More than 100 people rallied at Vancouver City Hall on Saturday in opposition to the proposed Broadway plan, which would allow significant new density along the Broadway corridor.
The sweeping proposal, now headed to council, is meant to guide the next 30 years of development in an area set to be transformed by the completion of a new multi-billion dollar Subway.
The plan would allow for towers up to 40 storeys near transit stations and of of 20 to 30 storeys in so-called ‘shoulder’ areas that have already seen some development.
Residential areas would see apartments up to six storeys on side streets and “strategic” buildings of 12 to 18 storeys if they have units below market rate.
Saturday’s protest involved people from nearly two dozen neighbourhood associations and community groups.
“The concern we have is that we’ve somehow jumped to an unsustainable, unaffordable high-rise model, and it ain’t going to work,” architect and plan opponent Brian Palmquist told Global News.
“It’s a one-size fits all approach. There are more than 50 new zonings in the Broadway plan.”
Palmquist and other opponents say the proposal will dramatically reshape the the area, and add unaffordable new units while displacing people from existing, affordable low-rise housing in the area.
Instead, they want to see a priority on four-to-six storey buildings, which they believe can achieve the city’s housing goals.
Strategist Bill Tieleman, who is also spearheading opposition to proposed towers on the Jericho lands, said the plan would create a “concrete canyon” in the Broadway corridor.
“We can increase density without building towers,” he said.
“The alternative is low-rise density, Paris bands, there’s no building in Paris higher than eight storeys in central Paris, Paris is a world city with metro stations and they don’t have 40-storey towers.”
Former Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian, said trying to emulate Paris simply doesn’t work in a city like Vancouver where single-family zoning still dominates most of the land.
“When people talk about a Paris form, they have to remember that all of Paris, not just the city, but even the region, is that scale of (mid-density) urbanism. So, yes, you get your population over kilometres and kilometres, miles and miles of city building,” he said.
Toderian acknowledged the plan was controversial, but argued that it doesn’t actually go far enough.
The corridor, he said, is functionally the city’s second downtown, and with billions being spent on the subway, the city needs to think big to get the maximum return on that investment.
“Climate emergency is a game changer. Subway investment is a game changer. And we can’t pretend that the old business as usual approach to thinking about density and population growth is going to work,” he said.
“It also won’t work even just from the perspective of adding enough houses to match even the number of people that we have looking for houses right now, let alone the number that we’re going to need to accommodate in the next five years, 10 years, 20 years.”
Vancouver’s mayor, for his part, is insistent the plan will help tackle the city’s housing crisis.
Kennedy Stewart argued that because the plan is phased in over 30 years it won’t affect most renters currently living in the area, while over time adding new affordable units.
“The Broadway plan helps the people that need the most help by over then next 30 years building tens of thousands of new homes, most of them rental, and a great many of them below market rental,” he said.
“This isn’t condos like we were building in the past. This is mainly rental housing and below market housing.”
Stewart said he plans to propose the “strongest tenant protections in Canada” as a part of the plan, which would among other things give displaced tenants the right of first refusal at their old rents when new units are finished.
Tieleman called that plan “ludicrous,” saying that no housing currently exists for those who would be displaced, and that bringing them back into a new unit years later at historic rents wouldn’t make economic sense.
“I’m not buying it. It’s fantasyland,” he said.
Council is expected to receive the plan on May 17.
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