Eek O’Density Crowd Packs Theatre

On March 20th about 60 people without homes, who live in hotels and in social housing packed into the Carnegie Theatre to discuss condo towers and zoning changes in the DTES with city hall Planning Department staff, Brent Toderian (Senior Planner), Jessica Chen (DTES Planner) and Ben Johnson (Housing Centre). City plans for eco-density can be viewed here.

The Carnegie Action Project is really concerned about a proposal to let developers build dense condo towers or blocks on “signature sites” in Chinatown, Gastown and on Hastings Street. The staff at city hall have a lot of power. They could put forward amazing progressive recommendations to the elected mayor and council to be passed or rejected. In the past we have not always been listened to, but we have examples to show that in some cases we were. Lobbying staff is important but also politicians—staff usually won’t put forth anything that they anticipate politicians will disagree with.

We hope the collective wisdom and concerns of those attending (we represent 10-12,000 of the DTES population) will influence the city staff as they help council decide the fate of our hood. We don’t have the same kind of influence that Developers have. It’s no surprise that developers give their dough $$$ to City politicians because it’s the City that controls land use and the ability of land-owners to make more money. Those of us in the theatre last Thursday don’t have any money, but we outnumber developers and our need is greater.

Each person in the theatre on Thursday had a chance to speak about their concerns. Also, most people wrote a question down for City Staff and these questions were drawn out of a box for the planners to answer. Here is how the planners answered some of the questions:

CCAP has heard developers and others say that the DTES could be home to 10 40 storey, mostly condo towers. Brent Toderian, the head planner told our Town Hall meeting that “The Planning Department has not proposed and won’t, 10, 40 story towers.”





Later Toderian added, “We focus on density, not height.” None of this means that we should relax about having more condos in our ‘hood without social housing. Developers will still be pushing council for bigger and bigger condo buildings. And you don’t have to have towers; the city could simply increase density (allow more square feet of building) and keep a height limit.
Toderian replied to a question about condo towers increasing land prices and creating homelessness. He said, “You potentially increase the assumed value of the land (with condo towers). We’re seeing that already. I don’t know if that causes homelessness directly. It could be offset by building social housing.” While that is true, right now no level of government is building enough social housing to meet the need.

We were also concerned that if condos start to overwhelm the neighbourhood, business will start coming with services for the rich, like the Nestors grocery store at Woodwards. Toderian said, “I know what you’re nervous about, gradually creating an environment and culture to push out residents.”
DTES planner Jessica Chen acknowledged what people at our meeting were saying. “We heard the fear: do we have the tools to actually achieve “one for one replacement of SRO’s”?
Could rezoning create a “march of towers down Hastings? I share that fear,” said Toderian.

In general, the planners seemed to hear some of our concerns but it remains to be seen if they will make strong recommendations to council to save our community for low income residents.
There were many more questions collected in the box and those will be typed up and sent to city staff. We hope to get some more answers and then publish more in the next newsletter insert.

City Council will decide what to do with action item number 12 for eek o-density, which could allow towers in the DTES. Some of us should attend council to witness their decision making. Contact Wendy at CCAP if you are interested to go. Notes from this meeting are avail at our office too.

Originally published in Carnegie Newsletter, April 1, 2008