Two condo towers down and five to go

Downtown Eastside residents had a little victory on Jan. 20th. 80 people signed up to speak at City Hall, 29 professors signed a very public letter, and a group of high profile folks, including former Premier Mike Harcourt and former Carnegie Director Michael Clague in the Building Community Society also wrote a letter that became public.

The issue was this: Would Council adopt a new policy that allows developers to build higher condo towers in the DTES?

The pressure was too great for Council. At the very last minute they cancelled all the speakers and passed a motion. The motion stops developers from building 15 story condo towers at 99 W. Pender and 425 Carrall St. and stops them from buildings 12 story towers in the Main and Hastings area for at least a year. But Council sent plans to allow developers to build at least 5, 15 story condo towers on Main St. between Keefer and Union to a public hearing probably in February.

The motion also sets up a Local Area Planning Committee for the entire DTES except for Chinatown. And it said that the Committee will be co-chaired by a person from the Building Communities Society and the DTES Neighbourhood Council. This committee is supposed to “enhance and accelerate a DTES local areas plan and to develop a clear strategy to implement the existing Council approved DTES Housing Plan.” The co-chairs will select the other committee members. One of them must be from the Strathcona Residents’ Association. The co-chairs will also decide on the terms of reference. The City Manager is supposed to “ensure that appropriate resources are allocated” to ensure that the project is done by Dec. 31, 2011.

Rezoning of 99 W. Pender, 425 Carrall and the Main and Hastings area will be considered after the planning committee reports at the end of December. The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council will consider whether to participate or not or under what conditions, at its next meeting on Feb. 5 from 2pm-3pm at the First United Church (Hastings & Gore). This meeting is open to non-members as well.

WAS IT A VICTORY?

Was it a total victory? No way! Can we stop fighting now? Definitely not. But Council did feel our pressure, and all those people who signed up to speak should give themselves a nice big pat on the back. Victories don’t come too often so it’s worth celebrating, even though it’s not nearly 100% of what we wanted and we have to keep fighting. There are good parts in the resolution. One part that is a victory is that the owner of the BC Electric Building can’t start building a 15 story tower. He’s stuck with only 7 stories (which will slow, if not stop, redevelopment there for sure). The owner of 99 W. Pender, a vacant lot, can’t build a 15 story tower there either. He’s also stuck with about 7 stories. Marc Williams, the Pantages owner, can’t build a 12 story building. He’s stuck with 9 stories. Cam Watts of District 319 (across from cop shop – mega development from Waves to the Ford Building) is in the same boat as Williams.

This is also a victory for the DTES Neighbourhood Council. It has only been around for 1 year. But it has earned enough respect in the DTES community that the city thinks it’s important to have the DNC co-chair the planning committee.

Another victory is a local area plan needs to be in place before applications for rezoning will be considered.

The worst part of the city’s motion, which is definitely not a victory, is that Chinatown has been carved out of the DTES and the city has sent the plans for 15 story towers there to a public hearing. The hearing will probably be on Feb. 17 or March 3. This is where we have to keep fighting. CCAP will organize people to speak at the public hearing, especially low income Chinatown residents who face gentrification if the tower plan goes ahead.

The wording in the motion is also questionable because it says one purpose of the local area plan is to implement the DTES Housing Plan. The DTES Housing Plan has some good parts that say condos can’t surge ahead and the SRO’s need to be replaced. The bad part of the DTES Housing Plan is it says the city needs to encourage more affordable condos in the area. But, it’s good that we get to set the terms of reference for the planning process because we will have some power to influence how the DTES Housing Plan is read.

If the DNC agrees to work with the Building Community Society to co-chair the planning committee it could be good or bad. It could be good because CCAP and the DNC may have some influence with them and they did support our latest push at city hall. They may be less biased against the low income community than a Business Improvement Association or some other outside group. But it is bad because they have no real connection or authority in the DTES. No planning committee in Kerrisdale or Mt Pleasant would be expected to have a table of outside so-called “experts” from another neighbourhood on their committees.

You never win 100% of what you want. But we sure scared them. The planning department and council have been pushing this for 3 years and CCAP met with city planners or council every few months about it and we said the same thing over and over again – they can’t rezone until there is a plan to secure the tenure and assets of the community. So now we have to fight to stop the towers in Chinatown and to get Chinatown included in the DTES plan, and especially to protect about 1000 low income Chinatown residents from the impact of gentrification.