Businesses push for West End overhaul

Business group commissions its own urban planning report
Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End BIA: the group wanted to have a stronger voice in community planning

A business advocacy group in one of Vancouver's oldest and densest neighbourhoods has taken a stab at urban planning, with the interests of business top of mind.

The West End Business Improvement Area (WEBIA) hired Urban Forum Associates (UFA), headed by veteran Vancouver planner Lance Berelowitz, to hold community meetings and create a report. Recommendations include improving bus routes, widening sidewalks and installing two ceremonial gates to welcome visitors to the area.

The WEBIA now hopes the ideas will be incorporated in the City of Vancouver's ongoing West End community plan, which will identify how the area will grow over the next 20 to 30 years.

WEBIA vice-chairman David Buddle said the decision to hire UFA came in response to "the perception that the business voice wasn't being heard" compared with the "more vocal" residents' groups who have raised concerns over intensifying development in the West End.

He added that the business community also felt the West End was becoming stagnant.

The planning work cost the WEBIA around $40,000.

"Not all BIAs have the ability to invest at this level," said Stephen Regan, the organization's executive director.

But he said the cost was within reach for the WEBIA, which represents about 600 businesses and is Vancouver's second largest business improvement area. The organization's jurisdiction includes the West End sections of Davie and Denman and part of Robson Street.

Regan and Buddle, who have met city councillors and planning staff, have already seen results from the planning process.

"When you go to city hall and you talk to the engineers and you talk to the planning department, you need to speak their language," said Regan.

The WEBIA's vision plan has become an important element in the community plan process, according to Holly Sovdi, West End planner for the city.

"They've been very proactive, getting ahead of the process itself and making sure that they're in a position to offer a lot of really meaningful feedback to us."

Sovdi added that aspects of the WEBIA's plan are already finding their way into the West End community plan.

For instance, the plan already had a lot of useful information about how a proposed bike path on Comox Street could intersect with Denman Street in a way that encouraged visitors to patronize shops and restaurants.

"We worked with the BIA to understand how will that intersection occur, and how will we design that space to make it a vibrant place where commerce meets the Greenway," said Sovdi.

The WEBIA and the West End community plan are also on the same page when it comes to the idea of identifying three "village" areas – on Davie, Denman and Robson streets – and tying the three together.

"There's got to be a compelling reason to go to the next block and explore the whole area as a package," said Regan. "The commercial streets are as interesting from a tourism perspective as Stanley Park and English Bay."

The planning process will continue with community consultation until June. In November, the plan will be presented to council for approval.

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