EcoDensity raises fears of crowding without amenities

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Frances Bula

VANCOUVER I The city is getting international admiration for its catchily named EcoDensity initiative, but some city residents are nervous about what it means for them.

As the city heads into the home stretch of public consultation on what will become an “EcoDensity Charter,” resident groups have banded together to express their concern that the policy — marketed as a way to make Vancouver a more environmentally sustainable city by promoting compact living and green building — may result in density just being shoved into their neighbourhoods.

As well, they worry there isn’t enough emphasis on creating affordable housing or complete neighbourhoods with libraries, transit and community services to go with the density.

Those are some of the points that a consortium of 23 neighbourhood groups has made in a formal letter to city council, in an effort to modify the final EcoDensity Charter, which is due to be voted on at the end of the month.

“The concept isn’t bad, but we want a sustainable city, not just a dense one,” said Mel Lehan, a veteran Kitsilano resident activist, who speaks behalf of groups from Southlands to Commercial Drive and Dunbar to southeast Vancouver.

Lehan said people feel the process is being rushed through and they fear that the new charter will mean that “we will have 40-storey towers that will be built in the middle of nowhere.”

As well, they don’t like a postscript added by Coun. Suzanne Anton to consider taller buildings in the city’s heritage neighbourhoods of Chinatown, Gastown and the Downtown Eastside.

City planning director Brent Toderian said he can understand why the proposed EcoDensity Charter is provoking fear and skepticism.

“It’s an unusual process and it was launched in an unusual way, so it’s a challenge for the community,” said Toderian, who inherited the job of putting the initiative into action when he started his job as planning director a year and a half ago.

Mayor Sam Sullivan had announced the EcoDensity initiative as a way to launch the World Urban Forum in Vancouver the previous June, somewhat to the surprise of some of his councillors.

“There are concerns about the politics and process and that’s making it a challenge for us,” Toderian said.

However, he said he and his staff are meeting with every community group that wants to meet with them and he is reassuring them that the EcoDensity Charter will not override the local plans most Vancouver neighbourhoods developed over the past decade as a part of CityPlan.

Instead, he said, the new charter will allow planning staff to push for environmental initiatives that complement existing policy or where policy is vague.

“I think we can do a lot that is different but is not incompatible,” Toderian said.

Some resident groups are cautiously willing to give him, and the city, the benefit of the doubt.

Colin Gray, chairman of the Dunbar Visions group, which developed the west-side neighbourhood’s local plan 10 years ago, said Toderian met the group before Christmas and allayed some of their fears.

On the other hand, Gray said, residents hear about proposals to build seniors’ residences in their neighbourhood that are much higher than the current four-storey limit.

“There’s this pressure to use the seniors’ card to get more height. It just feels like there’s huge pressure to get higher density.”

But Gray said his group is waiting to see how events evolve.

“We’re nervous, but we’ll play a little bit longer.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Comments are closed.