Setting a Precedent in Northeast False Creek
North East False Creek Area 5B Photo: City of Vancouver
On Thursday, February 17th, 2011, Planning Staff will be presenting City Council with reports regarding three rezoning applications for developments in Northeast False Creek (NEFC.) This Council meeting represents a significant milestone for the neighbourhood, as it marks the formal beginning of this project coming to life. After years of discussions between City planners, property owners, and members of the community, development takes its first major step forward toward construction. Needless to say, the decisions regarding these applications and the details within will set the tone for future applications.
Racing out of the gate on February 17th will be not one, not two, but three applications, all regarding properties to be found on the western side of the neighbourhood. They include:
- 777 Pacific Boulevard (for the casino/entertainment complex and stadium improvements);
- 10 Terry Fox Way (eastern side of the Cambie Bridge off-ramp, known as Concord area 5b East) and;
- 10 Terry Fox Way (its western counterpart, 5b West)
Part of the excitement for this Council meeting is the anticipation of finding out which Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) will be leveraged for each application. Residents of the existing False Creek area have been working hard to advocate for benefits that bring direct improvements for their own neighbourhood. So far, the CACs suggested have proven to be a disappointment for many and a windfall for Concord, one of the developers.
I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the details of these applications to visit the City’s website and read the reports for each property. People also have the option of attending the Council meeting on the 17th so they can share their concerns in person. Links to the Staff Reports to Council, and more information about the proposed development in Northeast False Creek can be viewed here.
The powers that be have proposed that the benefit for the new roof and stadium makeover will be…the new roof and the stadium makeover. And as for 5b East, Concord has offered a cash fund of $6 million to the City. This money has not been formally allocated to a particular project yet, but many are hoping that at least a portion of it will be used to improve the (too) popular greenspace at nearby Coopers Park.
The proposed CACs for 5b West at the moment are a mixed bag of benefits, totaling nearly $20 million. However, the community has already raised some concerns about the offering. As seen in the table below, part of the deal includes transferring title of two Hastings properties to the City that Concord currently owns. Normally it would be required that 20% of the units on site be dedicated to non-market housing, however Staff recommend that the swap take place as the small size of 5B West would make it difficult to construct a purpose-built non-market housing building on site.
Source: City of Vancouver Staff Report: CD-1 Rezoning – 10 Terry Fox Way (Concord Area 5b West)
While some applaud the unorthodox move as a means to bring non-market housing to the area of Vancouver that needs it most, the Downtown Eastside, many others feel that Concord is getting the much better half of the deal, as it is unlikely that the Hastings sites would be suitable (or welcomed) for market housing anyway. Also, with no funding currently in place to construct social housing on those properties, there is a good chance that they may be sitting as empty lots for quite some time.
The other proposed ‘amenity’ is the leftover, dark and cramped space under the Cambie Bridge off ramp as a “recreation” space. Concord can’t build anything on this bridged-over space so why not hand it over for almost a $1 million credit? Skateboarders may get excited about the potential for more covered space to practice their craft but it is unlikely that this type of activity will be accepted by the future condo dwellers living a few meters away.
One of the biggest expectations for all of NEFC is the planned extension of Creekside Park. Residents in the area have been waiting for many years with the hopes that the much-desired greenspace expansion would take place sooner rather than later. Expectations have been high, and earlier conversations with the property developers indicated that the park extension would likely be the final piece of development in NEFC, rather than building the park first. Offered perhaps as a compromise, one of the benefits offered for 5b West includes leasing two acres of Concord land for a 15-year term for the park’s extension, along with some funds for creating that temporary park. This proverbial ‘olive branch’ seems to have raised far more questions and concerns than answers or solutions.
For one, it confirms that the full, complete build-out of Creekside Park won’t be happening anytime soon. And also, how much park can be built with only $500,000? Will the park extension merely be two acres of sod next to Concord’s showroom? How will this temporary park fit into the larger (yet to be made) master plan for the Creekside extension? And what happens to the temporary improvements in 15 years if the park’s master plan isn’t ready yet to be developed?
As mentioned earlier, next Thursday’s Council meeting really is a precedent-setting situation. Many more applications for NEFC will be following soon and both the developers and the community will be watching carefully to see what it will take to win the hearts – and approval – of Vancouver’s Council. Being able to leverage a range of appropriate community benefits that will directly increase livability for the existing residents, and the future thousands who will live there in the years to come, will prove to be true means of measuring success for NEFC. Now is the opportunity for Council to maximize this opportunity, to get the ‘biggest bang for their buck’, and help realize the fullest potential for NEFC, all in the spirit of cooperation, of course.