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Britannia Next up for Gentrification

Stealth for Wealth on Commercial Drive and East Hastings

by Joseph Jones 2010 Olympics

Britannia Next up for Gentrification

Also posted by dawn:

To pervert a few familiar words of popular poetry: "The best laid plans are kept well out of the public eye as long as possible, until the time arrives to steamroll over the mice." In Vancouver in 2010, this seems to be the City's first rule of engagement. The developer-planner-politician axis befuddles its subjects into thinking they had a say – or that they neglected the opportunity to participate.

Over the coming years,  potential housing development in the Britannia complex on Commercial Drive and new towers around East Hastings and Nanaimo Streets promise to make the Grandview Park redevelopment look like the brief opening scene of an all-out extravaganza. Here's a preview of what kind of changes we might see in East Vancouver as gentrification continues.

Operation Britannia: A Secret "Public" Process

Just north of the 2.2 acres of Grandview Park lie the 17 or so acres of the Britannia complex. This huge parcel of land has been put into play as a real estate megaproject. For the sake of comparison, the contentious Little Mountain redevelopment site is about 15 acres, and the built-out Olympic Village site is about 9 acres. Those other two locations have been dealt with as empty land, every developer's fondest dream. At Britannia, there happens to be a lot of "stuff" that encumbers the land.

But if you're looking for more information about the future of Britannia, don't waste time looking for the details where they should be, advertised and up for public review on the Britannia Centre web site. Do not even think of trying City of Vancouver or Vancouver School Board, the owners of the land. The only readily retrievable information has been assembled as Britannia Centre Master Plan and Visioning Process by Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC). The following account derives from this single source. (By the way, this independent neighbourhood association continues to function, unlike most of the troublesome official neighbourhood groups that the City of Vancouver has sidelined to atrophy during its never ending vision implementation review.)

Pause for a moment to remember that the key to Grandview Park redevelopment was initiative taken by one special interest group. They figured out how to hook into the Park Board capital plan. The same principle of following the money helps to lay bare the case of Britannia.

The ball got rolling on the Britannia complex when the Board of the Britannia Centre rightly grew concerned about aging facilities. They developed a master plan (Imagine Britannia and Beyond) and sought $18 million under the City of Vancouver 2009-2011 Capital Plan. That request was turned down in spring 2008 by the Staff Review Group on these grounds: "The proposal has not received input from the Park Board, Facilities Design and Management or Social Planning, nor did it indicate the availability of funding support from the Community Association" (p. 16).  But then, along came $60,000 of 2009 seed money from the City of Vancouver Supplemental Capital Budget to spend on working up a "facility concept design in preparation for construction and renovation." The pivotal item in that rejection is the expectation of funding support from the Community Association itself – as though Britannia has any significant economic base other than the land it occupies!

Read between the lines. The Britannia Board may have been judged as far too public-spirited, since it looked toward nothing more than:

•A new four-storey Arts and Culture centre building

•A new Information Centre building (housing an Education Centre)

•An expansion of the fitness centre, the seniors centre, and teen centre

What a huge expanse of land! Enough to infect any developer with perpetual itch. So the proposal got shunted back to the drawing board, along with a wad of funding to figure out how developers might get more than just a few construction contracts out of the deal. Talk of "affordable housing" is  used to entice less savvy public participants to favor putting those playing fields and parking lots somewhere underground or up in the sky. (Go further: perhaps some aspects of those aging public facilities could be downsized or eliminated to create even more buildable area? This tactic might work better at a later stage, after newly moved-in yuppies are around to provide the "community support.")

The Britannia Board appears to have sponsored a visioning process for its massive site at the beginning of 2010. Did you miss out on that opportunity? What a surprise. (Maybe they didn't want you there.) You could have participated in their online survey announced on 16 February 2010. Or, big second chance, in the 6 March 2010 design charette. Britannia has stated that June 2010 was the end date for all that visioning.

However, a confusing live link is still up (dated 2 June 2010) on the Britannia Community Services Centre web leads into a fuzzy feel-good survey that may exist only to produce more "data" to demonstrate consultation and to provide extra justification for directions already being taken. The opening words of the survey tell you what result is expected: "Britannia Centre is planning some big changes over the next few years. We will be asking the City to put the first phase of Britannia's Renewal on the next Capital Plan."

Notice that question 17 wants to "inspire you" about all the housing that might be built. (Also notice that Executive Director Cynthia Low claims she wants more feedback, and provides her email address and telephone number. Item 30 in the survey says that the Britannia Board of Management's Planning and Development Committee would "love for you to be a part of it." Would you? Would they really? That $60,000 has not bought a lot of advertising so far.)

Students from the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning have put up a web site, with six "phases of intervention" to explore how the Britannia site might be redeveloped. (This material seems to have been created in 2009. How it relates to the visioning is not clear.) According to the GWAC web site, the students propose 101 dwelling units (162 residents) on "the north-side parking lots, to the west of the skating rink" and 44 dwelling units (110 residents) on "the gravel playing field, to the north of 1500 block of William Street."

