Vancouver city staff have clarified aspects of two major plans that would add significant density along the Broadway corridor, and eventually throughout the city.
The draft Broadway Plan is a more detailed plan that will add 50,000 residents to the corridor, and the Vancouver Plan is a high-level long-term framework for major new density throughout the city in the form of all building heights and many towers.
It’s the first time in nearly 100 years that the city has attempted to create such a unified vision, and it’s a plan that would reshape the city.
Two of the major concerns surrounding the plans, both of which go to council in the next couple of months, are potential displacement of tenants and the gentrification of currently affordable neighbourhoods. There is also controversy around the introduction of towers that would transform the physical city and potentially drive up property values, thereby causing displacement.
According to city data, 59 per cent of households living in the Broadway Plan area are renters. Twenty-five per cent of the city’s purpose-built rental housing is in the study area, from Clark Drive to Vine Street, between 1st Avenue and West 16th Avenue. Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced last week that he wants to bolster tenant protections within the Broadway Plan area. Currently, the plan proposes a 20-per-cent discount to average citywide market rents for those who will be displaced.
“I do not feel the draft plan presented earlier this year contains strong enough renter protections and will bring forward amendments to make sure it does,” he told media.
“The final Broadway Plan must limit speculation, focus building in areas without existing rental buildings and replace older rental buildings only as they near the end of life.”
He called tenant relocation a “rare event.”
But when it does occur, the mayor’s proposal is to allow displaced renters in the Broadway area the option to return to their newly developed units at a rent that is either the same or lower than what they had been paying. The other option is to relocate and take the existing lump sum payout, based on how long they’d been living in the unit.
Typically, it would take three to five years for completion of the new rental building; however, there is no data on the number of people who actually choose to return once they’ve been evicted and relocated. The city has had experience, however, with their seven-year-old renter relocation program, as well as that of other jurisdictions, said Dan Garrison, the city’s assistant director of housing policy.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a very high rate of tenants taking up first right of refusal and coming back, just because they tend to move on with their lives in three to five years,” Mr. Garrison said. “But when we start bringing in these kinds of policies where the benefit is much more than it would have been under our previous policies, I think we might see a higher rate of take-up on right of first refusal because it’s more attractive than it was in the past.”
When a renter moves to an interim location, the city will require the developer to pay moving expenses and any top up on increased rent. The returning renter will likely return to a smaller unit than they’d lived in previously, Mr. Garrison said. They don’t build large one-bedroom apartments today, like they did in the 1960s and 70s.
City staff said they have made it viable for developers to redevelop existing three-storey walk-ups and other existing rental buildings into 20-storey towers that offer below-market rents because 80 per cent of the building will be market-rate. However, the intention is for developers to first look elsewhere – to arterials and commercial districts, and at duplex and detached houses around the stations, where they won’t have to build the cost of tenant protections into the budget, as they would have to do if they evicted tenants from existing buildings.
In this way, they hope the existing older three-storey walk-ups within Kitsilano, Fairview and Mount Pleasant areas will be redeveloped at a slower pace, Mr. Garrison said. Larger sites with small buildings, or buildings deemed in need of major maintenance, would be targeted. And other requirements, such as a limit of two towers a block, would curtail redevelopment.
“We had some folks, including Housing Minister [David] Eby, raise some concerns with us around proposing 25 storeys in those [apartment] areas and so we reduced it to 20 storeys. The reason for that was primarily because we didn’t want to make development in these areas too attractive, because we wanted to moderate the pace of redevelopment in the rental area,” Mr. Garrison said.
“The idea is – and we have our financial development economics consultant advising us on this – we really don’t think we will see substantial uptake of that in the rental areas.
“We think it will be a slow rate of redevelopment in those areas. And where it does happen, that’s where we kick in the additional rental protection in addition to all the compensation under our current rental relocation policies.”
Investors and speculators could potentially purchase apartment buildings and as tenants move out, simply let the buildings empty out. It might make more sense than having to deal with buyouts and tenants returning at extremely low rents upon completion.
As well, the Empty Homes Tax does not apply to apartment buildings that are not fully occupied.
Mr. Garrison said that attrition is unlikely because landlords enjoy good rental revenues.
“But it’s something we want to monitor,” he added. “As we build in the more substantial requirements for tenant support, it’s fair to say we want to keep a close eye on how it’s working, and what impact it’s having out there.”
Some commercial brokers at Colliers have launched a website devoted to the Broadway Plan, inviting property owners to click on a link to find out what their property is worth.
Colliers associate vice-president Jessica Hathaway, who is not affiliated with the website, has studied the plan in detail and says the industry is intently waiting for it to go before council on May 18. Although land values had already increased along the corridor in recent years, she said they expect values to increase “given the additional density as designated in the plan.”
Ms. Hathaway said she’s so far pleased with the plan.
“We have been on industry panels with city planners … I do think over all they have done a phenomenal job in creating a very balanced plan,” Ms. Hathaway said. “For us, we are in this business every day, so we fully understand this plan and what the implications are going to be, and we are very excited to see some of the opportunities that come forward.”
She agreed with Mr. Garrison that the bulk of redevelopment will focus on the Broadway corridor, but she says “some pockets of apartment buildings” will get redeveloped as well.
“I think the majority of density will be focused along Broadway, and that is where we are seeing the most height, but there will be some opportunities in those RM [apartment] areas because you can build up to 20 storeys if you have the frontage required,” Ms. Hathaway said.
Stringent tenant protection policies will deter redevelopment of some buildings, she said. She applauded the city for striking a balance between developer opportunity and tenant protections.
The industry is waiting to see how the city deals with community amenity contributions [CACs] on condo developments, Ms. Hathaway said. CACs are often cash contributions the city requires when developers are granted a rezoning. The industry generally prefers a standardized amount that developers can use to determine upfront costs, rather than a negotiated amount to be determined for each rezoning. If CACs are too high, development won’t be economically viable.
“We loved seeing what they did on the Cambie corridor, for example, where they set it at a certain level per square foot, that’s the best way to do it, so [developers] can write that into their pro forma. It also saves a lot of time and resources from both the city staff and developer perspective [instead of] taking months and months to negotiate those CACs. That’s what we are hoping for … absolutely developers would still pay their fair share through that approach.”
As for the all-encompassing Vancouver Plan, city planner and project manager Karis Hiebert said that it’s the first time since 1928 that a unified vision for the city has been created, when the city used the Bartholomew Plan as a guide. The Vancouver Plan allows for a significant amount of density through tower construction, anywhere from six storeys to 40 storeys, depending on whether it’s a transit area, or neighbourhood centre, or a low-density village.
The plan goes before council in June, but it has a lot of fine-tuning, and is a holistic document, Ms. Hiebert said.
“It’s powerful to try to paint a long-term vision of growth and change. And we know that this is going to get revised over time. And it’s important to recap, this does not enable a rezoning or development permits upon council’s consideration of it,” Ms. Hiebert said.
“We know that there is going to be a next stage of work to do and more detailed area planning, but it’s important to start with a holistic framework and that is what this represents.”
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