Britannia Centre Master Plan & Visioning Process
Note: This article is a review of the 2010 Britannia Plan, which was not accepted by the City; it is, essentially, history. The currently developing Britannia Renovation Plan is a fresh start in its initial planning stage. As the Plan develops, news and relevant documents will be posted here.
1. About Britannia Centre
Britannia Community Services Centre (hereafter Britannia Centre) is a complex built on a 17 or 18 acre site. The site is almost certainly the largest site in Grandview Woodland owned by a public or private body.
The Britannia Centre complex, which first opened informally in 1974 and officially in June 1976, offers a wide range of services to people of all ages, from young children to seniors.
The Britannia Centre site is owned partly by the City of Vancouver and partly by the Vancouver School Board (VSB). The City of Vancouver owns an L-shaped parcel of land along the north side of the site and the VSB owns the rest. The two parcels are shown in the attached map, which is taken from VanMap, but with property lines widened to improve readability.
The site is zoned CD-1 (87). Zoning restrictions on the site include that:
- “[T]he only uses permitted” on the site are “schools, gymnasium, swimming pool, ice rink, library, playfields, ancillary recreational facilities and other customary ancillary uses including off-street parking.”
- “Any new development … shall not exceed 40 feet in height.”
2. Britannia Centre Management
Britannia Centre is run by the Britannia Community Services Centre Society. A volunteer Board of Directors (the Britannia Board) run the Society, which manages the Centre in partnership with people from the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, the VSB, and the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) Board.
3. Britannia Centre Master Plan to 2008
Britannia Centre is more than 35 years old and in need of upgrades. A subcommittee of the Britannia Board, the Planning and Development Committee, oversaw the development of the Master Plan. In August 2007, Britannia Board released a document called “Imagine Britannia and Beyond … Facilities Concept: Britannia Community Centre Facilities Master Plan” that envisaged spending $18 million on improvements to the Britannia Centre site. The improvements included construction of a new four-storey Arts and Culture centre building and a new Information Centre building (housing an Education Centre), and an expansion of the fitness centre, the seniors centre, and teen centre. The $18 million request was submitted to the City of Vancouver with the aim of getting the request onto the City’s 2009–2011 Capital Plan which was debated and passed by Council during the fall of 2008. The request did not make it onto the Capital Plan.
4. Britannia Centre Master Plan since 2008
Britannia Centre obtained funds from the City of Vancouver’s Supplementary Capital Budget in 2009 for “Britannia: Schematic Design” “to develop the facility concept design in preparation for construction and renovation.” The Planning and Development Committee of the Britannia Board has been working to revise Britannia Centre’s Master Plan with the intention of getting it on the 2012–2014 Capital Plan, to be voted on in the fall of 2011.
5. Visioning Process: First Site Concepts, Design Charette, Survey (February 2010 on)
Britannia Board kicked off a visioning process for the Britannia site, known as “Designing Our Future,” with interested parties in February, starting with a SurveyMonkey.com online survey announced on 16 February 2010 , followed by a design charette on 6 March 2010. This visioning process was conducted with the assistance of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP). Britannia’s Spring 2010 Guide gave June 2010 as the end-date for the visioning process.
SCARP students developed scenarios for the Britannia site and the neighbourhood area bounded by First Avenue to the south, Clark Drive to the west, Venables Street to the north, and Salsbury Drive to the east. For more information, see the home page for the scenarios (organized into six phases) and a map of all the scenarios. Among the scenarios for the Britannia site are two for housing and commercial.
- On the north-side parking lots, to the west of the skating rink, the students propose that 101 units (studios, 1-bedrooms, and 2-bedrooms) be built for 162 people. A four- or five-storey building next to the ice rink would be non-market housing, then a stepped series of connected buildings between Cotton Drive and Woodland Drive would contain artist live-work spaces.
- On the gravel playing field, to the north of 1500 block of William Street, the students propose that 44 units (studios, 1-bedrooms, and 2-bedrooms) be built in townhouses for 110 people. The townhouses on William would seem to be four storeys high. Questions 16 and 17 of the Britannia online survey both concern onsite housing. Here is Question 16 followed by question 17: 16. “Projected average 2008 household income: $51,834, as compared with $75,854 and $79,798 for Vancouver and Metro Vancouver respectively. Average house price: $707,606 for detached home and $324,995 for apartment/condo (higher than the city average)” (2008 Vancouver Economic Development) Would you like to see housing built on the Britannia site? (Affordable housing is a critical issue in the neighbourhood. If, for example, we were to provide an underground parking lot in the location of the current parking lot to the north of the secondary school, think how many housing units could be built there!) Please provide your reasons. 17. If housing were built on the Britannia site, what type might it be … and who would live there? [The following options are then listed: live-work studios, family housing, seniors’ communal housing, “aging in place” housing, mixed-use housing, co-housing or communal housing, market housing, co-op housing, social housing, supportive housing] Add your own ideas; our list is just to inspire you.
