The Kettle-Boffo assisted-living/condo proposal at Venables and Adanac in Vancouver’s Grandview neighbourhood flamed brightly a couple of weeks ago, with a number of news articles and radio reports. NIMBY, the schoolyard-quality taunt which is the default put-down of any critic of a nearby development, featured largely in the ensuing debate.
First, an observation. As a species, we are hard-wired to defend turf, and the only thing that trumps that reaction is economic gain. Follow the money – NIMBYs reverse direction and become pro-change when they get the economic incentive to move away (viz. Vancouver west-side homeowners, perhaps?); anti-NIMBYs are almost universally in the property industry, whether as developers, planners, or architects, or they’re theorists who don’t live in the affected area and have no dog in the fight. Ask any wealthy person: “have you had an increased desire to pack yourself in with a pile of strangers?” Of course the answer will be no – wealth buys turf. The people who don’t have the money to buy turf generally defend what little they have.
For readers who missed the news flurry, here is the No Venables Tower website, with their proposal for an alternate way forward; a Huffington Post article sharply critical of NIMBYs “hijacking” and using “disinformation”; a Vancouver Courier article; a lengthy and very good story by Kerry Gold in BC Business; and Frances Bula’s article in the Globe and Mail.
Here’s the image, as imagined by a seagull flying to the poultry-rendering plant a few blocks away. A 5-storey streetwall with what looks like very tall floor-to-floor heights, ground-level retail, the condo block on the right hand side flatiron where The Drive meets Commercial, 30 units and program space for the Kettle’s mental-health/homeless clients, and 200 market condos. It’s all just a proposal at the moment.
Is it possible to criticize Édifice Kettle-Boffo as a project without getting sandbagged? I’ll try.
• Here’s a comparable, at least one that fits into the West End landscape – a screenshot from the blog Changing City.
Note the composition of it: 28 non-market and 63 condo (mainly 2-bedroom), versus 30 non-market and 200 condos in Kettle-Boffo, which is proposing to use “free land” from the Kettle itself and possibly from the city, which owns the parking lot on the northern portion of the site.
Can somebody please do the math and explain why 1177 Jervis, regardless of its design, seems so much more balanced than Kettle-Boffo?
• Where’s the rental in Kettle-Boffo? This part of Grandview is very heavily occupied with low-rent apartments, with the largest proportion of Aboriginals of any ‘hood in the city, apparently. Wouldn’t a rental proposal help justify the size they’re asking for?
• The streetwall: both Venables and The Drive are narrow, unlike, say, Kingsway and Knight, whose multi-use building has been claimed as a comparison. Five or six tall storeys straight up off the sidewalk will be a gloomy prospect for much of the year for much of the day. Why can’t it be cut in at 3 storeys better to match the nearby buildings?
• The proposed FSR, at 6+, is wildly higher than anything in the neighbourhood. Much has been made of the “precedent” set in the 1970s by the Lions Club Adanac midrise building kitty-corner from the proposed condo midrise, but its FSR can’t be more than 2. It is set back so far from Adanac that a row of mature trees, with 2-foot-diameter trunks, sits comfortably between the building and the sidewalk, and the setback is even deeper on the Commercial Drive side.
Anyone have any other criticisms, or is this all just peachy?
For the neighbourhood, Kettle-Boffo would be an extreme example of spot-zoning, albeit with a laudable aim to partner for a mental-health facility; wasn’t spot-zoning something that Council was going to stop doing by way of adopting orderly planning and listening to neighbourhoods?
The city is putting itself in the position, vis-à-vis all the local apartment-block landowners, of being in a room full of gorillas and having only one banana. If it gives the banana to Boffo, what will it say to the others?


  1. Unfortunately, our sense of propriety over what a new building “should” include is immaterial. Most of us are spectators, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling entitled to dictate what types of units are included or what types of stores are allowed to go in the ground floor, if any. If we don’t get our way, we haven’t “been listened to”.
    Real Estate development is not a charity. The only reason most buildings exist is because somebody bet that they could sell a finished structure for more money than they spent to build it. If a developer can get more out of non-rental and non-market units – or is not legally required to include rental or non-market units – guess what, there will be fewer rental and non-market units.
    If Vancouver residents want a more equitable mix of market and non-market housing options, I suggest they demand those wishes be codified into the zoning bylaw. Simply expecting every developer out there to not only share, but reciprocate, your moral and aesthetic outlook is not realistic. So please stop.

  2. A neighbourhood is not a charity either. Nor is it some open pit mine that developers can simply drag for whatever they want, extracting profit and moving on. The community has stated loudly and clearly that (a) it does not want towers and (b) it needs more affordable rental. A number of developers have built successful 4-storey structures within walking distance of this site, and Boffo should look to them for inspiration.

