Completely out of view from the public process is the step for building proposals before they are formally submitted within the rezoning and development application review streams of the City of Vancouver.

Formal applications by proponents are typically only submitted after city staff reach a general level of satisfaction with the details of the proposal, which is usually achieved during the pre-application stage — essentially a pre-review.

During pre-application, there is often extensive back and forth between city staff and the proponent to meet municipal policy requirements. One such exchange emerged into rare public view about two years ago for the Rona Kingsway mixed-use redevelopment, when heated email communications between city staff and the proponent were uncovered by a Freedom of Information request.

The Rona Kingsway project eventually overcame its obstacles, and it is now under construction and marketed as Format, but it is just one instance of a lengthy pre-application process stretching the overall timeline of realizing a development.

Vancouver City Council is now attempting to learn the number of proposals that are in a state of limbo in the pre-application stage — potential development projects that are stalled or not being entertained by city staff.

A motion put forward by Mayor Kennedy Stewart aiming to learn more about stalled rental housing projects was approved by city council last month. It directed city staff to report back with a memo and housing project inventory list by the end of this month, with this list to be updated each quarter containing the full details for all letters of enquiries, pre-enquiries, and informal expressions of interest.

Industry insiders previously told Daily Hive Urbanized there are concerns city council will receive a substantially smaller list than reality, suggesting there could be dozens or even over a hundred proposals in pre-application limbo. Some of these projects that have yet to reach the public eye are very significant, such as one proponent seeking to redevelop a site that currently has 100 rental homes with 1,200 new rental homes.

“Many private and non-profit housing providers have submitted proposals that may help to meet these challenges that do not fall under established rezoning-enabling policy,” wrote Stewart.

“More detailed and complete information is needed for council to properly assess how these projects might positively impact COVID-19 recovery through constructing new social, affordable, and below-market residential housing.”

Earlier this month, city council also approved a motion by NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung seeking similar detailed information for commercial (e.g. office, hotel, retail), industrial, and cultural space development proposals in the state of pre-application limbo. This separate list will also be provided to city council by the end of this month, and it is also to be updated by city staff every quarter.

“Private and non-profit entities may have potentially submitted proposals that do not fall under established rezoning enabling policy that may help to meet unemployment challenges and contribute to the creation of a ‘new, better ‘normal’ for our city,” reads Kirby-Yung’s motion.

“Obtaining information with respect to new commercial and new or cultural revitalization projects, including new or expanded cultural space, is needed for council to properly assess opportunities for economic and cultural stimulus in our city and how these projects might positively impact Vancouver’s COVID-19 recovery.”

One such commercial and cultural project in the pre-application stage, recently made known to the public, is the proposal to redevelop the 800 block of Granville Street in downtown with a significant mixed-use retail and office building that adds a new City of Vancouver-owned performance hall, offers heritage preservation and restoration, and retains and improves the Commodore Ballroom and Orpheum Theatre.

Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

Next week, city council will also consider a motion that specifically targets the delays and backlogs on formal applications for permitting and licensing. If approved, city staff would be directed to return to city council in 30 days with a quick and efficient strategy that effectively reduces the delays and backlogs.


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