This sort of residential construction is nothing that the public sector is likely to undertake on its own. So at the best, such an initiative would mean some sort of Public-Private Partnership. (P3 means suck value out of public assets, privatize profits, and socialize all risk and losses.) At the worst, provision of housing may result in a straight-out flipping of public land off to developers. In a detailed letter, area resident Dan Fass points out that the economics of such a scheme would require a lot of new housing intended for the regular real estate market. (Think of what now remains of social housing at the Olympic Village). Fass outlines a whole suite of valid concerns about the approach being taken to planning for the future of the Britannia site.

With a pseudo-public process now completed, the Britannia Board is slinking towards formulating a new submission to the City of Vancouver 2012-2014 Capital Plan. The target date is fall 2011. Again, what happened with Grandview Park suggests that this ever-tightening timeline may already be exerting serious pressures on the so-called process.

Grandview Park Redevelopment: Skirmish Backstory

The redevelopment of Grandview Park offers a glimpse of what residents will continue to face. Ordinary people with feet on the sidewalk and bums on the grass scarcely realized they ever had an opportunity to "consult." Close to altogether too late, they sought to Defend Grandview.

That process began – where else? – behind the scenes. In December 2007 a self-appointed group calling itself Friends of Grandview Park supposedly made a pitch to the Vancouver Park Board. (This is what a 21 January 2010 staff report says, but there is no mention of "Grandview" in Park Board minutes for December 2007.) By the meeting of 10 March 2008, a proposal for the spending of $1 million found its way into the draft capital plan for 2009-2011. Eventually that million met up with another half-million of federal stimulus money. The extra kick-in put the Grandview Park project on a pseudo-crisis timetable to spend out the money by March 2011.

In 2009, open houses in June and October floated redevelopment concepts with proponents and insider planning geeks and a few stray residents. Then a final open house on 19 January 2010 presented three concepts. On the basis of 92 survey responses, concept option B was selected, for having an approval by 59% of respondents. Even though the survey did not even allow for such a choice, 12% favored no significant change. Only two days after that final "consultation" a 21 January 2010 staff report was ready to go to Park Board. Do bureaucrats really move at warp speed? Or was that report just sitting around, already written, with a few blanks left to fill in?

The Park Board faced a roomful of mostly hostile speakers on 7 June 2010 at Strathcona Community Centre. The minutes for the two and a half hours of open question period record about five pages of public comment. Park Board sat through it all and then went ahead and did what it was going to do regardless of further public input. On 19 July 2010 Park Board awarded a $1.13 million construction contract to CAP Ventures Ltd.

Vancouver Media Co-op has posted stories on Grandview Park actions that took place on 15 May 2010 (two  reports by Crustby and by Oshipeya), on 10 August 2010, and on 14 August 2010.

Hastings Sunrise North: An Even Bigger Third Front for Gentrification Forces

Part of Hastings Sunrise North falls within the northeast corner of Grandview-Woodland. City planners have recently told Norquay residents that the area centering on Hastings at Nanaimo will be the focus of the next neighbourhood centre planning. (This matches up with a city planning document from 2007 that named Main Street / Riley Park and Hastings Sunrise North as the next two locations.) The primary purposes of neighbourhood centres planning are:

•To mass rezone huge areas for "new housing types"

•To approximately double the rate of redevelopment in residential areas

•To accommodate yuppie desires to purchase brand new dwellings in Vancouver

•To spread tower development out of downtown into all Vancouver neighbourhoods

•To engineer the redevelopment of core commercial areas (and make those rents less affordable)

Notice that all four of the so far specifically scheduled neighbourhood centre processes target the east side of Vancouver.

The Larger Agenda:  Opening Up East Vancouver to Developers

A major item on the Olympic agenda was to stake out the Downtown Eastside as viable territory for near-term real estate development. One purpose of the hugely subsidized Woodwards project was to establish an eastern outpost of respectability for new development. The Historic Area Height Review simultaneously created a basis for heavy-duty rezoning all the way into Chinatown. Going diagonal, planners have already been using the neighbourhood centres program to mass rezone a huge swath through the geographic heart of East Vancouver (the center lies along Kingsway, stretching most of the 3.6 km from St. Catherines Street to Killarney Street).

The popularity and strategic location of Commercial Drive render it a natural point to stimulate development in Vancouver from the east, toward downtown. The Downtown Eastside sits in the jaws of a development vise that will keep on squeezing away from both east and west.

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Following the money can be

Following the money can be nauseating.


This land holds an elementary school, a secondary school and a large community centre with ice rink, pool, seniors centre, etc.

Now most of the buildings are quite low rise, but unless you want to get rid of school fields, there isn't a lot of extra space and the community centre would benefit from being enlarged. It would be lovely to have a 50 meter pool on the east side of vancouver.


I would be wary of creating housing projects that include school areas. It doesn't seem wise nor does it seem necessary. 

The government for decades managed to build community centres without having to include housing projects, why must this change? 

This area is not a dense area and all the houses surrounding it are single homes and not apartments.  Community centres should enhance not mar areas. 

Thanks so much for this vital

Thanks so much for this vital piece of independent investigative journalism--Joseph and VMC.

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