The Broadway Plan has plunked citizens into two camps: for the plan and against the plan. Sadly the size of the plan, a whopping 493 pages means that most citizens have not read through the entire plan. It can be difficult to understand the proposed density and heights, as there is no easy referencing in the document, meaning you are skipping pages forward and backward to understand it.
The cleaving of people for the plan and against the plan has become social media ugly, where people that are against the Broadway Plan are seen as anti housing and those for the plan the proponents for good affordable housing.
But it is not that simple.
The Broadway Plan was intended to allow density along Broadway in partnership with the new rapid transit line that will be eventually extended out to the University of British Columbia to the west of the city.
In a perfect world this plan would have come after the adoption of the Vancouver Plan which outlines a road map to a more dense city. While the Broadway Plan process was ambitiously rolled out during the pandemic, few people recognized that the plan did not just look and make recommendations for the block faces of Broadway and back lanes, but extended a new zoning typology for eight blocks north and south of Broadway for just under five hundred blocks in the city.
Those eight blocks on either side of Broadway from Clark Drive to the east and Vine Street to the west already house 81,000 residents, most of them renters. Until a few weeks ago these areas, many which contain three storey walk-up affordable rental accommodations did not understand that they too would be upzoned for up to 20 storey buildings.
The problem with that upzoning is that several community plans, that extend much farther into the neighbourhoods than this plan’s boundaries will be rescinded, leaving a free for all of potential developer speculation on the remaining land area. Area plans developed for these neighbourhoods well into the 21st century emphasized public process and involvement at that level.
That all will be gone with one motion from this current Vancouver city council.
You can take a look at the complete list of rescinded plans here, but they include the Arbutus Neighbourhood Policy Plan (1992), Broadway-Arbutus Policies (2004); Burrard Slopes I-C Districts Interim Rezoning Policies and Guidelines (2007); Mount Pleasant Community Plan (2010) and the Mount Pleasant Community Plan Implementation Plan (2013).
The public hearing agenda for the Broadway Plan includes documentation offering tenant protection for residents that are uprooted because of rental demolition, offering rental help and a secured rental back into a new building. This is an ambitious undertaking and will need to be monitored to ensure developer compliance.
This is the first time in Vancouver that tower and high rise zoning could contribute to a potentially large scale displacement of renters in housing that is still adequate. Towers in Yaletown, the former Downtown South has been developed over thirty years in a former industrial area. In Yaletown the population grew from 3,345 people in 1991 to 21,000 in 2021.
While no one disputes the need for enhanced and intensified density, the top-down approach of the City in not conducting public process with the impacted area residents shows a shift towards a more political American model of planning.
The City has also indicated that 35 percent of units in new buildings will have at least two bedrooms or more for “families”. Vancouver has 68 percent of all apartment units being two bedrooms or less, and it is really three bedroom units that need to be encouraged for families.
Additional height and density for rental and strata buildings will be offered if 20 percent of housing is social housing, or below market rental. Strata buildings can remain 100 percent strata if they provide a community amenity contribution. Vancouver still funds amenities through these community amenity contributions, and that means that towers are favoured for the revenue.
In urban designer Scot Hein’s new book “Zoning Must Evolve” Vancouver’s addiction to CAC’s means a propensity to build towers to fund parks and services, and keeps property taxes for detached home owners artificially low. That’s why there is such a love-in with the glass tower form.
Will the Broadway Plan deliver affordable housing? Everyone hopes so.
Below is 16 year old Thomas Kroeker who is in his third year at the University of British Columbia. He spoke at the public hearing last week on the Broadway Plan.