June 27, 2018

Kettle-Boffo Question: Candidate Responses 2

On the same day we published responses from City of Vancouver mayor and council candidates to our question “What would you have done to close the gap between the City & Kettle-Boffo?“, the Kettle-Boffo project team posted an update on their website Setting the Record Straight to address some of the speculation, conflicting stories and general fallout from their scuttled development application.

We welcome commentary from candidates who have not yet responded; Price Tags will continue to survey City of Vancouver candidates on a variety of topics and issues throughout the summer.

Here are a few more responses we received to our question.

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The question for all mayor and council candidates — “what would you do different” —was in itself not without some controversy. (See “Vancouver Candidate Survey on Kettle-Boffo Project: What Would You Have Done to Close the Gap?“)

Ultimately, the premise of the question was based on the idea that, as the project team stated, Kettle-Boffo “enjoys Council support”. Reliving the imminent failure of the project Groundhog Day style, we wanted to know how a prospective mayor or councillor might expect to work with staff and the applicants, and within the rules of established policy, to ensure project viability, and thus possibly a successful application.

We also felt it was a way for declared candidates to clarify their positions, especially given the degree of complexity in the topic, “the #1 issue” this election year.

Beyond positions, reasonable explanation of some of the core, underlying issues may serve voters. The presumption is some candidates have done their homework, and are figuring out how to bridge the knowledge gap with the electorate. Some at Price Tags are not too humble to admit we too can learn from the responses.

And this goes for not just the issue (“What moves housing forward in the city? What are the possible systemic problems?“), but also the candidates themselves (“Who thinks about housing the way I do? Who has ideas I’ve never considered?“)

Lastly, we were careful in our introduction to not position Kettle-Boffo as having claimed in their statement that there is something ‘broken’ in city hall, which they did not. Nor do we believe our representation of the City’s claim — that they extended every concession they felt they could to enable a successful re-submission of the development application, which ultimately Kettle-Boffo chose not to do — is not to be taken at face value.

With that, we present the first six responses submitted to our call-out; we will continue to publish submissions if and when they come in.

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Earlier today, The Kettle Society and Boffo Properties announced the cancellation of the Kettle-Boffo project, a proposed 12-storey, mixed-use development at the northwest corner of Commercial Drive and Venables. Kettle-Boffo would have provided:

  • up to 30 units of supportive housing to local residents
  • approximately 200 market homes (1-3 bedroom apartment units)
  • a new facility for The Kettle Society
  • 18,000 square feet of retail.

The proponents say that due to the city’s financial requirements, the project was no longer economically feasible; city staff say they ‘went to the wall‘ for Kettle-Boffo.

So we’re asking candidates in Vancouver’s 2018 civic election — what would you have done to close the gap between the city and Kettle-Boffo?*

We’re sending this question to every mayor and council candidate on the list maintained by The Cambie Report podcast team. We’ll publish responses as they come in.

*For the four incumbent councillors, the question is, “Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?”

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The Questions for Candidates series started in June with Vancouver’s Kettle-Boffo controversy (ancient history?), and our appeal to the early field of candidates in the upcoming municipal elections to weigh in how the city was handling the requirement for Community Amenity Contributions from non-market housing developers.

Teasing out substantive(ish) policy platforms from candidates was crazy yet compelling; we followed with an “LRT vs Skytrain” question to Surrey and Langley candidates, and this fugly graphic. We soon realized the scope of possibilities for Q&A — with hundreds of candidates in 20+ municipalities — was dwarfed only by the time and effort to perform the outreach. Time to narrow the focus.

Today, the first of a six-part Q&A — on policy, politics and possibility — with four independent candidates for Vancouver City Council.

They’re each running a different kind of campaign; no logos, small budgets, and a glaring absence of infighting or intrigue. Just character, a c.v., and policies.

You may even know some of them…but what do you really know about them? Let’s find out.

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The exhaustive and exhausting G-W Community Plan process came to an end Thursday when council approved the last iteration (with only Adriane Carr opposed due to the accelerated, mid-summer final-approval schedule). The amended plan reflected much of what the innovative Citizens Assembly had recommended but parted company with planning staff on the controversial Boffo-Kettle site at Venables and Commercial. The Vancouver Sun story is here.
The process itself will probably be mined for years for ideas about public engagement and attempts to hear the voices of citizens other than “the usual suspects.” What united the community was a concern about displacement of renters; the plan has a “pace of change” provision in which only 5 rental buildings, of a maximum of 150 units (out of about 4,000 in the area), will be considered for redevelopment in the first three years. It’s interesting the city has the power to do that within the framework of the Vancouver Charter.

