Community Voices: Responses to the West End Plan

Three months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the West End Community Plan. So has the dust settled? As the City gears up to implement the Plan, it looks like things will be as busy as ever.

The West End Community Plan sets direction on a number of fronts. From arts and culture to community well-being, heritage and housing to transportation––these are just a few examples of the Plan’s focus for helping shape the West End’s future. According to the City’s website, the Plan can’t encompass everything. But it aligns with other key planning initiatives that are also meant to address the community’s challenges and needs in the coming years.

Recently, Gordon Neighbourhood House decided to contact some West End community members to hear their responses to the Plan.

Randy Helten, a Director of the West End Neighbours group, thinks that many people will be surprised when they start to feel the effects of dramatic changes that have been set in motion in parts of the community and will wonder when and how they were decided.

“The community plan process did make considerable progress,” he said, “but it was rushed and approved by City Council prematurely, without having truly engaged enough people in the community in a discussion about the issues and options.” He added that a lot of taxpayers’ money was spent to create a sophisticated 3D model of the West End, but it was only barely used.

“West End Neighbours will continue to monitor changes as they arise,” he said. “We will do our best to involve as many residents as possible in community discussions. Our aim is to enhance and celebrate the quality of life; the distinct, diverse character; and the heritage of the West End.”

According to Stephen Regan, Executive Director of the West End Business Improvement Association, his group supported the Plan as a tool to help revitalize the commercial streets.

“Not everything we wanted landed in the Plan,” he said,  “but some key items included a clear focus on enhancing the commercial streets and championing the concept of a ‘West End Loop’.”

He added, “Linking the West End’s great commercial streets to Granville Street through strategies like decorative lighting could create the right kind of animation to support business success.”

Brent Granby, a West End community organizer, is pleased with many of the positive elements coming out of the Plan. For example, sustainable transportation measures, including traffic calming, will mean better cycling routes between English Bay and Burrard Street.

Brent sees the Plan’s proposed laneway housing as another plus. To date, it’s been challenging in the West End to secure more spacious housing that is affordable for families who need more than a 1-bedroom-sized apartment.

“Now, there is a lot of potential here with laneway housing,” he said. “This can be transformative and revitalize housing in the West End, especially for families.  I’d like to see continued support from the City.”

Another key point Brent stressed is that the Plan makes clear that rezoning is only approved in 4 areas (other areas are protected), so people will know what to expect. And with such rezoning, investments will come through community amenity contributions (CACs). As described in the Plan, CACs will be able to funnel resources back to improve and renew existing recreational, cultural and social facilities.

“The areas where rezoning will occur are around key transportation hubs, which makes sense,” Brent said. ” And with investments through CACs, this can help institutions such as the Aquatic Centre and Gordon Neighbourhood House.”

The West End Community Plan also outlines a new purpose-built facility for QMUNITY, BC’s Queer Resource Centre, within Davie Village, to better support LGBTQ community members. Dara Parker, the Centre’s Executive Director, is delighted that QMUNITY was highlighted as a priority.

“We have been actively advocating for a new facility that is accessible and large enough to meet the needs of our community programming for twenty years, ” she said. “The new facility will be an inclusive hub for everyone in the queer community, including our allies and neighbourhood supporters.”

What about you? What impact do you think the West End Community Plan will have for your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear your comments!

Written by Community Journalist/GNH Blogger Anita Miettunen