Vancouver doing bare minimum to densify Shaughnessy, critic says

Critics are accusing Vancouver city planners of protecting the exclusive Shaughnessy neighbourhood from increased density, amid zoning changes mandated by the province.

Vancouver city council is slated to hear a report next week on allowing multiplexes in the First Shaughnessy neighbourhood, a heritage conservation area protected from increased density.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s affluent Shaughnessy neighbourhood may need to densify'

Vancouver’s affluent Shaughnessy neighbourhood may need to densify

The report follows provincial Bill 44, approved in November, requiring cities to permit greater density even in such protected zones, with up to four units on a standard lot and up to six on lots near transit.

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The city’s proposed changes would mirror those provincial requirements, with the exception of specific protected heritage properties.

“I found it really shocking. It was clear that city planners wanted to do the bare minimum to comply with provincial housing legislation and only allow a very restrictive amount of new housing here in Shaughnessy, which is right in the heart of the city,” said Peter Waldkirch, a director with advocacy group Abundant Housing Vancouver.

“We are minutes away from downtown which is the largest job centre in the province and close to Broadway which is the second largest job centre in the province.

Waldkirch said wider Shaughnessy neighbourhood is nearly as large geographically as the entire downtown peninsula, while the ultra-exclusive First Shaughnessy sub-area is almost as big as the West End.

Click to play video: 'Housing legislation could lead to more density in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood'

Housing legislation could lead to more density in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood

Their large lots can not be subdivided, resulting in some of the lowest density anywhere in the city, he said.

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If Vancouver is serious about tackling the housing crisis and meeting its climate adaptation goals, it must allow the construction of some form of apartment buildings in the area, he said.

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He pointed to language in the staff report calling for the preservation of the area’s “estate-like character” as evidence the city has other priorities.

“We don’t need to coddle rich people, what we need to do is embrace city planning that responds to the city’s actual needs,” Waldkirch said.

“Even if we just brought this neighbourhood to a similar level of density as in the rest of the city, there would be thousands more people who could call this neighbourhood home.”

Vancouver city councillor Peter Meiszner said the proposal headed to council is, at this point, still just a recommendation and that councillors may still make changes to it.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government release new housing regulations'

B.C. government release new housing regulations

But he said that while all parts of the city need to make room for “new neighbours,” different parts of the city will densify in different ways.

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“If you are right next to a SkyTrain station, for example, you should expect to see high-density towers; if you are a bit further away like Shaughnessy there are opportunities for multiplexes,” Meiszner said.

“It can be done in a way that respects the look of the neighbourhood while adding new neighbours and new homes for people that need them desperately.”

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he was confident Vancouver was committed to hitting its housing targets but appeared to hint he’d like to see more from council when it came to densifying the pricy neighbourhood.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government looks to add housing density around transit hubs'

B.C. government looks to add housing density around transit hubs

“I think it’s important for people to know that all the housing that we need is not being built just in low and middle-income communities, that all communities are playing their part,” he said.

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“And that’s my hope and my expectation for all communities … we would like to see all communities have a similar level of housing being available, whether it’s Shaughnessy or it’s East Vancouver.”

Last November, council’s ABC majority voted down a proposal from One City Coun. Christine Boyle seeking to add rental and family-sized units, along with more dense non-profit housing to Shaughnessy.

Under Bill 44, cities have until June 30 to update the rules in “restricted zones” to allow for the new minimum density requirements.

Councillors are set to consider the report next Tuesday.

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