West Georgia development proposal sparks questions about traffic congestion

Affordability and neighbourhood benefits among other issues raised at open house

Vancouver Courier
May 24, 2019

naoibh oconnor
An open house was held on May 23 for a development proposed for 1608 to 1616 West Georgia and 1667 Alberni St., which would replace the West Georgia White Spot and the lot next to it. | Naoibh O'Connor
The prospect of worsening traffic congestion along West Georgia and the surrounding neighbourhood bothers Marlene McLaren.
That was her chief concern at a May 23 open house for two 38-storey condo towers proposed for 1608 to 1616 West Georgia and 1667 Alberni St., which would replace the West Georgia White Spot and the lot next to it.
A four-storey podium building would connect the two towers. Each tower would feature 200 condo units while the podium would have 55 units for a total of 455 apartments.
McLaren has lived in a condo behind the proposed development site for about 12 years, and she’s concerned about the number of towers being considered, approved, and in the works for the area.
“West Georgia, right now, is a nightmare and access to the Lions Gate Bridge is bottlenecked every day of the week,” she said, adding that pedestrian and cyclist traffic has also increased.
“The crosswalks are very short. There’s bicycle congestion on Denman and the pedestrians can’t get through on the sidewalks. It’s really a nightmare — that whole area.”
While McLaren calls the design of the proposed development “lovely,” and said her husband thinks there should be retail at the base of the buildings, she said those aren’t the critical issues.
“It’s not the design [that’s the problem]. It looks beautiful, everything looks beautiful. If it was the only structure that’s going up, it wouldn’t be a major problem … [but] it’s seven days of congestion so what’s going to happen with about six more structures?” she said.
Projects approved, in the application stage, or under construction in the area include:
  • a 43-storey building at 1500 Alberni St. (rezoning approved)
  • a 26-storey building at 1575 West Georgia and 620 Cardero St. (rezoning approved)
  • a 41-storey building at 1500 West Georgia (rezoning approved)
  • a 39-storey residential building at 1668-1684 Alberni St. (rezoning application filed)
  • 43 and 48-storey towers for 1444 Alberni St. (at development permit board stage)
  • 30 and 31-storey towers at 1400 Robson St. (development permit approved)
  • a 21-storey market rental building at 1500 Robson St. (construction started)
  • a 33-storey residential tower for 1698 West Georgia, the former site of a Chevron gas station (rezoning application filed)
  • a 49-storey tower with condo and rental units at 1450 West Georgia (rezoning application filed)
site context
Site context.
Carol Brock, another open house attendee, said she wonders what families that move into the building will do considering the lack of schools in the downtown area. Brock, who lives on West Georgia about three blocks from the site, also has concerns about traffic.
“I love the design of the building — the waves and all… My concern with this building, and other buildings, is about putting all of these people into the West End and what we’re going to do with parking and the cars,” she said. “I’m worried about the transportation aspect of it. West Georgia is backed up bumper to bumper during a lot of hours of the day, especially rush hour and on weekends when people are going into Stanley Park.”
Michael Naylor, a senior rezoning planner for the City of Vancouver, said the city is looking into traffic issues for the area, which the engineering department calls the West Georgia Gateway. It’s under study for vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle movement.
“There was consultation about a year ago where they asked local residents what they thought the problems were. They’ve got the results of that and now they’re working on a plan for how they’re going to make improvements to the area,” he said.
Naylor also noted that each development proposal is required to include a transportation study.
While he said West Georgia is a significant arterial through the city, he added that the adjacent buildings don’t contribute very much to the volume.
The access for this project, meanwhile, will be off Alberni and no commercial space is proposed for the development.
According to the traffic study for the project, currently, during peak hours, the site generates 50 to 60 vehicle trips per hour. With the development, the net increase in traffic during peak hours is anticipated to be another 35 to 50 vehicle trips.
Not everyone at the open house was focused on traffic, however. Anne Lee stopped by because she’s considering moving into the building and wanted to check out the design, while Robert Dunstan’s top concern was affordability.
He called the proposal “outlandish.”
“The city should not be approving unaffordable housing,” he said. “We’ve got enough unaffordable housing in the downtown area. They’re destroying the commercial because no one can afford to live here… They’re turning the downtown into a microcosm of the West End. We’re going to have high density of residential unaffordable properties.”
Matthew Schroeter, a volunteer with West End Arts and Gordon Neighbourhood House, dropped by to assess the project from a community perspective.
He wanted to know more about the community amenity contribution and how the development would improve the neighbourhood.
Schroeter said the event seemed to centre more on the residential units.
“I was looking for more information about how this is going to benefit the community,” he said.
“There seems to be some interesting thoughts about developing greenspace and making a plaza underneath but, I guess, the buildings seem to appeal to a certain socio-economic status.”
Schroeter used his comment card to ask how it would benefit people of different statuses — those with lower or middle incomes, others who live and work in the neighbourhood, and those who access community services in it.
“I’m really concerned about new developments coming in — how they impact the community,” he said.
A four-storey podium building would connect the two towers.
Two 38-storey condo towers are proposed for 1608 to 1616 West Georgia and 1667 Alberni St.

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