Dan Fumano: Will “downtown” come to Broadway?

Analysis: Some Fairview residents say the 39-story tower belongs downtown, not their neighborhood across the bridge. But in the eyes of the town hall, the “downtown” will come to them.

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A proposal to build the tallest tower on Broadway, to be debated this week at City Hall, raises a tricky question for Vancouver’s future: what is “downtown” and where in is it ?

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This week, City Council will consider local developer PCI Group’s pitch for a 39-story mixed-use project above the South Granville subway station currently under construction, proposing to stack several different elements of a neighborhood into a single high-rise building: public transit, retail, a grocery store, offices, and market and below-market rental housing.

The project has followed a somewhat unusual process to get to this point and is already generating strong feelings of support and opposition, judging from the written correspondence sent to City Hall so far.

“I live a short walk away and this area urgently needs developments like this,” one letter begins, while another calls the proposal “a disgrace to our town planning.”

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“Keep your proposed 39-story plans for downtown as it is not welcome in our southern neighborhood of Granville,” one letter read. Another said: “We live in this neighborhood because the city center is full of these kinds of towers.”

Fairview South Granville action committee member Sean Nardi said something similar to Postmedia reporter John Mackie for a recent story. When Nardi and his neighbors learned a few years ago of a proposed 28-story apartment building on West Broadway, two blocks east of Granville, he recalled: don’t move into the neighborhood to live downtown.

Nardi’s sentiment is likely shared by many in Fairview and elsewhere along the Broadway corridor, people who firmly believe that tall buildings belong downtown, not their neighborhoods two miles south of the other side of the bridge. If they had wanted to live downtown, the argument goes, they would have moved downtown.

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For these Vancouverites, it may be bad news that, in the opinion of City Hall’s planning department, downtown is approaching them.

Draft “Land Use Concept Map” for the Broadway Plan in Vancouver, showing neighborhood densities in the plan.
Draft “Land Use Concept Map” for the Broadway Plan in Vancouver, showing neighborhood densities in the plan.

The most recent draft of the Broadway plan calls this corridor, along the subway line and north of 16th Avenue, “Vancouver’s second downtown.” The draft citywide plan released last week goes even further, describing the center of Broadway not as a “second downtown”, but as part of a single “Metro Core”, a contiguous area encompassing both the downtown peninsula and the Broadway plan area together envisioned as the “primary center of business, employment, cultural activity and entertainment” for the city and metropolitan area .

City planners, politicians and critics and proponents of the Broadway plan all agree: a critical consideration is minimizing the displacement of existing tenants in this area, especially long-term tenants who pay well below the rent of the market.

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Mayor Kennedy Stewart has spoken positively of the Broadway plan, but recently told Postmedia that his top priority is to ensure tenant protections are strong enough so that during redevelopment and intensification, no existing tenants be expelled from the area.

It remains to be seen if the plan’s policies will be sufficient to achieve this goal, or if they could change before the final version is approved.

PCI President Tim Grant said projects like his company’s 39-story proposal, which would create 223 rental units, appear to align with the type of development City Hall wants: a mixed-use, oriented development. on public transit with an affordable housing component. Twenty percent of residential square footage would be set aside permanently for below-market housing for moderate-income households, defined as households with incomes between $30,000 and $80,000.

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Broadway and Granville development at 1477 West Broadway, Vancouver.
Broadway and Granville development at 1477 West Broadway, Vancouver. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

Provincial leaders, particularly Housing Minister David Eby, also say they want significant commercial and residential density around transit stations, to maximize the value of multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments like the Broadway Subway and reduce the need for people to depend on private cars for their daily needs and travels.

Grant acknowledged to Postmedia that the “genuine concern about displacing existing tenants” and said it was one of the benefits of this project: it replaces what was previously an office building with more office space and hundreds of new rental homes, without moving any tenants, even temporarily.

The 28-story tower, currently under construction on the former site of a Denny’s and parking lot, is another example of adding rental housing without displacing existing residents.

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But while such projects add new rental homes, including dozens of units below market, without displacing anyone, some residents object because they’re too big, too tall, too “downtown.” “. Others argue that this is exactly the right and responsible type of land use for a site near an urban subway station in the middle of the center of a growing metropolitan area of ​​2.4 million. of inhabitants.

Uptown won’t transform into a downtown city overnight, but many current and future residents of the Broadway Corridor will welcome the idea of ​​a more urban future, with more people, jobs, variety, nightlife and, indeed, tall buildings. Others clearly think this sort of thing belongs in False Creek, somewhere like the West End. But of course the West End wasn’t always the way it is today: a century ago it was made up of wooden Victorian houses, large and small, until the town hall decided to changing it, ultimately making the skyscrapers that made it up one of the densest and most beloved neighborhoods in Canada.

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“How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there,” Petula Clark sang in one of 1965’s most popular songs. “Things will be fine when you’re downtown. No better place, that’s for sure.

Obviously, not everyone agrees.

But when Vancouver City Council considers PCI’s 39-story proposal, it won’t just be figuring out whether every resident within walking distance of Broadway and Granville supports it. The question is whether it is good for Vancouver.

And very soon after Granville’s decision, the same issue will be on council’s mind on an even larger scale: The Broadway and City plans will come before council for decisions in May and June, respectively. Soon after, visions of these plans for Vancouver’s future will be debated ahead of the October election. Voters will be asked to choose the future they want.

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David H. Henry