Vancouver City Council voted Thursday to postpone hearings on the controversial Historic Heights Report which would have recommended higher density zoning for the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
The hearing, scheduled for 2 pm Thursday afternoon, would have allowed Council to hear reactions from affected groups and residents of the communities concerned.
Councillor Andrea Reimer told reporters in front of Council Chambers that they were postponing hearings and a vote on DTES rezoning for higher density in order to conduct social and economic impact studies first. The portion of the report that makes recommendations for zoning in Chinatown will be brought before council at a later date, perhaps in February.
"We received several hundred correspondences from local community groups in the DTES and individuals, and they have all been quite clear. They want to see a local area plan and a social impact study," Reimer said.
The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, an ad-hoc citizen's group of about 600 members who mounted a "Fight the Height Campaign" against increased density because they feared it would bring gentrification to the the low-income neighbourhood, was mixed in its response to the decision:
"First, we are glad to see that they have finally recognized the wide-spread opposition of the low-income community and the DTES against the recommendations of the Heights Review," said Ivan Drury, a board member of the DNC.
However, he added: "We are sorry to see that they have begun this recognition by excluding the voices of the people who wanted to speak at City Hall today. Instead of allowing this process to go ahead, City Hall rammed through a backroom decision."
But Reimer denied that the process was sudden or undemocratic. Council first began discussing rezoning inssues in the DTES and Chinatown last January, when it directed the City Planner's office to make Policy recommendations for height and density changes. The Historic Areas Height Review was the result of that 2010 discussion.
"Since the issue was first debated last January, we have really understood that a community plan was needed," Reimer said. " Why [the Historic Area Heights Report] came to Council without those two pieces, there's a lot of factors that lead to that. But Council today recommitted to the decision made last January, which is that those two pieces need be part of the process. That will be in the hands of the community."
NPA councillor Susan Anton was disappointed at the sudden decision, calling it undemocratic.
"There were 80 people waiting to talk about the issues. I wanted to know that," said Anton. " This is called debate. You hear the people, you make a decision. There was a certain momentum, and I don't think we'll ever recreate that momentum again."
The DNC's Drury is also critical of the fact that City Hall has separated the issues affecting the DTES from those affecting Chinatown.
"They are continuing to try to divide Chinatown from the DTES, and they are proceeding with a developer program that the low income community in Chinatown does not support."
Helen Polychronakos is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist, editor and teacher. Her blog can be read here.