Saturday, 24 November 2012


Pacific Arbour Corporation wants to build a six to seven storey Seniors' retirement residence near Dunbar Street and 30-31st  Avenues. If the property gets rezoned to Comercial (C-2), the height limit would be 4 stories. They want more.

It seems that the company is well on its way to assembling houses. It must think that the rezoning is a pretty sure thing. 

Pacific Arbour provides a product that its tenants want but it's expensive. It is not enough to buy land at single family prices and  increase its value by a rezoning. They say they need two extra stories beyond what would be provided in the ubiquitous C-2 zone in order to make it profitable.

Assembling land on the expectation of a rezoning can be risky business. Pacific Arbour seems to have minimized the risk by anticipating the recently announced City policy promising high density on all properties close to streets that are classified as “arterials.”  

Dunbar would be more at ease if it knew that there was going to be a fair public hearing. After all, the City is being asked to transfer land value from the immediately affected neighbours to the developer. The  neighbours  will lose light and view, the value of which will be handed over to the developers, who will gain density and use. Council's job is to balance these interests in making a decision. That's what the hearing is for. 

There will be no fair hearing because Council has made its decision. 

The public is not stupid. Citizens understand  that Council  has been using rezonings as a cash cow. If a land use is already allowed in a zone, then the developer just pays his fees and gets on with it. There is little more that the City can extract or extort. When there is a rezoning to allow a formerly prohibited use, on the other hand, the City can make a bundle by  demanding things as a condition of rezoning. That is why  they can not be relied on to be fair. 

As for the hearing, it was only a matter of time that the Mayor and Council figured out a way of circumventing these excruciatingly dull events. Always  a central part of councillors' jobs, zoning hearings can be torture. I was there in 1974 when the great architect and Alderman, Geoff Massey, during a hearing dozed off and fell  out of his chair. Mayor Philips said he thought a bomb had gone off.

Vancouver City Hall recently came up with the startling idea of linking zoning to streets and traffic. Properties on or near arterials are eligible to be rezoned to a higher density. Instead of having a zoning hearing all they need to do now is to call the street an arterial and presto!- the adjacent properties are automatically rezoned. 

By this simple expedient mandatory public  hearings can almost but not quite be avoided. Sure, a hearing is technically required on each parcel when there is a proposed development. No one will show up, however, if they think that Council has made up its collective mind in advance. That is exactly what they have done by passing a resolution announcing that the land should be rezoned if it is on or near an arterial street. 

 The Councillors no longer have to be strapped in their chairs. They can stay awake playing angry birds on their I-phones to get through the brief hearing. 

When Council rammed through their laneway housing amendments with little advanced notice, relatively few people protested. Laneway houses primarily affect two or three immediate neighbours. They were the ones we heard from. This six story project affects a lot of people and they have let it be known that they are not amused. 

The protesters are a suspicious lot. They doubt that the building has to be as high as the Company claims. They worry about their loss of amenity and value and all the stuff people usually worry about when their life savings are tied up in real estate. Their anxiety promptly became an easy target for derision.

It started with doily jokes. A young Engineer tweeted that Dunbarites were aghast that the old folks in the home might bring in to many doilies. Dunbar stood accused of being anti doiley. What kind of people would consider a seniors care home to be a Locally Unwanted Land Use (LULU)?

NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) are defined as citizens who try to defend their homes and their neighbourhoods from plans which would destroy the view, pollute the environment, overload the transport network, upset the ecosystem and knock $300,000 off the value of their homes.

Dunbar is not the only neighbourhood engaged in NIMBY wars. They are underway in other parts of town.  The Anti LULUs, are challenging the Mayor's homeless shelters in Yaletown. Few people in pricey condos seem sold on the idea of a homeless shelter in their back yard. 

In the West End there has been strident opposition to an approved tower (STIR project) that exceeds the permitted West End height limits. There is another battle in Mount Pleasant. In all cases interests have to be balanced taking into consideration the relative wealth and position of the parties. Each area requires a different balancing. In Yaletown it is Condo owners against the homless. 

In Dunbar it is between a Corporation hoping to sell or rent high priced units vs high priced home owners. 

In the West End it is between existing tenants and condo owners against residents of a project whose rentals are to be classified in some vague way by the bureaucrats as affordable.

Dunbar is the latest affected area and residents are very upset. They need to keep the impact of all of this in perspective. A person who has studied these things has listed the 7 worst LULUs guaranteed to knock hundreds of thousands of dollars from the value of our homes: (1) Nuclear Power Plants, (2) Land Fills, (3) Sex Offenders, (4) Foreclosure blight, (5) Lackluster landscaping, (6) Closed schools and Hell's Angels Club House.

Although I wouldn't like it if this 7 story building were allowed in a nearby detached dwelling area, I admit that a nuclear powered Hell's Angels Club House could be even worse. 

That's next.

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