CCAP analysis of Vancouver city policies during the LAPP

Interim Rezoning Policy and Interim Development Management Guidelines

At City Council on Tuesday March 27 city staff will present a 37 page long set of proposals that outline how the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) will work and how development during the LAPP will be governed. The low-income community, which is battening down the hatches against the heavy winds of a gentrification storm in all sections of the neighbourhood, had high hopes for this set of policies. We were greatly disappointed to read the draft that staff sent to the committee just hours before putting it up on the council website. CCAP has pulled out the policies and guidelines from this 37 page document and analysed them one-by-one to explain why they do not come close to the policies we need to protect the low-income community from gentrification, and to outline the sort of policies we do need.

In two LAPP Committee workshops framed around the question “What kinds of development does the city need to control during the LAPP?” city staff heard the great majority of committee members explain that they feel under attack from high end businesses as well as condos, from losing their sense of belonging in their community as well as their homes. “We need a truce,” they said; that the developers need to be pushed back so the community can think about planning the future without being overwhelmed by surviving tomorrow.

Interim rezoning policies are standard fare for local area planning processes because LAPPs always are about reformatting the vision and planning schemes (including zoning rules) in neighbourhoods. They vary in depth and power, but LAPPs in general are meant to redraw the maps that planners use to design neighbourhoods and decide on what sorts of development are appropriate to that vision. It is only logical that development-as-usual gets put on hold while that planning process is done.

In the Downtown Eastside this hold is especially important because market development is happening at a runaway frantic pace and is threatening the housing and survival services and networks of the vulnerable low-income community.

Come to Vancouver City Council on Tuesday March 27 at 2pm and listen, support the DTES low-income community, and speak out for the development and rezoning controls we need to slow and stop gentrification. CCAP hopes you can read these criticisms, as well as CCAP’s alternate policy proposal, the 8 myths and tricks of defenders of the city Interim Policies, 10 reasons to oppose the City Interim Policies, and The Pantages Sneak: Stop City Hall from slipping condos through the backdoor of an interim rezoning process that is supposed to protect the low-income community!

Download and read the full city staff report here. The following sections include only the policy recommendations from this report.

INTERIM REZONING POLICY (Appendix B)

 Policy 1

Any active rezoning applications that have been registered and received a written response prior to the establishment of the LAPP Committee on February 15, 2012 will be considered on their own merit and not subject to this Interim Rezoning Policy. It is understood that staff may recommend approval, refusal or deferral of these applications, having taken into consideration the comments of the LAPP Committee and broader community input. Any applications that have been inactive for more than 12 months as of the adoption of this rezoning policy will remain on hold for the duration of this interim rezoning policy.

This policy allows 508 new (officially proposed but not approved) condo units to go ahead through rezoning applications in the DTES. Staff and council both have the power to refer or delay these applications until after the broader and more comprehensive rezoning process (the DTES Local Area Plan) is done and protections for low-income housing, services, and other assets and be implemented. CCAP recommends any application that has completed the full existing public consultation process including public hearing continue to be considered by council, but all others be referred until after the Local Area Plan report is complete.

 Policy 2

Rezoning applications that provide benefits for the community (particularly focusing on the low-income residents) by keeping, expanding, or re-using existing public or non-profit institutional, cultural, recreational, utility, or public authority uses will be considered (for example: libraries, parks, swimming pools, community facilities and halls, etc.). If applications involve market residential, then Policy 3 below will apply.

We think this policy is not harmful, but it also does not offer the low-income community any controls over market development. CCAP recommends acceptance of Policy 2.

 Policy 3

Rezoning applications will be considered for projects that provide social and supportive housing, but only if those applications ensure that at least 60% of the total residential units are provided for social housing and those units are owned or operated by government or a non-profit housing provider approved by Council.

CCAP is concerned that Policy 3 is specifically written to pave the way for the coming (but not yet applied-for) social mix condo-SRO-social housing project at the current United We Can Bottle Depot site. This project has the potential to continue the gentrification push from Woodward’s further east into the heart of the low-income community and, directly, to displace the low-income community that uses, street vends nearby, and gathers around the Bottle Depot. CCAP recommends to allow rezoning only if for a project with 100% social housing and no negative gentrifying and displacement effects.

