr. Brook said their plan is “the opposite” of that perception because the City could include non-market housing within those premium waterfront parcels.
“We are just making space for it to happen,” said Mr. Brook. “And we are trying to achieve, in principle, the kind of mix that was foreseen in 1976. It will be up to the planning department to determine density and height and land use ultimately, so this is just our suggested approach.”
Ms. Levitt said that they are also considering a streetcar to connect to Senakw, a massive redevelopment by the Squamish First Nation of their 12-acre Kitsilano lands. If realized, it would change the streetscape.
“So West 6th may look quite different by the time this development gets going, and be less of a busy street. One of the things we are contemplating is to open up the north-south streets into the neighbourhoods,” she says. “Right now you’ve got that railway barrier that goes on for a couple of kilometres.”
As for removing the characteristic courtyards, they say there are trade-offs, and they are maintaining the seawall, enhancing the park and are discussing a new school.
“It is an updated version of 1976 because it’s not sustainable to have 80-acres of land in the centre of the city and have it reflect the growth patterns from 1976. There’s no reflection of the time that has evolved and the critical need to find housing for more people in Vancouver.”
Ms. Levitt says the community doesn’t reflect the density that surrounds it.
“There have been really substantial changes to the built form of all the neighbourhoods surrounding this, and there is rationale for bringing this one along as well, to modernize the original vision from the 1970s and make it relevant to the moment we are in now.”
“This is not northeast False Creek,” she says, referring to extremely dense urban areas. “This is mid-level, family-oriented, ground-oriented buildings, for the most part. I guess with any change, there might be something lost, but there is also a lot gained.”
Adds Mr. Brook: “You never get it exactly right, and by the time council finishes with it, when planning finishes with it, it will be refined and changed. It will probably be changed again over time, as circumstances do.
“But we think that this is a good balance for bringing False Creek South into the next century, considering all the other forces and needs and aspirations that surround it, beyond the boundaries of False Creek South itself.”
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