Dan Fumano: City eyes tripling number of homes in False Creek South – Vancouver Sun

Opinion: City of Vancouver owns roughly 80% of land in False Creek South, which is made up of co-op and non-market housing, leasehold stratas, market rental homes.
The City of Vancouver has released a concept, years in the making, for the future of 32 hectares of city-owned land in False Creek South, aiming to more than triple the number of homes currently standing in the internationally lauded neighbourhood.
The conceptual plan, released publicly late Tuesday and set for debate and decision at a city council meeting next week, would increase the number of homes on city property in the neighbourhood from 1,849 today, to roughly 3,770 by 2040, and 6,645 at some point after that. Details will need to be hammered out, but the city currently envisions a mix about one-third non-market and co-op housing, one-third leasehold strata and one-third market rentals.
It’s a significant increase in density, but also a far cry from some of the rumours and fears circulating in the neighbourhood recently.
Many neighbourhood residents heard speculation that the city secretly planned to bulldoze False Creek South, a walkable neighbourhood currently made up of largely mid-rise stacked townhouses, and replace it with skyscrapers akin to the more recently developed Yaletown just across the water, or the Squamish Nation’s planned high-density Senakw development, immediately to the west. There were even rumours that the city was poised to sell-off the publicly owned land in False Creek.
Area resident Maria Roth has heard “the rumours about possible huge densities, and the type of housing that might go in here, it was going to be this massive clearcut.”
“We didn’t really know what was going on behind the scenes,” she said, “so you go to this kind of worst-case scenario.”
While there are still “a lot of question marks,” Roth said, this newest information suggests the city’s current vision for the neighbourhood doesn’t align with her worst-case fears.
As vice-chair of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association’s working group that advocates for the area’s co-ops, Roth was part of a group of community members that received a private presentation Tuesday from the city. Roth didn’t want to comment in-depth before having a chance to digest the full 34-page report , but she has questions about affordability, the number of family friendly units and the proposed timelines for redevelopment of existing buildings.
“It’s hard for me to see how all the pieces fit together,” she said. “Hopefully this will open up the dialogue.”
It has been a long and sometimes contentious process to get to this point. But “this is a significant moment in the process,” said Nathan Edelson, a former senior planner with the city who has been doing consulting work for the neighbourhood association since 2010 to help them work with the city.
Edelson also heard Tuesday’s presentation, and had his own questions and concerns. But at first glance, he was encouraged, he said, to see the city’s vision appear to respond in some ways to plans the community has been proposing.
Deputy city manager Karen Levitt said Tuesday that the community’s input has been “absolutely critical” to the city’s work forming the current concept, “and it will be even more important moving forward in the community planning process.”
The False Creek process has been as complex as anything Levitt has worked on during her three-decade career with the city, she said, in part because the city is concurrently playing multiple roles: as both landowner and regulator.
As a landowner, the city’s real estate department will try to advance a proposal to redevelop the area, not unlike how a private landowner would seek to develop a large property. The real estate department will make their pitch to the city’s planning department, which will act as the regulator here. The report on next week’s agenda seeks council’s direction for both distinct departments to move forward with their respective work.
Chuck Brook is an urban land adviser with Harris Consulting, a company engaged by the city for planning and development advisory services regarding city lands. He described the process of planning False Creek’s future like solving “a Rubik’s cube.”
Brook has been weighing questions including urban design, financial feasibility, scale, land use, density, lease expiries, traffic, timing and public space, and figuring out “how all those pieces fit,” he said. “It’s a real balancing act, but I think we’re close.”
The city’s concept would “respect the scale of the area,” Brook said, keeping taller buildings toward the edges, near the Cambie and Granville bridges, with shorter buildings closer to Charleson Park in the middle. The concept also contemplates in-fill development in currently empty or underutilized areas like the parking lot around the Olympic Village Canada Line Station, slightly increasing the size of Charleson Park, and relocating and redeveloping False Creek Elementary School.
The city owns roughly 80 per cent of the land in False Creek South, a former industrial area that was redeveloped in the 1970s and is now made up of a mix of co-op and non-market housing, leasehold strata and market rental homes. The city’s proposed concept would increase all three kinds of housing, but shift the unit mix so there is a higher proportion of market rentals and smaller percentage of non-market and co-op units, which currently make up slightly more than half of the homes. (Strata would make up roughly the same proportion).
Staff are also seeking council’s direction to take the next steps in sorting out the leases for co-ops, non-market housing and strata homes on city-owned land. These leases have been a thorny issue for years, and many in the neighbourhood are frustrated, especially those in co-ops facing lease expiries in the next few years.
The lease issue has been a challenge and there is more work to do, Levitt said. But one fundamental part of the city’s plan, she said, is that: “Everybody who wants to stay in the neighbourhood will be able to stay in their neighbourhood at roughly their same level of affordability. That’s the intention.”
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