VREP #4 | Life After the Viaducts & the Future of North East False Creek with Holly Sovdi

Lead City Planner with the Downtown Division, Holly Sovdi, joins Adam and Matt to discuss life after the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts come down and the future for North East False Creek – a new community that unites Chinatown, Crosstown, Strathcona, Mount Pleasant – and all of East Vancouver – to the downtown waterfront communities and will transform downtown Vancouver creating opportunities for densification, affordable housing, park space & livability.

Is 2016 the year of the condo? Adam and Matt also discuss Barbara Yaffe’s new article, Bob Rennie and more!

Life After the Viaducts & the Future of Northeast False Creek

Intro:                Get ready for Vancouver’s Premier Real Estate Podcast, your source for buying, selling, and selling in Vancouver’s Real Estate Market. With your hosts, two guys with faces for radio, Adam and Matt Scalena.

Adam:              And welcome back to the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast. I’m your host Adam Scalena.

Matt:               And I’m your other host Max Scalena.

Adams:            And we have a fantastic episode for you today

Matt:               We really do, yeah.

Adams:            I’m really excited. We’ve got Holly Sovdi, the lead city planner with the downtown division for the city of Vancouver.

Matt:               Real coup for this up star Podcast for sure.

Adams:            For sure. I’m not sure he knew we were actually so we’re fortunate we got him.

Regardless, we did get him and he’s going to be speaking to us about the end of the Viaducts which is fantastic. He’s a great guy.

Matt:               Yeah.

Adams:            And I’ve noticed like Matt, I know you’ve dealt with the city a lot.

Matt:               Well you know as a Realtor, you do all the time. You have to be in constant contact with the planning department over there so yeah.

Adams:            Yeah and I use them all the time as well and they’re fantastic so really excited about having all.

Matt:               Yeah it’s kind of surprised that he spoke with us as the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast Episode 4, really great but at the same time the city is always accessible and they clearly like to engage the public so it’s in that way it’s not that big of surprise for sure.

Adams:            For sure. I’m still a little surprised.

Matt:               Me too.

Adams:            So we had a busy week here in our market. I’d love to just kind of go over about how was your week? What was the weekend review here?

Matt:               Yeah, it was really busy scrambling, good times though. One of the things that I wanted to point our listeners to was the article in Vancouver’s Sun this week by Barbara Yaffe entitled Will 2016 Be The Year Of The Condo?

Adams:            Right.  And that seems to be supported by a lot of the stats that we’ve been seeing. For example, in episode one when we talked about how the market was up about 20 to 25 percent depending on the area but in the attached market right?

Matt:               Yeah, exactly. I really took from this article and it’s something that we talked about all the time is that Vancouver had just have to get used to the fact that densification is here and the stats points to it and it’s the future for the city.

Adam:              Right. And that actually reminds me of last summer when Bob Rennie was giving his annual address at the Urban Development Institute urging Vancouver rights to give up the dream of single family home and that was his argument right?

Matt:               Yeah.

Adams:            It was basically that densification will solve the affordability issue.

Matt:               And one paragraph that stuck out to me was that single family homes, detached houses will make up just 10 percent of greater Vancouver housing by 2040.

Adams:            Wow.

Matt:               So one out of 10 of people in Vancouver by 2040 will be living in detached homes

Adam:              So keep your house maybe?

Matt:               That’s what I want.

Adams:            Two things: One if you’re in a condo, potentially get used to being in it for the, you know you’re there for the long haul.

Matt:               Right.

Adams:            And second of all, yeah that just points out that, hey, single family homes are still – buy that dirt.  If you can get into that market, get that dirt.

Matt:               And I’m actually noticing that a lot of buyers right now are recognizing that even if they have budget for a detached home, they’re deciding that they want to live in a condo or townhouse and compromise that for the right area and the right kind of lifestyle.

Adams:            That’s it. Right.  You know, condo market downtown and the surrounding areas you got walkability, livability.

Matt:               For sure. You got the restaurants, you got the shops, you got lifestyles. There’s more schools. There was that brand new school coming up in Cross town.

Adams:            Yeah and people are seeing that and the city is pointing in that direction as well and North East Falls Creek is a perfect example of that.

Matt:               For sure. The city is doing an excellent job kind of looking where they can add more densification and also, just what they can do to kind of improve accessibility to certain areas.

Adams:            Yeah. I mean so, with the viaducts coming out which we’ll talk to Holly Sovdi in a minute about, when you see Chinatown, the main street corridor kind of reconnected with Chinatown and Gastown, Strathcona. I just don’t know where the traffic is going to go but we’ll talk about…

Adams:            He always got the answers, always go the answers.