 Policy 4

Rezoning applications will be considered for small and minor amendments to existing zoning by-laws that are not related to height or density increases (for example and including adding a new use to the list of allowable uses in an area or increasing the amount of office space permitted in an industrial area, etc.) or changes to residential uses (excluding additional market residential).

Policy 4 could allow the rezonings of commercial spaces into boutiques or warehouses into high-end art galleries in all areas of the DTES. Such rezonings erode Light Industry and Manufacturing centres that provide working-class jobs and an economic base that is not hostile to the presence of low-income people in the ways that high end retail economies are. CCAP recommends Policy 4 be removed and replaced with a policy that offers support and incentives for services for low-income people.

 Policy 5

Rezoning applications involving heritage retention and heritage revitalisation agreements will be considered. If a project of this nature conflicts with other Council Policy (e.g. Single-Room Accommodation By-law vs. Heritage Retention Policy), staff will consult the LAPP Committee and then report to Council for direction on how to proceed.

Policy 5 could allow renovictions through permitting rezoning for the renovation and preservation of heritage buildings. Although it includes a welcome clause to send such applications to the LAPP committee for comment, we believe that vulnerable peoples’ housing and lives should always be valued above heritage buildings. CCAP recommends the amendment of Policy 5 for a moratorium on heritage renovation rezonings for the course of the LAPP.

 Policy 6

Regardless of the policy statements above, rezoning applications for Victory Square and Chinatown South will be considered under the conditions set out in the following Council-approved plans or policies are already in place

Policy 6 is the most significant and damaging of all policies in the Interim Rezoning Policy. CCAP opposes it for the following reason and hope that the LAPP Committee will forcibly oppose Policy 6 for the following reasons:

The Chinatown & Victory Square plans don’t include protections for low-income people. Council has approved plans for these areas but these plans are one-sided in favor of developers, offering them perks and encouragement to propose still more condos. The Interim Rezoning Policy should not allow Rezonings in Chinatown and Victory Square without adequate protections for low-income people, housing, and shops at least.

Rezonings continuing in Chinatown and Victory Square will continue to drive up land prices and makes buying land for social housing more expensive.

Gentrification resulting from rezonings and development in Chinatown and Victory Square is spilling over into other sub-areas that are supposed to be protected by the Interim Rezoning Policy and making developments within existing zoning more attractive. Pantages condos in the DEOD are one example, and;

Rezonings are exceptions to the law and are not guaranteed to property owners. They are extra perks to encourage development that are not consistent with the LAPP Terms of Reference that is supposed to protect and improve the lives of low-income people first and foremost.

CCAP recommends Policy 6 be withdrawn from the interim policy.

 Policy 7

Rezoning applications that do not meet the terms of this Interim Rezoning Policy will be considered under exceptional circumstances only if they:
•            Substantially advance objectives of city-wide policies, including the Vancouver Economic Strategy, Greenest City Action Plan, etc.,
•            Do not constitute a significant increase in the rate of market development: and
•            Align with the principles of the Local Area Planning process, (as defined in the LAPP Committee Terms of Reference) in providing appropriate community benefits and improving the lives of low income residents.

Before an application is accepted under this policy, staff will obtain input from the public and the LAPP Committee for these proposals and then submit a report to Council for direction.

CCAP recommends the withdrawal of the first sub-point of policy 7, to allow rezonings that advance city-wide policies, because social and economic conditions in the DTES, specifically the forces of gentrification, demand special attention to the area at least for the course of the LAPP over and above city-wide policies.

INTERIM DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT POLICY (Appendix C)

Guideline 1. Development Applications in the DEOD

In the areas governed by the existing Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer Official Development Plan (DEOD ODP), any development permit application for residential development over 1 FSR must include 20% social housing. For the purposes of these Development Management Guidelines and interpretation of the DEOD ODP, “social housing” means residential units that are owned and/or operated by government or a Council-approved non-profit, with at least 50% of these units where the tenant contribution to rent is no more than the shelter component of income assistance for a single individual ($375) and the remaining 50% of units with a maximum monthly rent of 30% of BC Housing’s Housing Income Limits (HILs) or CMHC market rent (whichever is lower).

