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Grandview-Woodland coalition battles tower proposal

This week, a Grandview-Woodland petition opposing the construction of a tower at Venables and Commerical Drive surpassed 1,000 names.
Barbara Cameron
Barbara Cameron of the No Tower Coalition is among Grandview-Woodland residents who opposed a tower at Venables and Commercial Drive. Photo Jennifer Gauthier

This week, a Grandview-Woodland petition opposing the construction of a tower at Venables and Commerical Drive surpassed 1,000 names.

Barbara Cameron, one of the organizers behind the No Tower Coalition, said the names are being collected online and door-to-door.

The petition aims to stop a proposal by developer Boffo Properties and the Kettle Society to redevelop land at that location. The proposal includes a 12- to 15-storey building.

The Kettle Society, which provides housing and support to people with mental illness, needs to expand its services at 1725 Venables St. It couldn’t get government funding so it formed an arrangement with Boffo Properties.

The developer owns buildings on either side of the Kettle, while the city owns the parking lot to the north, which could be amalgamated into the proposed redevelopment that envisions 150 units of market housing, 30 supported housing units for the Kettle to own and operate, and a larger space for the society’s other services.

The proposal is only in its preliminary stages — it hasn’t been formally filed with the city because the Grandview-Woodland community plan isn’t finalized, so it’s unclear what will ultimately be permitted on the site. Even the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly wasn’t able to reach consensus on what height should be allowed, although 16 members signed a “minority report” backing the project.

Cameron said the coalition supports the Kettle Society, but it can’t support a tower.

“This is not about the Kettle or its services. This is about changing the streetscape of the Drive,” she said.

Cameron, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years, said the No Tower Coalition came together over the past few months in an effort to block the highrise. Its informal steering committee includes long-time Grandview-Woodland residents Penny Street and Jak King.

“[The site] is an inappropriate place for the massive building that they’re proposing. I know the Kettle has explored many options but I think the exploration is not complete yet. There are other ways to create supportive housing than to rely on private developers. It sets a very dangerous precedent to rely on private developers for public health and mental health programs,” Cameron said. “I just think at this point we have to speak up as a neighbourhood about the actual structure [proposed] and that’s our key focus here — the structure, the imposition of that on to a four-storey streetscape that is very precious to us.”

Cameron maintains the city and provincial government should work together to enable the Kettle expansion and the city-owned property could be a part of those discussions.

Aside from collecting petition signatures online and door-to-door, the coalition is also printing up lawn signs as part of its campaign.

When asked if she would accept any buildings higher than four storeys on the site, Cameron said: “I would not want to get into a bargaining game with a developer on height to begin with. Secondly, we are a low-rise community here. That corner is really not appropriate for a tower. It would very much impose on the streetscape, so I won’t want to say we could accept x or we could accept y. What we say now is any kind of tower configuration is not appropriate.”

Recent comments on the online petition include:

Marie-Pierre Bilodeau: “A low rise option would suit the drive much better...having a clear view of the mountains is the beauty of Vancouver as a city where tall buildings are concentrated in one area. The Drive as a community is a quirky place to live and a high rise doesn't suit the neighbourhood.

Michael Nenonen: “I do not want to see the Kettle Friendship Society to be displaced.”

Dennis Boulter: “This Commercial Drive neighbourhood is not the appropriate place for generic tower-type densification that would take away from the eclectic character of the area. A smaller, more creative design needs to be considered.”

Jim Fraser, a member of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council, told the Courier it hasn't developed a formal position on the subject yet, but he noted “that virtually everyone supports the Kettle Society per se.”

“What is contentious is whether an expansion to the Kettle Society is a reasonable trade-off for a building at Commercial and Venables that could be much larger than many people in the community want. Affordability and diversity are important goals for the community and there are concerns that the project will negatively affect them. GWAC also agrees with the Citizens’ Assembly that the site should be used as a connector to extend the vibe of Commercial Drive North after Venables.”