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Vision Vancouver Shows Lack of Vision for the West End

Architect's rendering of the approved development at Davie and Bidwell.

Last night, Vancouver City Council voted 6-2 in favour of a 22-storey highrise at Bidwell and Davie. The 210-foot, 20-storey building will have 49 rental housing units and 98 condos. The developers will retain a facade from the historic Maxine’s Hideaway currently located on part of the site. The other buildings will be razed. (More information on the project can be found at
Although I am a strong advocate for rental housing (I am a renter, and I served on the board of the Mole Hill Community Housing Society for seven years), I opposed this project, and stated as much in a letter to Council. In the letter, I said:
My concern is not with these two developments per se. I believe that the West End should expect a certain amount of density because of our location and amenities. And yes, we do need more rental housing. As a tenant and the former chair of the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, I am well aware of the need for affordable rental accommodation in the West End. And I do not share the concern of some West End residents regarding the loss of "views" of the water and/or mountains. In the West End we all live close enough to the water that a five-minute walk to either English Bay or Coal Harbour is all we need to get one of the best views in the world.
My concern is that without a West End vision in place, other properties will be bought up by developers and other proposals put forward, with the siren call of "more affordable housing". As you know there are many aging low-rise rental buildings that are probably nearing the end of their lifespan and therefore ripe for redevelopment in the West End. If these two redevelopments are allowed to go ahead, there will be pressure put on these other properties to be redeveloped and, without a community vision in place, before we know it, the ambiance that makes the West End a livable neighbourhood will be destroyed. Right now there is a good mix of towers, low rises and houses. But if more towers are built (and once you agree to one tower, what justification will you have for refusing others?) that delicate balance will be destroyed. We need to find smart solutions to increasing affordable housing without destroying existing neighbourhoods.
The views I expressed above are shared by many other West End residents, as was made clear during the lengthy public hearing process for this redevelopment and a similar one at 1401 Comox Street ( Yes, Vancouver needs more rental housing, but if these two developments are allowed to go through without considering their overall impact on the neighbourhood, where will it stop? Rumour has it that another five projects are in the offing, and with the aging housing stock in the West End, more will surely be on the way now that Council has given this one a green light.
Only two Council members voted against the project. Ellen Woodsworth agreed with West Enders that a community vision is needed for the neighbourhood before allowing new developments of this size. Suzanne Anton, bizarrely, opposed it because of its rental component (according to this ( story in the Vancouver Sun). Anton, according to the story, felt more condos should have been included in the project, with the added revenue to the City going towards the petting zoo.
No thank you, Ms. Anton. West Enders need rental housing more than a petting zoo. But we want it to be planned properly. The current piecemeal approach of considering projects individually without an overall plan will end up destroying the delicate balance of green space, single houses, small apartment buildings and larger developments.
In 2008 I volunteered time and money to help get Gregor Robertson, Tim Stevenson, Heather Deal and their Vision colleagues elected. I’m sorry to say that I’m not sure I’ll be doing the same in 2011.

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