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Kitsilano Character

How do you preserve the very neighbourhood character that creates increasing demand to live there?

Some might call it “The Haves vs. The Have Mores.” But the raging development fight on the west side of Vancouver is more than that.

Rising temperatures in the battle over a UBC Skytrain extension of the Arbutus line has residents extremely nervous about a frenzy of overpriced property development.

This is a battle of up-zoning density vs. established zoning – very much rooted in a lack of Middle.

Our city is growing, fast. It should and must, because let’s face it: people want to live here.

Not so long ago, the Hotel Vancouver was a central landmark on our city’s skyline. Now, you strain to find it ,even when sitting in mind-numbing traffic at Burrard and West Georgia. Today, buildings like Shangri-La, Wall Centre and now Vancouver House define our cityscape.

Over just a few short decades, our corner of the world went from “big little town” to major metropolitan; there is no putting that horse back in the barn. We can, however, try to craft our place on the planet with some thought given to what drew folks here in the first place.

Character. The system that oversees how our city grows seems a bit broken. Residents are ever more angry at that process and their perception of being locked out of it.

Up-zoning is causing great discomfort for disenfranchised citizens, nervous about how drastically their neighbourhoods might change with little, or no, consultation.

Look no further than a few years back when the Point Grey Road permanent closure and multimillion dollar bike lanes were rammed through — a good place to start as to where the bad taste in the mouths of many residents was born.

One can feel the angst in posts about the planned UBC subway line. Last week that temperature went “next level,” with a 14-story rental building proposed for West Broadway at Alma. Of the 154 units, 31 will be part of a “Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Project.”

The city defines “moderate income households” to be those earning between $30,000 to $80,000 annually — so rents starting around $950 for a studio, up to $2,000 for a three bedroom. The remaining 123 unites will be “market rental” — read $$$. This math seems swayed to unaffordable for many watching from the neighbourhood.

Back to the pushback on the SkyTrain extension, there’s very little Middle to building transit to UBC; it’s needed and overdue. Buses along Broadway are beyond packed during peak times, particularly on rainy days. We need to move people without adding cars.

Once the polarizing back-and-forth calms, there likely will be agreement that better transit to UBC will have a positive impact on the West Side. In an area of the city hollowed out by the real estate market fallout, we need more people to move through and to Kits. Businesses need folks to eat, shop, and live their lives on the West Side, even if they can’t afford to hang their hats there.

So, how development along the route is managed needs oversight that includes more than just city planners and developers. Citizens need to have meaningful input.

This is not just a case of “rich people complaining,” there are legitimate concerns tabled by those wanting to restock the emptying area with humans who can afford to live, and work, there.

In recent memory, this area has largely seen zoning restrictions that keep buildings at four storeys — so no surprise that a very sudden 14 storeys seems like a slap.

Could this development be scaled back to make it more neighbourhood-friendly? Why not discuss increasing density by building up in a way that doesn’t throw a curveball to the West Side vibe? Perhaps then there would be less angst over developing an underused property at 3rd and Larch.

Kits is quaint, and has retained its own unique character. Folks on the west side do not want to become an area of towers.

The structure proposed for the property at West Broadway and Alma is one you will aesthetically either love or hate, but that’s not the issue. It’s the scale that has folks in the ‘hood freaking out. Currently a single-storey strip mall that has been all but a dead end to what was a bustling strip of Kits, it’s crying out for development. But can it be something not akin to a ‘Vancouver House West’ scale? Kits doesn’t need a “Blade.”

Maybe trust could be restored and we could grow toward what’s truly needed: smaller scale, multi-unit, affordable structures on land currently with a single-family home.

What’s needed is growth and investment in infrastructure without tearing apart the fabric of what makes ours the most liveable city on the planet. No one wants more multimillion dollar condos along the subway line — the cry is for affordable homes that fit in the kitschy Kitsilano vibe.

Once again: character.

Our small-town feel matters. Our places, and spaces, the views to be had. We can do density and respect current homeowners and renters. Everyone wants to maximize proximity to the ocean, mountains and fresh air.

Being run over by backroom deals needs to stop.

The fear is that this building will be the first of many massive dominoes to fall on West Side development. There is an undertone of helplessness in the public forum as many watch their neighbourhoods evolve with little, or no, meaningful consultation.

Is there a way for city planners to be more transparent with plans prior to a neighbourhood being “informed” of the next development?

Vancouverites are twitchy about development, and rightfully so. Much of what has happened over the last decade was done in the name of singular Vision.

Those opposed have been called out as NIMBYs, but if you listen closely their motivation is not to halt all development — but to have the development serve the needs of the neighbourhood both as it is, and as it grows.

It’s a Vancouver certainty that when it comes to development, there’s no pleasing everyone. But before breaking ground, we should really try harder to find some middle ground.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.