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Grandview-Woodland Citizens' Assembly releases report

Recommendations include low and mid-rise buildings around SkyTrain station, not towers

The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly recommends mainly mid and low-rise buildings — not towers to accommodate growth around the Broadway-Commercial Drive SkyTrain Station.

Two years ago, residents balked at the prospect of a 36-storey tower on the Safeway site, which was among numerous controversial “emerging directions” for the neighbourhood’s community plan that also identified several sites for highrises of between 22 and 28 storeys in other locations in the surrounding area.

City council formed the 48-member Citizens’ Assembly to address the backlash against those proposals and many others within the initial draft policy directions. The assembly, which has been meeting since last September, released its final report online last Friday. It contains almost 270 recommendations on themes including housing, transportation, local economy, arts and culture, public realm, community well-being and health, heritage and energy and climate change. There are neighbourhood-wide, as well as sub-area recommendations for the seven districts within Grandview-Woodland.

The recommendations are not binding on city council.

Rachel Magnusson, the assembly’s chair, said members recommend one 12-storey building by the Broadway and Commercial SkyTrain station.

“In general, the idea was to move to low and mid-rise for the area and try to get your transit-oriented density that way,” she said. “Certainly, my understanding is they’ve planned for less people than was in the original emerging directions for that area. But you can still get a substantial increase by going with low and mid-rise form.”

Meanwhile, the assembly is calling for some higher buildings along Hastings Street than were initially proposed in the 2013 emerging directions.

The report proposes heights of up to 15 storeys, with opportunities for 20 storeys, on the north side of Hastings between Clark and McLean drives. Between McLean and Commercial, it recommends up to 15 storeys on the north side and 12 on the south side. Proposed heights decline heading eastward towards Nanaimo — the recommendation is for heights up to eight storeys between Commercial and Templeton and then to up to six storeys between Templeton and Nanaimo.

Two years ago, some business owners were concerned their rents would skyrocket due to development and drive them out.

“On Hastings, they’ve recommended some taller buildings. The aim there was to try and get social amenities in that area of the neighbourhood in particular,” Magnusson explained. “There’s lots of interest in a public plaza and spaces where youth could congregate. So, thinking of heights as a tool to get the money for those kinds of social needs, social housing and things like that. That was the focus along Hastings.”

One assembly member interviewed about 60 business owners in the district to assess their opinions, according to Magnusson.

“What he came away with is there’s lots of difference of opinion,” she said. “Some were concerned about the effects of speculation and that rents would increase. Others were in favour of development and that more density means more people for business…. Members were trying to strike a balance between how we can put some mechanisms in place and policies that will protect the lower-rent businesses, but also trying to achieve these other goals.”

The assembly also recommends against the development of townhouses along Nanaimo Street, the eastern boundary of Grandview-Woodland, over concerns about truck traffic. Instead, it proposes the gradual development of mixed-use buildings.

It supports a separated bike lane one Commercial Drive from East 14th to Graveley Street, while the group didn’t come to a conclusion about a development proposal that would allow the Kettle Society to expand its space on Venables.  The full report can be found on the Citizens’ Assembly website.

“I think the Citizens’ Assembly did a really good job at weighing a lot of different concerns and trying to find recommendations that felt OK at least, if not good, for everyone. What we have here is a set of parameters, a set of general directions that they’d like the city to go in. There’s a lot there for the city to work with, so I think we’ll see something that comes out of it that makes people happy,” Magnusson said.

Brian Jackson, the city’s head planner, calls the Citizens’ Assembly report “an incredibly comprehensive look at their own community.”

“There are hundreds and hundreds of recommendations that deal with everything from social equity to land use to what they want the community to look and feel like in the future. So they’ve given us a lot of food for thought in moving forward on the next stage of the planning,” he said.

Jackson said staff haven’t yet quantified differences in how much growth is accommodated between the city’s 2013 emerging directions and the assembly’s report.

“We will be looking at that as part of moving forward with the plan,” he said.

The CA’s report goes before council's planning, transportation and environment committee June 24. Jackson said staff will ask council to receive it and refer it back to staff for review in the context of moving forward with the community plan. The final plan likely won’t go back to council before next spring.

“This isn’t the end of a process,” Jackson said. “It’s re-kickstarting the beginning of the process.”