    1. In fact, I challenge area homeowner-millionaires to ask the city to create more space for more affordable rental housing in the neighborhood. But that would require someone to buy and tear down some of their neighbors

      1. Actually in Grandview creating “more space” in many of the existing 1910 era homes was done successfully in the 1930s, 40s and 1950s, when homes were renovated to have 3 or 4 suites. If the attics and basements were developed or a small addition made, then these houses contained 4, 5 or 6 suites of affordable housing, all close to public transit.
        Unfortunately today the area of these old homes east of Commercial is zoned just duplex – 2 suites. So when a 1910 home of 6 suites, or a rooming house of 6 or 10 rooms for rent is torn down, it is replaced with just two $ 1 million+ half duplexes. Thus last year, if you were a young single person or a retired person newly renting a room for $500 a month, you had to make a deposit of $250 to move in. Today, when a new place is built there, you probably need a down payment of $250,000 to live on the same site.
        This is the result that will continue to happen if in the new community plan the current zoning is kept the same. So let’s just go back to the old zoning that created this very diverse, and interesting neighbourhood in the first place. In those days it catered to some degree to young or old single people and wasn’t trying to be completely family-oriented like the suburbs. Of course these multi-suited houses are more affordable for young home buyers because they can start out by renting out most of the house, and they are also more resilient, meaning instead of moving every decade to accommodate their changing circumstance, they can just adjust their use to meet their needs in a variety of scenarios. In old age, for example, owners could even live on the ground level and gradually sell the rest of the house to young people looking after them.

    2. Pick high density OR affordable. You cannot have low rise with affordable housing in one the most expensive land areas in MetroVan.
      The handout mentality is very well developed in the west-end. Rent control is one example. is it fair that the widow pays only $1200 for her 3 BR as her husband dies and the 2 kids moved out, whereas the family of 4 moving in cannot find anything below $2400 nearby ?
      If you interfere in the market, someone wins and someone pays for the winner. Either the landowner, or the building owner, or the tax payer.
      Why is affordable housing 2 blocks from the beach and 3 blocks from Stanley Park a right ?

        1. Is housing, paid for or subsidized by someone else, a right, especially in a beachfront locale ?

      1. Why is affordable housing 2 blocks from the beach and 3 blocks from Stanley Park a right ?
        I don’t know that it’s a right, but it makes good sense in the long run to have mixed-income communities across the region. Further, since none of us gets to choose our parents, it levels the playing field a bit for children, who need access to outdoor space and parks as much (if not more) than anyone. Finally, because it’s so expensive to help people who end up in need of treatment for addictions etc, and the restorative powers of nature being well-documented, I would argue that it may actually make good economic sense in the long run — although that’s a speculation that would be hard to quantify.

    3. Jak, you undermine your credibility when you claim to speak for the whole community. Many members of the community support this new housing project and Kettle. The community is diverse and has many opinions and you are only one of its members.

  3. My guess is that the project could be set back from the street if the neighbourhood wasn’t so fixated against height – that’s why it’s short and squat.
    But then they don’t want the “Yaletown” look of a tower and podium, which allows light to the street, do they? – Just because The Drive ISN’T Yaletown! (Hell, no!)

  4. If the residents negotiated instead of demanded, then they may just be able to have it set back a few metres and remove a storey or two.

  5. Agreed. I’m pro-densification but as I wrote in my Courier column this project is too dense. It’s form following finance, rather than sound planning g principles. If the city was to put some of its parking lot proceeds into the project, the density could be reduced.

  6. I agree with Geller here. If the existing outright zoning allows 4 storeys and the density 2.5FSR and the proposal is for three times that height and 2.5 times the density, I think the opposing residents are probably being more reasonable than those who would approve the development at the proposed scale “for a good cause.”
    Question: Is the COV trying to sell its land at the zoned or the rezoned density? Either way, a reasonable right down on the city land would likely result in a more acceptable scale of development, even if not 4storeys. Perhaps Boffo could say they can only afford 1/3 $X for it due to community opposition. Then let the COV bean counters do the math slash negotiations.
    BTW, there’s a very good reason why people tend to strongly oppose the first highrise proposal in their ‘hood. Cuz forever after it will be used as a precedent by the next guy.

    1. It would actually appear to be 5th tower in the neighbourhood. Then there are also several of the ugliest 5 floor buildings nearby.
      I think the biggest negative of this project is the loss of Astorino’s. Weird old public spaces are getting to be hard to come by.

