When Trevor Vanderveen pointed out earlier this year that the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan had overlooked places of worship and their role in the community, city planners and politicians not only listened, they added to the plan. Rather than treating it as a battle, he walked gently into city hall and got a big response, proving once again that a winsome approach is always best.
The Grandview-Woodland community is changing significantly, and the good news is that the church will still have a place there.
Of course, we always knew that the church would be there, but now the City of Vancouver has demonstrated commitment to supporting places of worship as they continue to be places where spiritual well-being is encouraged and members seek the peace of the city.
For the past few years, the city has been working on a Grandview-Woodland Community Plan for the 28,000 citizens of the area between Nanaimo and Commercial and from 12th Avenue to the water. The most contentious issues have been around densification.
Since 1971, the population of Grandview-Woodland has only grown by two percent, while the city as a whole has swelled by over 36 percent; the Community Plan sought to respond to this discrepancy through redevelopment and increased density. In the few weeks since the approval of the plan, large redevelopment application signs have been posted on many lot assemblies and aging buildings.
In June, the draft of the new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan was made public and even though the 247 page document provided a great deal of detail regarding such issues as new height allowances, there were no specific comments about places of worship.
A friend alerted me to this omission, and as a pastor in this neighbourhood for nearly 10 years, I was concerned about the implications not only for our own congregation, but also for the other places of worship. I was concerned because the plan’s primary goal of creating more housing targeted sizable properties like our church site, with its parking lot, because of the potential of market-rate housing.
There are more than 20 places of worship in Grandview-Woodland, and many of these have aging buildings that were not built to today’s seismic standards. Should any of them need to be rebuilt, congregations with limited resources will either (i) be tempted to ‘cash-out’ by selling their entire property to a developer; (ii) need to secure grants and significant fundraising to have full control of their building project; or (iii) want to leverage the land value by setting up a mixed-use development where a new church building shares space with market rate housing.
I contacted city councillor and neighbour Andrea Reimer, as well as two city planners who were overseeing the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan.
In my conversations with them, I first pointed out the oversight of not acknowledging the churches, temples and mosque in the plan. These places represent a significant interest group in the neighbourhood and I explained to them how it is in the city’s best economic interest to support places of worship.
Each congregation, I reasoned, represents both neighbourhood residents and those who visit this neighbourhood for worship and other meetings, bringing an economic benefit to Grandview-Woodland.
Based on the recent Halo Project, I was quite confident that even though these non-profits don’t pay municipal taxes, they actually provide a significant economic net benefit to the city – which could amount to millions of dollars each year.
Cardus’ Halo Project pointed out how 10 Toronto congregations had a net annual economic benefit of $45 million. This benefit is based on a number of criteria including the social assets that places of worship provide by hosting neighbourhood dinners, food banks, micro-industry employment, community gardens, daycare programs and food banks – and the many other ways vulnerable populations are being cared for by these worshipping communities.
Finally, I pointed out that these economic and social benefits to the city could be threatened by the course of future development unless the city agreed to offer incentives for congregations – which often have limited funds – so they can remain in place indefinitely.
Specifically, I asked that city planners would ensure that places of worship within a larger multi-use development would benefit from the same flexibility accorded to other non-profit organizations (which might run daycares or low-income housing, for example) when a project zoning application is submitted.
With the advocacy of councillor Reimer, city planners modified the Community Plan one week before it was voted in July 28. They added places of worship to a map of the community (p.181) and, more significantly, added the following policies to Section 13 (p.195).
Section 13.11: Places of Worship reads as follows:
Grandview-Woodland has approximately 16 places of worship that offer space to support the spiritual well-being of residents and visitors. Equally importantly, many of these facilities allow their buildings (and grounds) to be used for community gathering, meetings and a range of activities – including the provision of food security programs, childcare and other programming. As these spaces age, it is important to enable their long-term renewal, where appropriate.
Support the renewal of existing places of worship, and their continued use for community purposes
13.11.1 Encourage renovation and reinvestment into existing places of worship. Where appropriate, allow development of these facilities to provide additional height and density with the goal of preserving community spaces over the long term. (Note: Rezoning of existing non-market properties will be subject to urban design analysis including shadow studies and transition to adjacent residential areas. Overall heights and densities should be consistent with those in the surrounding sub-areas.)
13.11.2 Consider incentives to support the retention of social spaces, including: partnerships with the City; heritage revitalization agreements; parking relaxations; capital grants (for registered non-profit facilities); other incentives as appropriate.
Though the policy states that there are 16 places of worship, I have identified at least 20. However, the content of the policies is in no small measure an answer to prayer. I remain grateful to those at city hall who were receptive and willing to make amendments, and who showed genuine commitment toward the vibrancy of our city, enhanced by the presence of places of worship.
I am also hopeful that in the next years, as we witness the transformation of the streets where we live and work, we will continue to witness to Christ’s transforming presence through those who will continue to “seek the peace of the city and pray for it.” (Jeremiah 29).
Trevor Vanderveen is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver.