Saturday, August 1, 2009


Laneway Housing was passed by the current Vancouver City Council on a quiet summer day when it would receive the least attention.

The process, if such it can be called, was to ignore precedent and previous form and simply follow the Ideology - process which is the hallmark of this ideology-driven gang.

Neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood interaction has been jettisoned.

Below is a quote from one private report, followed by a letter from a Dunbar resident which nicely summarizes the polite thuggery currently in vogue at 12th & Cambie. This last item is an invaluable peek behind the shaggy curtains of Oz.

“At that last meeting, the city planner took pains to tell our group that democracy had no place in our planning process and that consensus was not expected.”

Mayor Robertson and Councillors

City of Vancouver

453 West 12th Avenue

Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 1V4

July 27, 2009

Dear Mayor Robertson and Councillors:

Re: Citizens’ Summit

I would like to provide a personal note regarding my experience with city process since I became a board member of the Dunbar Residents’ Association almost five years ago.

My first appearance at a Council hearing was in response to an application from the Approving Officer Rick Scobie, who was seeking Council approval for his approach to applications for subdivision of what are known as “orphan lots,” lots which are larger than others in the same block. Residents were upset at the Approving Officer’s approach, which was to give automatic approval, and Mr. Scobie’s application was no doubt the result. In the notice of application to Council, Mr. Scobie suggested that, if Council failed to approve his “automatic” approach, it might like to consider instructing him to take into account a range of factors, including neighbourhood concerns. On behalf of the Dunbar Residents’ Association, I joined a number of residents who spoke to Mr. Scobie’s application. Taking into account neighbourhood concerns when the enabling legislation clearly gave the Approving Officer discretion seemed a reasonable position for a representative organization to take, and, in fact, after I and a number of others had spoken, two of the councillors suggested that Mr. Scobie might want to take such concerns into account.

Mr. Scobie then proceeded to tell Council that the Legal Department had advised him that Council had no authority to give him direction in this matter, which effectively ended the discussion, although those of us who had spent hours on this matter had still to sit through then Mayor Sullivan’s commendation of Mr. Scobie’s “wisdom” in dealing with such issues. I am not sure that “wisdom” is the word that I would have used. None of the residents there appreciated having had his or her time wasted: if Council had no power to direct Mr. Scobie to act other than as he chose, Council’s approval was meaningless and residents’ arguments were irrelevant.

The next major city planning initiative was EcoDensity. Neighbourhood representatives were invited to presentations and meetings; we made submissions and arranged for planning staff to speak to residents. Our Association’s concerns were with the failure to appreciate that our Vision Plan made provision for higher density, which had yet to be exploited; the lack of provision that was being made for the social and environmental impact of higher density; and the failure to value the green space captured in single family residence areas. The clear and emphatic message that the City conveyed was that single unit housing was environmentally unsustainable

In the meantime, the Dunbar Vision Implementation Committee had been resurrected, and I joined in the hope that a city-sponsored committee might be more amenable to the views of residents. The DVIC’s first presentation, on a development at 39th and Dunbar which, the Committee argued, exceeded the parameters set out in the Vision Plan, was completely ignored: the development was unanimously approved by Council.

Since then, the planning department has undertaken a review of the Vision Committees, a review that has absorbed scarce planning resources and lent poignancy to the Director of Planning’s admonition to Council at last Tuesday evening’s Council hearing that Council’s requests for monitoring could not be met due to scarce staff resources: who is setting the agenda here?

More recently, Council has held a hearing to consider the Director of Planning’s recommendation that single family residence areas be rezoned to allow laneway housing on lots 33’ and over, and I have felt as if I have wandered into an Orwellian universe. How did blanketing the city with more single-unit housing become an EcoDensity initiative? What on earth had I been doing spending my time considering seriously the arguments that had been made by the planning department in support of EcoDensity? Yet again I had been a pawn in a manipulative process intended simply to justify a predetermined result. Arguments made in good faith are rendered meaningless, the ground shifts, hearings are scheduled mid-summer, and residents are ambushed by sudden changes to what was initially proposed.

This Council was supposed to be different. Prior to the last election, the Dunbar Residents’ Association published on our Mailing List the results of a survey taken by the city-wide coalition that became Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver. The survey identified those candidates for Council who favoured neighbourhood input in planning decisions. Our response to criticism that we had abandoned an apolitical stance was that we felt that neighbourhood consultation was not a matter of ideological leaning, but fundamental to the participation of residents of all political perspectives in the development of their communities.

Ironically, the only example of true community consultation that I have experienced was at the insistence of an outside agency. Thanks to the support of Darrell Burnham, Executive Director of Coast Mental Health Foundation, the service provider for the facility at 16th and Dunbar, the Dunbar Residents’ Association was able to facilitate the meeting of Dunbar residents with representatives of the city, B.C. Housing and others to form a joint community advisory committee which aims to allay neighbours’ concerns about the new supportive housing and make its future residents more comfortable in their neighbourhood.

I hope that you will listen attentively to those who have had to deal with the city in the past few years. Norquay woke to find that the Neighbourhood Centre Program, which residents thought would undertake the needed revitalization of a commercial area, planned the mass rezoning of 2400 single family residences as a stated example of EcoDensity almost a year before the EcoDensity proposal came before Council. In a neighbourhood reeling from rapid change, the Riley Park South Cambie Vision Committee, which has a history of resident participation, appears to have been cut out of planning along the Cambie Corridor in favour of “advisory groups to provide advice at appropriate stages,” a phrase that suggests carefully managed rather than honestly sought, neighbourhood input. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver has continued to make submissions that are thoughtful and balanced and deserve to be taken into account.

In fact, the only positive impression that I will carry away from my experiences will be residents’ deep commitment to and profound understanding of their neighbourhoods. Their goodwill and willingness to give of their time and energy are impressive. When allowed, they have made valuable contributions. My experience at the city level, however, is that residents are, at best, given information by pleasantly helpful planning staff and the opportunity to vent, while, at worst, made the subject of dishonest manipulation. Top-down planning prevails.

I appreciate that you have provided residents with an opportunity to make submissions. My experience with this and previous councils is that they will not be heard. The process lacks integrity, being a matter of form without substance, squandering the community’s resources in an unsustainable drive for further development.

Yours truly,

Susan Chapman

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