Matt:               For sure. So without further ado, here’s our interview with Holly Sovdi Lead City Planner with the downtowndivision for the City of Vancouver.

Adams:            I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Matt:               Okay Holly can you hear us?

Holly:               Yes, I can hear you.

Matt:               Holly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Holly:               So my name is Holly Sovdi. I’m the Lead City Planner with the downtown division at the city of Vancouver and I’ve been working with the viaducts at North East Falls Creek planning process for the last two years.

Matt:               Okay so we wanted to talk to you today about the Georgia viaducts coming down as well as the future plans for South East Falls Creek and the first thing I was reading back in…

Adams:            North East Falls Creek.

Matt:               North East Falls Creek, sorry my mistake. And I was reading back and there was an interesting quote of yours and you said the viaducts create a physical and psychological barrier between East Van and Falls Creek. Can you elaborate on that point?

Holly:               Yeah right, no, no, no. You know what?  As part of the planning process that we’ve been engaging residents and business owners and various stake holders around the city and region in over the past at least seven year; you know what we heard quite clearly was the viaduct structures themselves really limit access for people who aren’t driving a car but rather choosing to walk or cycle or even taking transit.

They pose a barrier between Eastern Vancouver residents and the Falls Creek waterfront pose physically and also psychologically and often what I heard when talking to folks you know a Main Street where there’s business owners or residents in the area was – Main Street if you’re walking along either North or South and you ran into the viaducts, it’s very much a physical and psychological barrier. The retail, the shops, all of them just stops comes to a whole pin. You’ve got two over passes flying above you and quite an uncomfortable experience at the ground level. So we heard that again and again.

And you know in terms of the psychological barrier, I think it also applies to the space underneath the viaducts to the West of Quebec Street where really it’s unutilized land. It’s fenced off, it isn’t a very pleasant space to be in. And so we heard that quite often talking to residents and business owners.

Matt:               Okay so Holly can you just outline the plan?

Holly:               Sure. So as I mentioned, for the last seven years we have been undertaking a lot of planning and engineering work in what we call North East Falls Creek. So essentially the space between Cambie Street bridge and over to around Main Street right along Falls Creek waterfront. It represents about almost a hundred acres of land.

And what we’ve been doing is looking at the future of that neighbourhood. So for the past 30 years, there’s been a plan in place to develop Falls Creek North, we call it, a lot of the Concord land. And those lands have been developing overtime.

And where we are today is the last remaining portion of Falls Creek North which is we call North East Falls Creek, it’s getting close to being ready to develop. So what city staff and working with the public, what we’re able to do was question. What do we want the future space to look like? Is it a space, a developed site in the neighborhood surrounding freeway structures? Or is this a truly walkable, livable, entertainment district on the waterfront with the street network that’s still works for cars but is also much better for other modes of transportation and much greener in the long term?

And I think ultimately, what we ended up here at the end of the day was we can come up with a plan for North East Falls Creek that can check a lot of city objectives, a lot of public objectives and be a much better outcome at the end of the day while still accommodating all the traffic flow that the viaducts accommodate today and into the future.

Adam:              Okay so just a touch on that, so what would be some of those objectives?

Holly:               So I would say the procedure growth in North East Falls Creek achieves the number of public objectives. First and foremost, affordable housing, the plan the Council approved in October of 2015 says that for all new development, a minimum of 20 percent of the new housing would be affordable housing. But that’s a significant opportunity to deepen affordability right in the downtown, the core of our city.

Another public objective that we can achieve is the additional job space. So North East Falls Creek, one of our objectives is 1.8 million square feet of new job space be located into that area. Giving you a sense of numbers, that’s between six and eight thousand new jobs.

We think about another public objective, you know a lot of the residents in the area have been for many years asking for the major waterfront park right along the Creek right along Quebec Street. So this is really our opportunity to expand on that waterfront park for the future. Like, creating space that really works for a lot of people kind in Chinatown, Gastown, and some of the neighborhoods to the East right into the water and right into the downtown.

I’d say the last but certainly not the least objective is around the history of the area. And you look at the history and the culture influences that have affected the Main Street areas, the two City blocks that, the two blocks that the city owns between Quebec and Gore Street, that was Vancouver’s first black community. That’s essentially where the black community is situated. And that community was essentially displaced when the viaducts were constructed in the early 70’s.

So this presents an opportunity to really look at the history, the cultural influences and recognize that and whatever takes place in form of new development or arts of programming in the area in the future.

Adam:              That’s interesting and I did realize that when the viaducts where created, that it displaced that historic black community that not many people know about. What does that look like on the ground?

