Vancouver city council has rescheduled its latest public hearing about the controversial, long-delayed development plan for the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station area until the end of the year — likely after the municipal election.
The move means the proposal to replace a Safeway and adjacent parking lot with multiple residential towers and commercial retail space will likely be considered by three different councils since it was first put forward.
A spokesperson for the city said Thursday’s hearing was postponed “due to the volume of outstanding rezoning applications for Council to consider, and limited available meeting time before summer break.”
No final date for the hearing was given, but the spokesperson said the meeting will be pushed “toward” the end of the year.
Voters will be choosing the next mayor and council on Oct. 15.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Tuesday he fought to have the project addressed before council wraps up its work this month, but blamed marathon council meetings and multiple private member motions for the delay.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if more things will fall off the agenda, depending on how the next few meetings go,” he told reporters.
“I think it’s a shame.”
The development has been contentious ever since it was first put forward in 2016, as part of the broader Grandview-Woodland Community Plan approved by the council led by then-mayor Gregor Robertson.
Arriving at that plan was challenging in its own right. Neighbourhood groups rejected the city’s initial plan, arguing it would radically change the neighbourhood’s character. The city formed a citizens’ assembly, whose feedback was eventually integrated into the 2016 plan.
When finally approved, the community plan set the maximum height for residential towers in the neighbourhood at 24 storeys. The proposal for the Broadway Safeway featured two towers, one which would hit that threshold.
Yet the current proposal before council now features three towers, the highest of which would be 29 storeys. That’s actually one storey less than a previous proposal submitted in September 2020.
The plan would have the residential towers — set to include 438 secured rental units, including 93 secured at below-market rates, along with 215 condo units — be built atop a commercial retail space that would include a rebuilt Safeway. A public plaza would run parallel with the Expo Line platform of the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station, along with office and fitness spaces and underground parking.
Community members have pushed back on the plan for years, as well as the grander vision of higher density in a neighbourhood known for single-family homes and ample green space.
But housing advocates say more density is needed across the city, including in areas long untouched by multi-storey developments like Grandview-Woodland and Point Grey.
“It is easier to build a mansion than a multiplex in Vancouver, and we need to restore basic private property rights to people so they can provide much-needed housing for themselves, for their families and for their neighbours,” said Kit Sauder, who sits on the city’s Renters’ Advisory Committee.
The city has spent years pushing a transit-corridor-centric approach to development that emphasizes greater density near SkyTrain stations and rapid bus lines. The Commercial-Broadway station is the busiest public transit hub in North America.
That approach culminated in the battle over the contentious Broadway Plan, which was approved last month and will seek to turn the bustling Broadway corridor between Clark Drive and Vine Street into Vancouver’s “second downtown” over the next 30 years.
Urban planner and director of SFU’s City Program Andy Yan told Global News after the final vote that the sometimes heated debate over the Broadway Plan is indicative of future fights over development in Vancouver.
“We’re out of easy land to develop and the land we do have left is either currently occupied, or it’s land which has neighbours,” he said.
“Development and change in the city of Vancouver is going to be much more messier. It’s going to take another level of leadership, a new level of leadership that deals with not only what could be there, but what is there.”
The city’s new Vancouver Plan also pushes for multi-family zoning across the city, with an emphasis on increasing rental stock and mixed-use developments that boost commercial space in traditionally residential communities.
Sauder says council needs to allow staff to expedite such projects and reform the public hearing process so that speakers — many of whom are older and retired and don’t reflect the majority’s desire for more housing — can’t derail them.
“From the mayor down to the councillors, they have been completely incapable of addressing these issues in a timely manner,” he said.
Stewart said it will be up to voters to send a message to councillors who he said have not been “focused on the priorities of this city.”
— With files from Simon Little and Emad Agahi