Jenny Kwan and Libby Davies statement

February 25, 2011
Open Letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council
RE: Historic Area Height Review (HAHR) and Rezoning plans for Higher Buildings in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside

On January 20, 2011, Vancouver City Council recommended that proposed changes to building heights in Chinatown (part of the HAHR area) proceed to public hearing. Council also recommended that proposed changes to building height allowances in the remainder of the HAHR area be delayed in order to facilitate a public consultation process.

The Chinatown and Downtown Eastside area has a long history in the City of Vancouver and is recognized worldwide as a key historic area with many unique features. There have been many reports, reviews and studies in the area to different purposes, but it has been many years since the area has enjoyed a process through which these different review and study results could inform a cohesive community plan for review, input and approval by area residents. The recent policy report “Historic Area Height Review: Policy Implementation” provides a list of Council policies that are related to the proposed implementation strategy. The report and recommendations also reference two reports done in 1994 – The Chinatown HA-1 Guidelines for Designated Sites and The Chinatown HA-1 Guidelines for Non-Designated Sites, along with 2002 Chinatown Vision Directions. These are important policies and work that provide some background to the future planning of Chinatown. However, in order for proper planning to proceed into the future, it is our view that the height rezoning should not be considered until the community engages in, completes and approves of a Local Area Council Planning process.

The Downtown Eastside community has a rich history with some amazing achievements; however, the community also faces many challenges. We have been contacted by many area residents who feel very threatened by the ongoing effects of gentrification, even though Council has adopted the “revitalization without displacement” policy. The reality is that the housing stock for low income individuals, such as SRO units that rent at rates close to the Income Assistance shelter rate, are dwindling while the homeless population continues to grow – according to the most recent Homelessness Count, a 9% increase since 2008. Chinatown also offers a number of much needed affordable housing units in our community, many of which are occupied by Chinese seniors and immigrant community members. The potential for loss of this housing stock is magnified whenever development pressures mount. A comprehensive strategy that addresses the issue of gentrification is a vital part of the equation for future planning.

The importance of citizen input to planning applies to small businesses as well as to tenants. Considered policy development is necessary to ensure that the existing small businesses, many of whom face a high triple net bottom line, are not faced with further increased cost pressures or a loss of the local residents that they serve. Treasures and assets of the Downtown Eastside community include the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, the Chinese Cultural Centre and a concentration of art galleries and non-profit artist-run centres. There a number of clan associations and social service agencies in the neighbourhood. This diverse community will be well served into the 21st century if Council allows a full Local Area Planning committee process to take shape and to guide future development.

We acknowledge Council’s support for economic revitalization in Chinatown. We believe that to achieve the goal of a revitalized, healthy, sustainable community, it is essential that Council allows for a thoughtful and inclusive Local Area Plan process. We also believe that it is essential that this include a full analysis of the proposed changes to determine potential social, economic and environment impacts for the Chinatown and Downtown Eastside communities. Each neighbourhood does not operate in a vacuum. Changes made in the community will certainly have a fallout effect on the surrounding blocks. Chinatown is a vital part of our city, as is the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (“DEOD”), a critical area for the lowest-income renters and for many service organizations. The decision to increase mid-rise building height allowances would be a major shift to the historic character of the neighbourhood. There is also alarm amongst residents in adjacent neighbourhoods such as Strathcona about the encroachment of high-rise developments. As such, piecemeal, block-by-block rezoning achieved through a truncated process may well result in creating more problems than it proposes to
solve and will undermine plans for a healthy, sustainable, inclusive future for the Downtown Eastside.

The City of Vancouver has had a long history of enabling and facilitating successful Local Area Planning committees. This successful, citizen-input model could be implemented for the area that includes Chinatown, the Downtown Eastside, Victory Square, Gastown and Hastings and Main. We ask that Council not approve those changes which have been sent to public hearing, which could pave the way for height and density increases in Chinatown, until the Local Area Council has had the opportunity to complete its work, and we ask that the City expand the public consultation area to include Chinatown.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jenny Kwan, MLA
Vancouver Mt. Pleasant

Libby Davies, MP
Vancouver East