Holly:               You know what at this point, what the Council has approved is the conceptual plan for North East Falls Creek.  And really what that is, that’s a high level guiding framework for all of the detailed plans that has to take place in over the next two years but that framework to the look at the two city blocks between Quebec and Gore, essentially the old Hogan’s Alley.  And it puts in a frame of work where we can recognize that history through built form, through urban designs, through art and potentially some of the program within the areas.

So in addition to that, we’ve got Chinatown that extends on Main street to the North. So there’s an opportunity to not only recognize Hogan’s Alley but potentially a bit of the Chinatown influence that this community essentially ties right into the waterfront in the new park that’s going to be built.

In terms of more detailed or more definitive answer to your question, I think a lot of the details around the physical structure, the types the land uses, the ways that we recognize that history, over the next two years we’re going to have a lot of public discussions, a lot of stakeholder groups to figure that out.

Adam:              Sure, sure. Do you have a sense of whether there’s going to be residential towers in that area where the City owns those blocks? Just because when I looked at the plan, you know one thing that strikes me is that with that giant park spaces…

Matt:               There’s a lot of green space.

Adam:              Yeah, there’s not – in terms of the housing shortage, that doesn’t look like there’s a lot of towers going in.

Holly:               Right. So on the two city blocks there in particular just east of Quebec there, you know at this point it looks like there will be a mixed use development on both blocks.

What we’ll really want to do is tie Main street back together using retail on the ground level. So you can imagine in the future walking Main Street and where the viaducts stand today, instead there are new café’s or shops or retailers, new store fronts that line the streets, patios, activity on the side walk.  All of the sudden, that’s much of a different place. And then above and behind that retail, we can look at mixed housing. So there could be market housing, there could be a mix of some affordable housing. I think mixed use development bring a lot of vibrancy and vitality to that area.

Adams:            And so just to kind of recap on, you were kind of talking on addressing the public, so what are the plans in place to make sure that the public voice is heard over the next few years?

Holly:               Good question. Over the last seven years, we’ve had a lot of public dialog, a lot of public discussion to get us to this point where we’ve got a conceptual plan that’s been approved by Council.

Now what the Council has asked the City staff to do is over the next two years, take that conceptual plan and flesh out the details. Really get the nitty-gritty on what types of buildings are going where? What do they look like? What are the densities? What are the land uses? What is the program in the parks? What are the pathways, the walkways, the street network, what does that look like?

So that’s over the next two years. What we’re going to be doing in terms of discussion and our engagement with residents throughout the city, business owners from around the area, as well as many city wide and regional stakeholder groups. So you think Translink or you think some of the business groups, to downtown Vancouver Business Association, the Chinatown BI, those types of groups as well.

Matt:               Okay.

Holly:               A real wholesome discussion I would say.

Matt:               Right. And so what are the things that keeps coming up that we’ve heard from our clients is where’s the traffic going to be going on? And obviously that’s got to be a hot topic issue.

Holly:               You know what it is, is we recognized all along that if we were going to suggest the Council that replacing the viaducts could be achieved, there had to be an option that could mitigate any of the concerns related to traffic.

Where’s it going to go? Is it going to another neighborhood? Is it going to back up just a lot more?

So we had to do a lot of analysis, a lot of rigorous engineering work to figure that out. Where we land at the end of the day is I recommended street network that can accommodate all of the traffic that we have today on the two viaducts and the two roads below Pacific and Expo on the New Pacific Boulevard.

Matt:               Okay.

Holly:               Pacific Boulevard essentially connecting Briar and Quebec and heading west on the ground, connecting up to Georgia Street and then over to the existing Pacific Boulevard over by the Cambie Street Bridge. We’ve got plans on our webpage as well that you can take a look at if you’re interested.

But that street can accommodate all of the traffic we have today as well as all of the future traffic projections that we have.

So it’s six lanes in total and when you look at those lanes, it’s three in each direction during the rush hour to accommodate the real peak demand. And then, during times of the day and in evening when it isn’t rush hour essentially it’s two lanes in each direction and then you’ve got the lane of parking on the outside.

So those lanes are not only for cars but also we can also get buses accessing the downtown using this new Pacific Boulevard whereas currently with the viaducts that’s impossible.

Matt:               And so, okay what’s the timeline for this? Is it a 2020 thing? Is it, when can we expect this to happen?

Holly:               Yeah, so we’ve got a lot of discussions to take place of communities, and the different stakeholder groups over the next two years. During that two years, we’re also going to be finalizing the plan from the designs for the street networks, the replacement of the street network.

So we expect that if all goes well, we’ve got two years of planning and design work. That would be followed by approximately two years’ worth of construction where the two viaduct structures, the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, will be pulled out and the new street network be built in its place.

So we expect that that could be accomplished within a four year time period – planning, design, plus construction.

