Script of delegation to Council Feb 22 16
My name is Fred Dawkins, here representing the community group North Van City Voices. We first appeared before you in 2012 with concerns about the rate of growth in our little City. We thought it time to remind you that we are still around and still have concerns.
We have three matters we wish to discuss tonight: the Shipyards development, the pace of development in general, and issues around transparency and civic engagement.
First in regards to the Shipyards development, specifically the Pipe Shop. Now that Council has decided against building the new museum on that site – a decision we very much regret — we want to address the $9 million that the provincial government gave the city for that purpose. Keep in mind that the grant specifically states that “in the absence of an NMC project this funding is to be used for purposes consistent with the spirit of the grant, such as the preservation of BC’s maritime heritage or other arts and cultural uses.”
Earlier today we received, as promised, Mr. Tollstam’s accounting of how that money has been allocated. Amazingly, almost all $9 million is gone, even though there’s no maritime centre, no museum, and as far as we can see, very little left in the plans that fits the definition of “arts and cultural uses.” Although I suppose some might call shopping a cultural use, so maybe retail development qualifies.
We note that the city originally promised matching funds of $2.5 million for the museum, contingent on the private fundraising. Interestingly, that’s the same amount that was taken out of the provincial grant and given to Presentation House –before council decided to nix the museum. One wonders whether pre-spending all that grant money played a role in the museum decision.
The itemized list also includes $3.2 million spent on site preparation, including soil compaction, which seems odd given the lack of a planned end use.
Anyway we thank Mr. Tollstam for providing this accounting, but it raises for us a number of questions about the Shipyards development in general. We have not seen a detailed accounting of city expenditures on the overall development for some time. A lot of the bits and pieces we’ve seen have been confusing, and the parameters seem to be shifting. Given all the money that has gone into remediation on Site 5 alone, we believe an update is appropriate. What has been spent, to what purpose, and what is still to come? In particular, with the museum out, what “arts and cultural uses” are envisioned for the Pipe Shop?
We look forward to the City’s reply at an early date.
Next, as we’re all aware, the City has been going through an unprecedented construction boom. Since 2011 – the baseline year for the Regional Growth Strategy – about 5,100 new residential units have been built, approved, or otherwise in the planning pipeline for the City. And yes, as you see, we continue to keep track. That’s an increase of more than 20% in just 5 years, and it means we’re already almost at the city’s 2041 Regional Growth Strategy Target of an additional 6,000 units – shown here on Page 2 of the city’s Regional Context Statement filed with Metro in 2014. Yet just 2 pages later in that same document the projection for 2041 is given as 10,620 additional units. That discrepancy has never been adequately explained – the proposed Moodyville development doesn’t come close to accounting for it – and it far exceeds the city’s original commitment to Metro.
To us these ever-expanding targets look less like prudently managed growth, and more like city staff trying to predict how far unfettered developer-driven densification might take us.
And we don’t doubt that assisted by this council, our development community is capable of meeting those inflated targets. Currently we’re looking at significant tower developments proposed for 13th & 14th at Lonsdale, and Site 8 on Esplanade, both asking for density beyond the OCP limits. Then there’s whatever might be in store for Site 5 now that the museum has been ruled out. We’ve heard that a mixed commercial/residential development proposal might be coming forward. So – more condos? Finally, we’re seeing in the planned Moodyville redevelopment the potential for maximized density – about 800 additional units according to the revised OCP, quite possibly more. And we note that new infill housing from secondary suites and laneway homes is not included in the city’s numbers.
In short, in our little North Shore enclave we’re building residential capacity at a rate far beyond what the regional planners have said is necessary to accommodate our anticipated population growth. And we have to ask – why the rush? What is driving this building boom? Who is asking for it?
Current residents aren’t asking for it. During the recent City Shaping process, except for a group of Moodyville property owners focused on their area, no one was asking for ramped-up density. People mostly asked for affordability. And adding more high-rise units, whether condo or rental, does nothing to help affordability, we’ve seen that time and again. Meanwhile traffic keeps getting worse, promised transit improvements are nowhere in sight, and recreational amenities like the promised Harry Jerome rebuild sit at the bottom of the priority list.
So if residents aren’t asking for it, and regional growth strategy doesn’t justify it, what need is this condo construction boom serving? We think the answer can be found in the recent media coverage of what many are calling the Lower Mainland’s real estate crisis. With rising land values driven largely by speculators, condo developers are pushing for opportunities to build more product, to supply a demand that to a large degree is created by investors.
The problem with speculative bubbles is they eventually burst, leaving a lot of damage behind. Now, we realize there is not much this Council can do to deflate the bubble. But you can refrain from making it worse. When the next round of tower proposals comes forward, don’t encourage density bonusing, which will just add to the glut.
The ink on our new OCP is barely dry. We ask that you not collaborate with developer efforts to get around the limits that the community has agreed to so recently.
Finally, we once again express our concern over this Council’s attitude toward public input. Five years ago there was a lot said in this chamber about the need to stimulate public engagement in the governance of the city – remember the Civic Engagement Task Force, and the worrying about low voter turnout? Yet since then we feel things have gone in the opposite direction.
The weekly Public Input period used to be open to all citizens who wished to address Council. If more than 5 signed up to speak, they were routinely allowed. Now a majority on Council – the same 4 members each time — has decided to consistently restrict speakers to no more than 5. Our group has asked each of these council members by email to clarify why they feel this curtailment is necessary. But none have shared with us their individual criteria for doing so. The three council members who replied to our query all said essentially that they are just following the bylaw. We say that is evading the issue. The bylaw allows them to restrict speakers, it does not require them to. It’s their choice. And they have chosen to limit input, for reasons they seem reluctant to disclose.
This may not be a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is symptomatic of a larger issue. We hear many in the community express frustration at what they see as a lack of openness from this Council. People feel shut out. They feel that everything is preordained. Petitions are discounted, email replies – if made at all – are too often vague and unresponsive. New and restrictive rules on public submissions to council – all the things you can’t talk about, how early you have to get your material in, and so on – seem designed to discourage rather than encourage engagement. And worst of all, we continually hear the suspicion that too many important decisions are being made behind closed doors. That, to some members of council, criticism and opposing views are nuisances to be shrugged off, not feedback to be seriously considered.
Many people have contacted us asking why three members of Council even bother to show up for meetings given the propensity for block voting that can be predicted in advance.
Your worship, councillors, we ask that you rethink your approach. We believe you are sincere in wanting to keep an open mind on the issues you consider – but too often, it doesn’t look that way, due to a lack of transparency. Continuing in this manner will only add to the cynicism we see growing in our community. It’s not good for democracy.
Thank you for your time.