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OPINION: Vancouver’s Broadway Plan: opportunities and the unknown

More than half the properties along Broadway will need to be assembled to meet the minimum frontage required for redevelopment under the plan

After years of anticipation, the latest version of the Broadway Plan will go Vancouver City Council on May 18. The plan, which provides direction on redevelopment potential for the area, offers significant increases in height and density for office, retail, hotel, rental residential and condo use. With aims to boost the corridor’s population from 78,000 residents to 128,000 and create an additional 42,00 jobs over the next 30 years, the Broadway Plan is the city’s largest comprehensive area plan undertaken to date. The plan would not immediately change the underlying zoning for specific sites, but its new policies would create opportunities for larger kinds of development in many areas, each of which would then need rezoning.

This much is known: the plan recommends the most density near the subway stations, with mixed-use developments up to 40 storeys combining residential and commercial space. It will pave the way for apartment buildings up to six storeys on side streets, and up to 18 storeys in select locations for buildings with below-market rental units.

What is not known: its impact on residential affordability, long-term effects on the office market, and how it will change the retail face of Broadway  - which has been in dire need of revitalization for years.

City planning staff have done a remarkable job putting forth a plan that is balanced in it approach to providing density in transit-oriented locations while respecting the requests of nearby residential neighborhoods – including a reduction in height from the previous refined directions plans. That being said, at the time of writing, there are a number of unknowns which could impact the success of the plan’s implementation:

• Community amenity contributions (CACs). CACs are yet to be defined and will have an impact on the development feasibility of condo sites. Although commercial development pays a low standardized CAC fee per square foot, those applicable to strata residential density tend to be much higher. If the City sets the CAC too high, fewer condo projects will actually be financially feasible and will therefore be unlikely to proceed. With fewer new condos developed and built along the corridor, the city will not be able to provide the supply necessary and the promised vitality of the area may be threatened.

• Minimum frontage. According to the draft plan, a minimum frontage of 150 feet will be required for redevelopment to the density stipulated in the plan. Given the number of small 50- foot lots along the corridor, over half of the properties on Broadway will require assembly amongst multiple property owners with different motivations – making redevelopment less likely. The development community is still awaiting confirmation on whether or not these properties will be allowed to proceed at a higher density or if they’ll be required to maintain the density as per the current C-3A zoning bylaw.

• Shadowing. The development community is also awaiting final direction on the City’s shadowing policy, which had a major impact on developments in the West End Community Plan and resulted in height reductions on a number of developments that potentially shadowed parks or high-street shopping areas. A strict shadowing policy would reduce the number of units to be delivered through the plan and would threaten the potential future housing supply.

Long-term, the impact for development in this area is significant and the influx of condo and rental units would contribute to much-needed future housing supply to meet the demands of Vancouver’s growing population. With immigration expected to increase in the years to come, creating suitable housing for new residents will be crucial in creating a healthy and thriving economy.

In addition to creating more housing supply, the plan provides great opportunities to increase the vitality of the area with potential to build dynamic new office space, as well as for revitalized retail and hotels. Overall, the plan does a great job of placemaking and protecting neighborhood high streets along 4th Ave, South Granville and Main Street, while adding density in other transit-oriented areas.

The long-awaited Broadway Plan is the next step in investing in a future that will bring jobs and new life to what some are calling Vancouver’s second downtown. Although it has been met with open arms from the real estate community, direction on the factors mentioned above will have a huge impact on whether future projects actually get built.

If Vancouver approves the plan in May, applications on the first developments will likely be accepted shortly thereafter for planning staff’s consideration. However, if a conclusion cannot be reached by this council in the months to come, the fate of the plan will likely be decided upon in the new year after council reconvenes following October’s election.


- Jessica Hathaway is an associate vice president at Colliers International and has been working in Vancouver's Broadway Corridor for the past 10  years.