Matt:               Wow. So we’re thinking 2020 then?

Holly:               Approximately 2020, yeah.

Matt:               Wow.

Adam:              Do you have a sense, it looks to me, it looks like a net positive quick clearly. Do you see any negatives?

Holly:               Well you know, there’s a lot of positives and you know it’s taking a lot of work to get to where we’re at today in terms of understanding what are the challenges and how do we address those challenges.

You know I think, over the next two years, we really have to get an understanding of how to conceptual plan can land in the ground you know the way that works for all the different stake holder groups and can achieve the city objectives that I outlined earlier.

I think no doubt that there’s going to be challenges. There will be difficult discussions that will take place. But overall I think it’s a really big win in my perspective.

I mean, my role is part of the project over the last two years is been really the lead city planner. And my job has been making sure I’m out there working with different residents and business owners and there’s a lot of optimism out there, like a lot of great ideas falling around, how this can transform people’s lives.

And when you think about it, the newly created West Georgia Street that would be extended with down the Pacific Boulevard in Falls Creek, that opens up an opportunity to connect our downtown.

On the west, we’ve got Georgia Street terminating at Lost Lagoon and the fountain. On the East, it would terminate in the Falls Creek with distance to the Science World and it would become Vancouver Ceremonial Street.

And when you think about, another point that excites a lot of people is the idea that not only will Georgia Street connect our downtown to the water on both sides, but as part of North East Falls Creek, it will connect the two stadiums both B.C Place and Roger’s Arena right to the water.

And there’s an opportunity for celebration space, an entertainment district, a heart to our city, a place where people can meet and socialize where the waterfront can be activated. We’re going to have a lot of fun as a city.

Adam:              Right. That’s maybe a good place to end it there.

Holly:               Alright guys.

Adam:              Thank you so much for doing this.

Matt:               Yeah, thanks for the time.

Holly:               You’re welcome.

Adam:              Have a great day.

Holly:               Alright, take care.

Adam:              Bye now.

Holly:               Bye.

Adam:              So there you have it folks our interview with Holly Sovdi from the city of Vancouver.

Matt:               Yeah we should reiterate one more time just thank Holly for taking the time to speak with us.

Adam:              For sure.

Matt:               That was really, really helpful and informative.

Adam:              For sure. Yeah exactly, and I think people don’t realize how much work goes into a lot of the planning and community engagement that Holly and his team are doing.

Matt:               Exactly.

Adam:              So fantastic stuff.

Matt:               So Adam what was our take away from that?

Adam:              Well, I think I’m actually really excited about the more park land.

Matt:               Yeah.

Adam:              20 percent more affordable housing in the area and I think they actually have a good plan of kind of rolling this out, engaging the public and the stake holders and the other thing is I was surprised to hear that 2020. I mean I’ve read that.

Matt:               It really hits home, I mean it hits home when somebody say it from the city.

Adam:              Yeah. How quickly this is all going to take place.

Matt:               Exactly and I think clients of mine who have actually has recently purchased within the last year and maybe have a five year fixed well, they’re going to be in a position where that area is going to be fantastic by the time that their mortgages up and maybe they will want to sell it that time and who knows.

Adam:              Yeah for sure, you know…

Matt:               Or maybe they’ll want to stay actually. I was just going to say it that’s my take away, I mean the area just sounds like it’s going to be incredible I mean those viaducts are real barrier and connecting those communities, the green space.

I mean it just seems like it’s going to be a really great place to be and it’s land that has been, like Holly said, underutilized so it’s just great to see that there are some major changes happening there.

Adam:              Yeah, and a great plan in place for sure.

Matt:               Yeah absolutely.

Adam:              Perfect so if you enjoyed the Podcast, please do us a favor and go on to iTunes, subscribe and rate us.

Matt:               Yeah, that’s a real help.

Adam:              And you can also check out our website to see show notes we’re going to have a link to the city’s rendition of the viaducts coming, what’s going to be there, and also we’ll have some more links to other things that we talked about on the show notes like the Barbara Yaffe article.

Matt:               Yeah, like Barbara Yaffe for sure and…

Adam:              How can they reach you Matt?

Matt:               Yeah, I was about to say, any questions, comments, concerns, you can give me a shout 778 847 2854 or at matt@scalenarealestate.com.

Adam:              And I can be reached at 778 866 4574 or adam@scalenarealestate.com and we’re also going to be dealing with some questions that a few people have had in upcoming episodes. So we’re really excited so stay tuned and have a great week.

Matt:               Talk to you soon.

Outro:              This has been the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast with Adam and Matt Scalena. Contact us anytime at 778 866 4574 or 778 847 2854 or online at www.scalenarealestate.com. Subscribe today.