Emerging Planning and Development Milestones of 2017

What were the significant planning and development events of 2017?

Following on the success of our 2015 and 2016 Year-in-Review processes, the Vancouver City Planning Commission is hosting our third annual “Year-in-Review” forum on February 5, 2018. 

This annual event looks to identify those City Council decisions and actions, and other city events that might lead to significant changes in the future of Vancouver, in its built form, economics, quality of life and sustainability. Based on a workshop held in November, and a survey conducted in  January 2018, the following potential 2017 planning and development milestones are under consideration.

This year, fifteen planning and development decisions, actions and events from 2017 were  identified as potentially significant for shaping various aspects of the city and city life.  Full descriptions are available on our chronology program website.


1. City approves new housing strategy with expanded targets

In November, Council adopted the new Housing Vancouver strategy with the goal of creating 72,000 new homes for renters, families and vulnerable residents over 10 years. The strategy supersedes Council’s previous 10-year housing strategy, adopted in 2012. City staff in March had recommended a “reset” of the strategy because of increased homelessness, low rental vacancy rates, rising residential property values and decreasing affordability.

Following an extensive process of consultation and international research, the new strategy targets housing for families, lower-paid workers, seniors and young residents, and looks to create 47,900 new rental units and 24,100 owned units over 10 years. Of the rental units, 20,000 were expected to be purpose-built market rentals, 12,000 were earmarked for social and supported housing, 11,900 were to be rented condos and other secondary market rentals and 4,000 were to be lane housing.

2. Increased housing choices in single-family zones

In October 2017, the City Council  approved  a program to “transform” low-density neighbourhoods by allowing denser — and more affordable — housing forms, such as multiple dwelling units in single-family (RS) zones, such as duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and infill housing, as well as “tiny homes,” collective housing and expanded secondary suites.

3. Short-term rental accommodation regulations

Vancouver City Council approved regulations restricting short-term housing rentals to an owner’s principal residence, or a portion thereof. The regulations came in the form of amendments to the Zoning and Development and the License bylaws and take effect in April, 2018. They allow rentals of up to 30 days of a principal residence if a business license is obtained. The regulations are intended to discourage short-term rentals of investor-owned residential properties and hotel-like rentals.

4. Incentives for retention of character homes retention

In October, City Council approved amendments to the Zoning and Development Bylaw to offer incentives for character home retention in single-family (RS) zones. The amendments aim to encourage residents to retain “character” homes — those built before 1940 that meet established criteria for original features. Incentives include allowing infill development and conversion to multiple dwellings, additional floor area and relaxation of some provisions in single-family zones.

In a significant move, the planners dropped the idea of disincentives or ‘down-zoning.’ Since the mid-1970s, it had been a frequent but very unpopular practice for the City to make policies and plans by downzoning a district while providing opportunity to regain the lost density through compliance with criteria and guidelines.

5. Temporary modular housing introduced

In November the Development Permit Board gave conditional approval of a development application to build 78 new temporary modular homes at the Pearson-Dogwood site in Marpole. The homes are part of a $66 million commitment from the Government of British Columbia announced in September towards building 600 units of pre-fabricated, portable housing for the city’s homeless residents. This housing would be placed on vacant, underused or yet-to-be-developed sites such as the Pearson Dogwood Lands.

The City-Province partnership would allow the City and the Province to address the immediate and urgent needs of homeless residents in Vancouver while more permanent housing is being created. Noteworthy is the rapid response to the homelessness crisis which is possible with housing that can be built in 6 months from concept to completion.


6. Development Permit Board refuses Chinatown development application at 105 Keefer Street

On November 6, 2017, the Development Permit Board refused a development application to develop a 9-storey mixed-use building at 105 Keefer Street with ground-level retail and 8 levels of dwelling uses above containing 111 dwelling units. The application was the fifth attempt by the Beedie Development Group to seek approval for development on this former gasoline station site near the Chinese Veterans’ and Workers’ Monument and Memorial Plaza and across the street from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Chinese Cultural Centre. Neighbourhood opposition had been substantial and persistent since the first design was proposed.

The refusal of a development application is exceptional, as applications undergo an intensive review process during which concerns are addressed and may give rise to conditions being attached to the approval. In this case, in casting the tie-breaking vote, the chief planner and chair of the Board noted the design did not fit the cultural significance of the site, and later raised the question of the discretion of the Board to interpret matters of cultural context and fit.

7. City revisits Chinatown rezoning policy to moderate development

In a reversal of policy direction, the City rescinded the rezoning policy put in place in 2011 which encouraged rezonings for higher buildings in areas within the Chinatown Historic Area, notably Chinatown South (HA-1 and H-1A), allowing buildings up to 120 feet if the development provided social housing and community benefits. Following a review of recent development, staff have responded to community feedback that the trade-offs have not been worth it and that the development has resulted in gentrification and displacement.

