British Columbia

99% of letters oppose rezoning for proposed school and social housing in Coal Harbour

It’s almost impossible in local politics for 99 per cent of people to agree on anything. But in the days before a public hearing for a proposed school and social housing complex in a parking lot next to the Coal Harbour Community Centre, it was achieved — in opposition.

Traffic, views, property values, crime cited as reasons against 11-storey, 60-unit development in Vancouver

The proposed Coal Harbour school and social housing complex would be at the site of a parking lot currently adjacent to the neighbourhood community centre. (City of Vancouver)

It's almost impossible in local politics for 99 per cent of people to agree on anything.

But in the days before a public hearing for a proposed school and social housing complex in a parking lot next to the Coal Harbour Community Centre, it was achieved — in opposition.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions and proper community consultation has not taken place," said Coal Harbour Residents Association president Rahim Jivraj, in one of the letters written to the city against the 11-storey, 60-unit housing development.

The public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday evening, and before it began 198 people had written in against the project, with just two in favour. 

Council ran out of time to get to the item on the agenda, and the debate and potential vote will continue on June 29.

'Recipe for disaster'

A number of the people who wrote in against the proposal cited the loss of their views, decreased property values or potential crime and drug use as reasons for their opposition.

But more people cited a lack of consultation and concerns about traffic. 

"We support the school. We support social housing. We just don't support it in its current form," said Jivraj.  

In a transportation study for the project prepared by a third party, it was estimated the new development would generate 917 extra vehicle trips to the area each day. Jivraj said not enough work had gone into traffic patterns and how to ensure safety for students — especially considering the waterfront nature of the proposed school.

"Traffic will go to dangerous levels. There's potential for safety issues. Who wants to see their kindergarten or Grade 3 [student] on the seawall where there's so much bike bicycle traffic and other traffic and potential to fall in the water? I mean, it's just a recipe for disaster."

The Coal Harbour Community Centre has a park on its roof, which in city renderings would be integrated into the school. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

School will take Lord Roberts Annex students

The project has been in the works for a long time and is the result of several complex factors for managing Vancouver's downtown communities. 

The plan for Coal Harbour has long called for a school, and the land is already zoned for a 30 metre-tall building with up to 40 units of housing. (The rezoning application calls for an increase to 60 units, or 38.8 metres in height.)

Larry Beasley, who was Vancouver's co-chief planner during the design of Coal Harbour in the 1990s, said the proposal for a school has lagged — despite a yearly shortage of elementary school spaces in the city's centre — because the Vancouver School Board was initially skeptical it would have the necessary demand. 

"I think that the neighbourhood has come along fine. It's just been at a different scale or a different pace of development," he said. 

Planning accelerated following the 2018 Vancouver School Board decision to sell land under Lord Roberts Annex to BC Hydro so the utility could build an underground substation

As part of the plan, work will only commence when students can be transferred to the Coal Harbour school while the substation and new annex can be built. 

Beasley believes it's high time for a school to be approved — and thinks if social housing concerns are part of the opposition, it's up to the city to do a better job of persuading the public. 

"There was a vision for this community from the very beginning that included social housing and included the school," he said. 

"And if you look at almost all of our neighbourhoods, you'll find social housing right next door to market housing … people have fears that people are a little different from them, I guess, but I think the city needs to tell the success stories that have been really overwhelming." 

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