Guideline 1 is a disaster for the DTES Low-income community. By lowering the legal requirement for social housing as part of any market development in the Oppenheimer district from 20% to 10% at welfare rate and 10% at $837.50 to $925 this policy will speed along market development, increase gentrification and displacement, and violates an important clause in the DTES Housing plan which says it is “unlikely that 1 for 1 replacement of the existing 2000 SRO units will be possible in the DEOD” if market development becomes attractive there.

CCAP’s other criticisms of the city’s interim regulations are for them not going far enough or for doing enough to slow gentrification. This Guideline 1 is uniquely bad because it actually increases the amount of incentive offered to developers who want to build condos in the Oppenheimer district.

Also, because this policy is modelled on the Pantages (“Sequel 138”) proposal to build 79 condo units and only 8 or 9 social housing units at welfare rate on the 100-block of East Hastings, Guideline 1 will provide a legal framework for the Pantages application, effectively approving the disastrous Pantages condos project ahead of the final application. CCAP recommends sending the entire Appendix C back to the LAPP Committee to work on some Development and Business licence controls as called for in the DTES Housing Plan.

Guideline 2. Applications for New Liquor Licenses (Liquor Primary)

In 1990 Council approved a moratorium on liquor primary licenses in the DTES and this guideline affirms this moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. While the Local Area Planning Program is underway, and prior to the completion of the DTES Liquor Policy Review, staff do not support the addition of any new liquor licenses, additional seats for existing licenses, or movement of existing seats within the Downtown Eastside.

In order to support existing businesses, staff will consider, on a case by case basis, applications for the licensing of hotel lounges, proposals to change hours of operation and additions of patios. To meet the City’s objective to support the creation and operation of live performance venues, staff will consider, on a case by case basis, applications for event based liquor licenses to support live performance.

Guideline 2 offers no new controls over storefront or liquor establishment development as it merely continues the 22 year old moratorium on liquor-primary licenses (places that serve beer first, then some food). It also adds a clause that allows applications for liquor licensing to support live music venues (like the Rickshaw) or to support existing businesses such as hotel lobbies (explaining the licensing of the “Bitter Tasting Room” under the Burns Block & the “London Pub” under the London Hotel).  We need stronger controls to slow the development of gentrifying storefronts including requiring social impact statements from any business license applicant. CCAP recommends sending the entire Appendix C back to the LAPP Committee to work on some Development and Business licence controls as called for in the DTES Housing Plan.

 Guideline 3. Applications for Capital Grants from the Active Storefronts Program

The DTES Capital Fund has an Active Storefronts Program to improve storefronts, the public realm and tenant vacant businesses. Recently, this program has supported the revitalization of businesses in various sub areas of the neighbourhood, including Hastings Corridor and Chinatown. This program will be reviewed as part of the LAPP and will continue during the course of the Local Area Planning Program to offer grants to those applicants that meet the existing program criteria AND can demonstrate an economic and social benefit for the local, low-income community.

We are glad to see a clause under Guideline 3 to consider the wellbeing of the low-income community but feel that, without qualifying what these benefits are, how they will be considered and by which body, this clause is too weak to slow gentrification and displacement. CCAP recommends sending the entire Appendix C back to the LAPP Committee to work on some Development and Business licence controls as called for in the DTES Housing Plan.

Guideline 4. Applications for Heritage Façade Grants Program

In recognition of the rich heritage assets in the DTES and the significance of the historic site designations in Gastown and Chinatown, staff will continue to consider applications for grants related to heritage façade projects.

Vulnerable peoples’ housing and lives should always be valued above heritage buildings. And Heritage Facade Grants are often used to gentrify storefronts by making them attractive to boutiques and higher income consumers. CCAP recommends sending the entire Appendix C back to the LAPP Committee to work on some Development and Business licence controls as called for in the DTES Housing Plan.