A city graphic from The Plan.
An uncontroversial part of the plan involves zoning on Commercial Drive itself – keeping the existing 3 FSR and resisting lot consolidation to try to keep its streetscape of small storefronts alive and vibrant. Changes to the RT duplex heritage/character area east of The Drive sailed through, too; changes to that zoning to make it more like the successful RT8 zoning in Kitsilano will penalize with a reduced FSR any owner/builder who wants to tear down a pre-1940 house, and reward retention with infill, multiple-suite conversions, and other goodies. However, a group of architects and fellow-travellers under the title “Dynamic Cities Project” opposed the reduction of the outright FSR there to .5.
Is there any innovative mechanism to retain and renovate the small, affordable apartment buildings without renovicting the tenants? If so, I haven’t spotted it. It seems everyone has drunk the Kool-Aid of Affordability and Supply to such an extent that they’re willing to tear down buildings that would sell at $400/square foot and replace them with larger ones at $800/square foot. However, there is much new rental density, especially along Hastings and on Broadway, which most people supported.
Open space in park-deficient Grandview was an issue for many, but the plan only offers “enhancements” and new “plazas” to soothe the 35% population increase predicted by the plan. Is this the new normal for dog-abundant, child-friendly Vancouver? Will the city say okay, this new ratio of greenspace/person is enough for the 21st century, and let’s decommission parks elsewhere in the city and build affordable housing on them? Doubt it.
In the hearings, the sweep of the plan was hijacked, to a degree, by the split in the community over Boffo-Kettle led by the No Venables Tower group. Supporters of the project, including a carefully curated, heartwarming video of the Kettle’s clients, were encouraged in chambers by Councillor Jang and clearly won the day. Much of the controversy about the project focused on building height (12 storeys) rather than its proposed FSR of around 6.7 in an area where the highest density so far is about 2.5; staff’s response, presumably reflecting urban design concerns and the impact of such a large condo component on the nearby low-income apartment area, was to recommend 9 storeys, a lower streetwall and an FSR close to 4. Cllrs. Carr and Affleck voted against the amendment.
I spoke to council in favour of the plan (as presented, not as amended) but didn’t find the amended outcome surprising. This is a rich country which increasingly supports its mentally ill population (in the case of Boffo-Kettle) and impoverished renter population with private-sector bonusing. The din of the cash registers while property-transfer taxes flow into provincial coffers and the city increasingly stratifies is never matched by increasing public investments in social services.
To me the major sour note was Councillor Meggs, at the end when words of reconciliation would have been appropriate, chiding the community for its reluctance to accept what he considers to be adequate density for public transit. A 35% population increase is not enough? In a community of transit users, many of whom are poor renters, with the highest cycling rate in the city? Of course, he is the point man on the Subway to Nowhere, aka the Broadway line that will terminate at Arbutus Street. Did I say I tried to stay neutral?

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The Kettle-Boffo assisted-living/condo proposal at Venables and Adanac in Vancouver’s Grandview neighbourhood flamed brightly a couple of weeks ago, with a number of news articles and radio reports. NIMBY, the schoolyard-quality taunt which is the default put-down of any critic of a nearby development, featured largely in the ensuing debate.
First, an observation. As a species, we are hard-wired to defend turf, and the only thing that trumps that reaction is economic gain. Follow the money – NIMBYs reverse direction and become pro-change when they get the economic incentive to move away (viz. Vancouver west-side homeowners, perhaps?); anti-NIMBYs are almost universally in the property industry, whether as developers, planners, or architects, or they’re theorists who don’t live in the affected area and have no dog in the fight. Ask any wealthy person: “have you had an increased desire to pack yourself in with a pile of strangers?” Of course the answer will be no – wealth buys turf. The people who don’t have the money to buy turf generally defend what little they have.
For readers who missed the news flurry, here is the No Venables Tower website, with their proposal for an alternate way forward; a Huffington Post article sharply critical of NIMBYs “hijacking” and using “disinformation”; a Vancouver Courier article; a lengthy and very good story by Kerry Gold in BC Business; and Frances Bula’s article in the Globe and Mail.

Here’s the image, as imagined by a seagull flying to the poultry-rendering plant a few blocks away. A 5-storey streetwall with what looks like very tall floor-to-floor heights, ground-level retail, the condo block on the right hand side flatiron where The Drive meets Commercial, 30 units and program space for the Kettle’s mental-health/homeless clients, and 200 market condos. It’s all just a proposal at the moment.
Is it possible to criticize Édifice Kettle-Boffo as a project without getting sandbagged? I’ll try.
• Here’s a comparable, at least one that fits into the West End landscape – a screenshot from the blog Changing City.

Note the composition of it: 28 non-market and 63 condo (mainly 2-bedroom), versus 30 non-market and 200 condos in Kettle-Boffo, which is proposing to use “free land” from the Kettle itself and possibly from the city, which owns the parking lot on the northern portion of the site.
Can somebody please do the math and explain why 1177 Jervis, regardless of its design, seems so much more balanced than Kettle-Boffo?
• Where’s the rental in Kettle-Boffo? This part of Grandview is very heavily occupied with low-rent apartments, with the largest proportion of Aboriginals of any ‘hood in the city, apparently. Wouldn’t a rental proposal help justify the size they’re asking for?
• The streetwall: both Venables and The Drive are narrow, unlike, say, Kingsway and Knight, whose multi-use building has been claimed as a comparison. Five or six tall storeys straight up off the sidewalk will be a gloomy prospect for much of the year for much of the day. Why can’t it be cut in at 3 storeys better to match the nearby buildings?
• The proposed FSR, at 6+, is wildly higher than anything in the neighbourhood. Much has been made of the “precedent” set in the 1970s by the Lions Club Adanac midrise building kitty-corner from the proposed condo midrise, but its FSR can’t be more than 2. It is set back so far from Adanac that a row of mature trees, with 2-foot-diameter trunks, sits comfortably between the building and the sidewalk, and the setback is even deeper on the Commercial Drive side.
Anyone have any other criticisms, or is this all just peachy?
For the neighbourhood, Kettle-Boffo would be an extreme example of spot-zoning, albeit with a laudable aim to partner for a mental-health facility; wasn’t spot-zoning something that Council was going to stop doing by way of adopting orderly planning and listening to neighbourhoods?
The city is putting itself in the position, vis-à-vis all the local apartment-block landowners, of being in a room full of gorillas and having only one banana. If it gives the banana to Boffo, what will it say to the others?

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