6. Concerns about Britannia Centre Visioning Process (April 2010)
GWAC’s Directors voted at its 12 April meeting to endorse the contents of a letter written to the Britannia Board by Dan Fass as an individual, and to establish the web pages you are currently reading.
The letter notes that, while a visioning process is meant to encourage creative thinking, it is important to inform participants about practical problems and negative implications during visioning because otherwise recommendations can be produced that have not been thought through critically.
The online survey and 6 March charette both seem to have directed the public to actively consider onsite housing, without consideration of its potential negative impacts. This uncritical direction is seen in questions 16 and 17 of the online survey.
6.1. Concerns about Housing/Commercial on Britannia Site
The letter by Dan Fass raises particular concerns about the idea of putting housing on the Britannia site. The letter agrees that the lack of affordable housing in Grandview Woodland is a major concern, but points out a series of problems with actually building that housing. Among the problems are that:
(1) Funding for the housing would almost certainly require a public-private partnership (P3) in which the City or VSB would sell its land or provide a long term (60–99 year) land lease to developers, and then the two public bodies would lease back parking, school, and amenity spaces.
(2) A developer would insist on a high ratio of market housing to non-market housing: A ratio of ten to one was mentioned at the 6 March charette. If this 10–1 ratio was used and 143 units of housing were built (the students are proposing 145), then 130 units of market housing would be built for 13 units of non-market housing.
(3) A developer would likely demand a large number of units, meaning a building (or buildings) with a large footprint, or considerable height, or both.
(4) A private partner — e.g., the strata representing the private owners in the housing — would have different needs and values from the existing non-profit partners (Britannia Centre, VSB, Vancouver Public Library).
The concern is not that the visioning process is raising housing as a possible use for the site. The concern, rather, is that housing is being suggested for the site without informing vision participants about the pros and the cons of the idea (e.g., the four problems listed above).
6.2. Lack of Information on Britannia Centre Website
There is a striking lack of information about the Britannia Centre visioning process or the status of the Master Plan on the Britannia Centre website.
Dedicated web addresses would help a great deal. There could be an address called http://britanniacentre.org/vision.html where people could find out about the visioning process, upcoming events, and the like. There could also be an address called http://britanniacentre.org/masterplan.html where interested parties can go for information about the history of the Master Plan.
(The concerns about lack of information on the Britannia website and dedicated web addresses have been in part addressed as of November 2010 — see Visioning Process … November 2010 on.)
6.3. Status of Concerns (September 2010)
On 22 September, GWAC published a second letter expressing concerns about the Britannia visioning and Master Plan process. The second letter revisits the concerns raised in the first letter from 29 March 2010, reviewing the extent to which six of them have been discussed and/or addressed. While acknowledging there has been some discussion of public-private partnerships (P3s), the section notes that the other concerns have either not been discussed or addressed. The letter notes that to fund development at Britannia Centre with a P3 would be to introduce privatization to the site.
7. Visioning Process: Second Site Scenarios and Survey (November 2010 on)
In November, the Britannia Centre website provided some information about the Master Plan at a dedicated web address on its Master Plan Home Page — more than six months after GWAC first made these requests.
Some possible site scenarios for the Britannia site have been developed by consultants contracted by the Britannia Board. A second survey was created, which you could fill out online or printed on paper and hand in at Britannia Centre. The survey deadline was 15 December 2010. The survey contained 14 questions. There were two survey questions on housing.
10. The Britannia site should include some housing.
Agree Maybe Disagree
11. If you agree, would you support:
[The following options are then listed: affordable housing, artists’ live-work studios, co-op housing, market housing, supportive housing for seniors, other (please specify)]
Question 10 is better than the equivalent question in the first survey: Question 16. The results of the second survey for Question 10 were:
Agree: 16.8% Maybe: 25.2% Disagree: 58.0% Skipped: 1.1%
8. Visioning Process: Third Round of Consultation, Survey (May–August 2011)
At its 25 May 2011 AGM, Britannia Centre kicked off a third round of consultation and its Summer 2011 Planning Survey.
Britannia is hosting tables at various community events (such as Car-Free Commercial Drive on 19 June and the Canada Day celebrations in Victoria Park on 1 July). The main event that Britannia organized was an Open House about the Britannia renewal process on 7 July, including video presentations, food and refreshments, and live entertainment.
9. Strategic Master Plan Approved by Britannia Board (September 2011)
Britannia Board approved the Strategic Master Plan in September 2011. The Strategic Master Plan is available for download (8 MB, 51 pages).