DERA meeting on Historic Area Height Review – April 27 2009
Written by Jean Swanson
The first thing I want to say is that Wendy and I and Andy, our planner at CCAP, were horrified when we saw the city’s Heritage Area Height Review (HAHR) documents. We have told the planners for months that it’s not fair for the city to decide what height DTES buildings should be if there is no plan for the area and if we don’t know what the buildings are going to be used for.
We urge everyone here and in the Downtown Eastside to speak up as loudly as they can against having any more height added to the DTES before we get a local plan that low income residents develop and agree to.
What’s wrong with the Height Review? The worst part is that the city is even considering allowing 16 sites in the DTES to have towers ranging from 15 to 30 stories high. The city says we might be able to get some amenities if we allow towers. That means, if the city allows developers to build, say, 210 condos in a tower, they might, in a best case scenario, and in good times, and with government subsidies, also build 30 social housing units. This would mean that we could get thousands of new condo owners in the DTES and only a few hundred social housing units-low income residents would be completely overwhelmed with condo owners and the whole feel of the neighbourhood, as a diverse, low income friendly place would be gone. Businesses for upscale people, like stores that sell dog clothes and fancy furniture and perfume would start taking over from social services and places serve low income folks. To top it off, a well known architect has told us that no condo developer would put in any social housing in this economic climate. The facts are, we can’t get enough social housing from condos and we can’t have thousands of condos without overwhelming the low income neighbourhood.
With property owners knowing that 16 sites are available for heights up to 30 stories, speculation will be rampant, and prices of lots we need for social housing will start increasing. Hotels will start converting to richer residents and low income folks could be driven out by rent increases as well as by feeling uncomfortable in their own community.
The report also suggests in Option 2, that there could be an overall 10% increase in height in the whole area. CCAP also rejects this as it will increase property taxes for small business and social services and mainly benefits property owners by increasing the value of their property with a stroke of the pen.
So much is missing from this study that I won’t have enough time to list them all:
What would the social and economic impact of this additional height have on low income residents of the DTES? What are the taxation implications? Who is expected to live in the new buildings and will they all be residential? Which places will be darkened by shadows and how much more traffic would we have?
What we should do: The DTES must say “no” to the extra height proposed in this review. We don’t want to consider any extra height until we have a plan for a low income neighbourhood. In addition, we shouldn’t accept any extra height until we have a clear study to show the social and economic impact of the extra height on the low income DTES community. We can go to the rest of the city’s workshops and say “no.” We can say “no” at this meeting. And we can organize to go to city council and say “no,” when the planners take their report to city council.