8. A new vision for Granville Island

Over four decades, Granville Island evolved from an industrial landscape into an internationally acclaimed model of place-making, with a bustling mix of industrial and commercial operations, retail shops, artist spaces, restaurants, and a central market. Its diverse mix of uses and its multi-modal street concept where “people walk, bike, drive and deliver goods in a common space” are envied and emulated worldwide.

However, in a city undergoing massive change in population growth, increasing cultural diversity, expanded retail and food choices, the Island was experiencing a variety of challenges. These included the departure of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, a major anchor tenant, and questions about its governance model. CMHC, the Islands manager, initiated an extensive public consultation process that engaged 10,000 members of the public and stakeholder groups to create a vision for 2040 that will sustain the Island’s international reputation and continue to be an exciting destination for residents of Vancouver and the region.

9. Collaborative neighbourhood planning process for False Creek South

False Creek South is one of Vancouver’s first highly livable and walkable inner-city neighbourhoods with a unique mix of income groups, land uses, market and non-market housing types, transportation options, and many amenities. The City retained ownership of 80 percent of the land and completed 50-year lease agreements with owners of the coops and condos.  With the prospect of lease expirations beginning in 2025, the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association started a grassroots planning process called RePlan in 2010. The City’s terms of reference acknowledge their groundwork and commit to a collaborative planning process that includes consideration of new models of governance such as a community land trust.

10. False Creek Flats Plan and new zoning

In May, City Council approved the False Creek Flats Area Plan which seeks to intensify employment opportunities in this strategically located area of the city. The plan provides a framework to guide future growth and change to support a thriving and evolving economy over the next 30 years. As part of the implementation actions outlined in the Plan, in October Council approved zoning changes and accompanying development policies and guidelines for managing future development in the Flats.


11. City Engineer’s authority expanded for first time since 1944

At the same time that the City Council adopted a Citywide Complete Streets policy framework, it increased the authority delegated to the City Engineer (1944) to approve changes in road space allocation, such as widening sidewalks, improving cycling facilities, and calming local traffic. The intention of the new framework and change in City Engineer authority is the more efficient delivery of transportation and safety improvements. Council approval was given with an amendment that directed staff to report back to Council annually on City Engineer decisions made as a result of the change.

12. Burrard Bridge comprehensive upgrade enhances heritage, safety and mobility access

In a new comprehensive approach to bridges, the City completed the rehabilitation of the 80-year-old Burrard Bridge, an example of heritage infrastructure that now provides safe access for all modes of travel while serving as a busy arterial road. The road is managed efficiently for all road users: protected signal phases were created for different road users and turn movements at each end of the bridge; separation was increased between people walking, cycling, and driving; sidewalks were built on both sides of the bridge, and suicide prevention measures were incorporated into the bridge wall design, including fencing and crisis phones.

The work was coordinated with water and sewer upgrades, and with redesign of the Pacific and Burrard intersection, formerly the city’s second-highest collision location. Attention to the heritage legacy resulted in the restoration of deteriorating concrete handrails and reproduction of the lost pedestrian lighting.

Built Form

13. Vancouver Art Gallery’s north plaza opens on June 22

The lawn and water fountain area north of the art gallery have been a key public space for many, many years. The place has reopened to the public after undergoing a $9.6-million renovation. Changes to the plaza were intended to make it less susceptible to the wear and tear caused by popular events. A new pavilion added to the Howe Street side of the plaza will shelter people waiting for buses and could also house a tourist information booth in the future. The plaza’s design is a milestone in the conversation about Vancouver’s public spaces, cultural expression, sites of resistance and protest, and the role of arts and culture in city-making.


14. Participatory budgeting accompanies a new permit parking strategy in the West End

The City has adopted a new permit parking strategy for the West End based on market pricing to encourage residents to use parking spaces in their buildings, reduce pressure on curbside parking, reduce emissions and congestion, and enhance safety. The price of a permit has increased from $72 annually to $360, with exemptions for current permit-holders. Further regulations intended to improve use of off-street parking will follow. The incremental revenue will be reserved for investment in community benefits such as landscaping or public art to be identified through participatory budgeting, a first for the City.


15. Embracing resilience as over-arching city policy

The City of Vancouver was selected to join the 100 Resilient Cities Global Network, a group of cities in the vanguard of building urban resilience. Through the program, the City will be able to use tools, funding, technical expertise and other resources to build up the city’s resilience in the face of social, economic and environmental challenges.  Under the program, the City was able to create the position of Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) to lead the development of a city-wide resilience strategy over a two-year period.

A key part of the work will involve bringing together stakeholders within the City administration and in the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors to create a resilience assessment as the first step in the collaborative resilience strategy. The focus on resilience looks at the City’s sustainability strategies, including Greenest City and Renewable City, to find ways to make sure that the new systems will endure and even thrive in the face of shocks and stresses, not only from natural disasters but also adverse socio-economic trends.

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