This is the first post from our newest contributor, #SaveChinatownYVR community and cultural advocate Melody Ma. Follow her on Twitter @MelodyMa.

The Save Our Skyline YVR advocacy group aiming to protect Vancouver’s public views and view cones issued a survey to Vancouver mayoral and council candidates to understand their positions on public views.

The future of Vancouver view cones and public views were a contentious issue during the PavCo Tower rezoning council vote this past July, and the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) Plan council vote earlier in February. The next Mayor and Council will be voting on upcoming NEFC rezonings for a Concord Pacific development, which includes buildings planned to protrude through the view cones. They can also decide to review and adjust the existing view cone policies, which was a frequently discussed topic during the debate on this topic throughout the year, as the last review was almost a decade ago.

All mayoral and council candidates were asked to participate in the survey. They were provided with all the resources and policy documents needed to answer the questions proposed. If candidates did not provide an answer, their positions based on their past voting records (if incumbent), or known public statements online or at public hearings, were included when applicable.

Any late candidate answers will be added to the website as it is received up until this Saturday’s close of polls at 8pm.

To view the candidates’ full answers to the questionnaire, click here.

SUMMARY

The survey questions aimed to learn about candidates familiarity with and positions on tower development in light of the existing policies on public views.

  • Understanding of the view cone policy
  • Whether they would review the view cone policies
  • How they would have voted on the PavCo Tower rezoning
  • Whether they would reverse the Higher Building Policy view cone protrusion allowances for three towers in the NEFC Plan
  • Whether they would vote for or against the two Concord Pacific towers that may protrude through view cones at NEFC, and how they would handle the benefit commitments that may be contingent on CACs from those towers within the policy context proposed by the previous administration
  • Whether they would allow other developers to penetrate the view cones
  • How they plan to work will other council members to advocate for their positions

General observations

The majority of candidates who completed the survey by the deadline are generally in favour of protecting public views. This may be because candidates who chose to complete the survey did so because they were already in favour of view cones and public views.

When asked how they would handle developer requests for projects to protrude into view cones, some candidates provided vague answers that indicate their decisions will be based on public interest and tradeoffs, such as Ken Sim:

“If public consultation demonstrated that there was interest in the project, we would look at it closely, but I would cannot comment on theoretical projects.”

Green Party’s Pete Fry was another candidate who would consider view cone trade-offs under exceptional circumstances: 

Though I would prefer not to see any future view cone encroachments, I suppose exceptional circumstances might be considerable: but the degree of public benefit would have to be commensurate to the degree of encroachment. To be clear, though, my first reaction is no, and any deviation from this would be only under exceptional circumstance and with transparent engaged process and thoroughly in the public interest.”

It is worth noting that the tradeoff argument in exceptional cases is the same argument that Vision Vancouver used to justify allowing PavCo Tower to protrude through the view cone in exchange for 100% market rentals. It could be seen as a precedent, signalled by Mayor and Council to developers, on what would need to be offered in consideration for a relaxation of the view cone policy.

Only independent council candidate Taq Bhandal was explicitly in favour of penetrating the view cones if the building was eco-friendly. However, the City already already requires view cone-protruding buildings to meet the City’s Green Buildings Policy.

On the question of whether candidates will trigger a comprehensive review of the existing view cone policies last reviewed just under a decade ago, most candidates responded that they would review the policy for the purpose of protection, further understanding, and potential expansion of its scope. COPE council candidates did not state they want to review the policies, but that they will protect existing public views.

Independent council candidate Taq Bhandal provided a significantly different answer than most candidates, stating that view cones are not a priority for her for reasons related to the environment and social justice:

“I am a 27 year old and as a social and environmental justice researcher. To be frank, I am more concerned about preparing the city for sea level rise, storm water, increased population, and affordable, safe housing spaces. I think the conversation about preserved views is lacking in an analysis of power (across ethnocultural background, gender, socio-economic status, citizenship, ability, etc.) and who gets to “see” the mountains. Environmental scientists have confirmed that high density is the best way for humans to try and live in harmony with the non-human world. High density includes tall apartment buildings in addition to low-rises (such as walk-ups in Montreal and New York).”

In contrast to Taq Bhandal‘s social justice position, other candidates argue that public views are already public benefits and public assets shared by all Vancouverites, and that the view cone policies protect those views from developers that build “luxury condo towers”:

Rohana Rezel (ProVancouver): I will protect the view cones. What makes Vancouver unique is the magnificent nature that surrounds our city. That view should be shared by all Vancouverites. It’s wrong to block those views to make room for Westbank and their ilk to build safety deposit boxes in the sky for the global rich.

Adriane Carr (Green): Yes. Our Vancouver Greens’ election platform states we will protect public view corridors as a public asset.

Derrick O’Keefe, Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts (COPE): COPE would protect the existing view corridor policies that have over considerable time proven their worth as far as public benefit but also ensured a predictable and fair environment for developers and land owners. We believe that enough density has been gifted to developers of luxury condo towers that do not provide the affordable housing we need and instead have contributed to speculative investment that has worsened the housing crisis.

Three candidates from the Green party — Wiebe, Fry, Carr —responded separately, and provided slight to large variations on their answers. For example, on their individual approaches to policy, and their positions on the view cone-protruding Concord Pacific tower proposals in NEFC Plan:

Michael Wiebe: “I don’t believe at this time that the amenities provided are enough to allow 425ft towers to penetrate the view cone. I would want a review of the view cone policy, complete understanding of the amenities provided and an understanding of the needs.”

Pete Fry: “I would challenge the assumption that this view cone encroachment is the only way to finance the NEFC Plan, and call for detailed 3rd party audited pro formas, and a line item budget to detail the extent to which we need to sacrifice developer profits or public benefits.”

Adriane Carr: “I cannot answer this question without prejudicing my ability to make a decision at the Council table on these applications. Councillors must retain an open mind on a matter before Public Hearing or else they are ineligible to vote on it.”

If a Green slate is elected, it will be interesting to see whether we will see this similar dynamic and individualism of opinion on council.

Although it’s anybody’s guess on what the makeup of the next council will be, what we do know is that the debate on view cones will not be going away soon, as there are pertinent decisions the next Mayor and Council will have to make on this issue very soon.

To view the candidates’ full answers to the questionnaire, click here.

Photo credit: Steve Bohus

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