Nearly 1,000 people gathered in the gym of the Marpole-Oakridge Community Centre at 59th Avenue and Oak Street on Sunday to learn more about the city’s planned rezoning of south Vancouver and to protest proposed developments. The meeting was organized by the Marpole Residents Coalition, an anti-densification group.
A steady stream of visitors came to the “Stop Rezoning” petitions set up on tables in the gym. “About 1,500 people have signed our petition so far, all of them Marpole residents, and we think 1,000 more will today,” said Jesse Johl, president of the Hillcrest Community Association.
In speaking to many residents at the meeting, the Courier was unable to locate one who supported the city rezoning or any of the potential land developments (on or off the record). Many complained of what they called the city’s lack of consultation and transparency, and poor notification of the three open houses in June. “Stop the Rezoning” signs can be seen on lawns of houses and duplexes throughout the area.
The city’s draft community plan for Marpole entails rezoning to permit more mixed-use buildings, apartments up to 12 storeys, highrises and stacked townhouses. A map shows that the neighbourhood — bounded by 64th and 70th Avenues and from Heather to Granville Streets — is now home mainly to single-family residences and duplexes.
The draft rezoning plan is due to be presented to city councillors for their consideration on Oct. 24. Before that, on Sept. 24, council will debate whether to extend consultation on the Grandview-Woodland and Marpole community plans for six months.
“City Hall does things by omission,” said Johl. “They fail to consult and tell the community what’s happening. And when the community does find out, they light their hair on fire because it’s something they’re not wanting. I don’t think anyone in this room is against all development, but this is development at breakneck speed.”
The Courier could not reach any Vision councillor or city staffer on Sunday to reply to the residents’ concerns. But last Friday, it spoke to Matt Shillito, city planner for the South Vancouver area, who said, “In general, we have found there is much less concern about densification in the arterial areas, and more so in the single family areas.”
He added that Marpole’s proximity to the Canada Line rapid transit route is one of the main drivers of the planning process, and that there is a possibility that the results from the Marpole open houses could be released before Sept. 24.
After Penny Ballem became city manager, city staffers were forbidden to talk to the media without the approval of the city’s public relations branch, but last Friday the restriction went a step further. The Courier’s previous talks with Shillito had been done one-on-one, but now as a part of new policy, city hall’s communications manager Sandy Swanton insisted on listening in on Shillito’s phone interview by speakerphone. It marks the first time in 15 years this reporter was barred from speaking to a Vancouver city planner in private.