  7. I think it should be clear – many of us who don’t like NIMBYism don’t like it because we believe it hurts the poor.
    The concerns being raised again and again are about how new housing is going to affect the feel of the neighborhood, or how someone subjectively doesn’t like the shape of the building, or how it will affect the property values of the landowning millionaires in the area.
    But Vancouver is so expensive because there are many people who want to live here, and scarce places for them to live.
    I don’t live in the neighborhood, but I do have a dog in the fight as someone who pays a price for housing dictated by the intersection of supply and demand curves in the city.
    The poor are helped by increased housing supply, and by economic growth. The rich are helped by constraining housing supply so that their assets appreciate faster. If you care about most people, allow the construction of most projects.

  8. It’s an interesting comparison – the Jervis is, according to the development permit webpage 10,620 sq. m. of space at 6.61 FSR. That would make the site 1,607 sq. m. – currently three houses in a row.
    The Kettle-Boffo site (without the city land to the north) looks to be slightly bigger at around 1,770 sq. m. So if a tower were an acceptable form, (and there’s some evidence that it’s not universally welcomed in that neighbourhood) and 6.6 FSR is necessary to cover the cost of providing the non-market units, then it would logically have to be around 18 to 20 floors to achieve those units and the Kettle’s other space.
    Note that the economics are probably different in the West End, so the ‘lift’ is probably greater there. The apartments on Jervis are advertised as costing from $1,000,000 to over $1,400,000. We’re not sure the Drive has quite reached those values yet, and if that’s true the project would either have to be bigger (for example, incorporating the City’s land and building two towers at the same density) or there would have to be an even taller tower on the Kettle/Boffo site.

    1. This discussion just goes to show how inadequate floor space ratio is as a predictor of bulk and height, which was its original 1961 NYC purpose. No wonder many places in the US have gone to so-called “form-based codes” in order to assure people of just what to expect to be built in their ‘hood. Our nearest approximation of such codes are zoning bylaws and their related design guidelines.
      I think many of the good folks of GW would be satisfied if this site were to be developed in accord with existing zoning and guidelines, or at least a reasonable approximation thereof – say a 50% increase to around 6 storeys and 3.25 FSR. So maybe all parties – Boffo, the City and not least the Kettle just have to ratchet down their respective expectations if there is to be a satisfactory outcome. And at the same time, the No Towers folks might also be willing to meet them halfway.

  9. Twelve floors can hardly be considered a tower when we are building fifty floors in other neighbourhoods. Given the form of development and massing of this carefully articulated project it all adds up to a good fit with the context and in addition it is not the highest project on the street. Too dense? Maybe the proponents should have started higher and given a few floors up along the way to approvals. Maybe they were two honest, enamoured with a really good proposal.

    1. I agree with you — 12 floors is perfectly acceptable, more of a mid rise than a tower. This whole article is a bit disingenuous, holding up a tower as an example of what to do and then complaining about the height/form of this much shorter building.
      One thing though — they already have reduced the number of floors after the initial outcry. This is the second proposal, I believe.

  10. I like the way it interacts with the street way better than the Jervis example. I think it will be a nice addition to Commercial as long as the retail is reasonable ‘funky’. A couple of years after it is built I bet most people will be wondering what was the fuss about.

    1. New retail is rarely funky because of the way commercial property is valued. Commercial owners look for the highest value tenant — ie, the one that will sign a long-term high-rent lease for a large floorplate — because the value of the real estate will be largely determined by a multiple of that rent. That’s why new buildings tend to end up with the Pharmasaves and Royal Banks and Starbuckses rather than the funky stores.

    2. Yes, but …….
      Sometimes, after a large expensive ground floor plate has sat unleased for many months in a neighbourhood of funky, smaller and cheaper commercial frontages, the owner divides it into two or three and in come the independent organic food stores and cafes.
      Also, larger commercial tenants like Shoppers, TD Bank and Starbucks really like high-volume corners with lots of exposure. This site may be on the cusp, but maybe it’s not quite as exposed as they would like.
      Street frontages with smaller shop storefronts (i.e. 4-8 m) are always more attractive to locals and can up a neighbourhood’s walk score and create an appealing street wall that respected urbanists like Jan Gehl and Ken Greenberg write about all the time, but the financials will lean toward larger tenants wherever possible. I think this lends itself toward flexible ground floor plates, and a developer wouldn’t do any harm by roughing in some additional service capacity.

  11. Don’t be fooled. This proposal by Boffo Developments is nothing more than a blatant attempt to garner excess profits from an already over priced real estate market. They are greedy. They are not in any way being charitable or even reasonable in their endeavours.
    They purchased and held this property for some time now, with full knowledge of the zoning restrictions. However, as opportunists they saw a way of looking “good” while going for the big profit win by joining with the Kettle to coerce the City into perhaps changing the long standing zoning restrictions. Obviously a few would be intellectuals from outside the neighbourhood may have swayed by Boffo and the Kettle but most informed individuals have no trouble in seeing this proposal for what it is. It is not good for Commercial Drive or Grandview Woodlands or its residents.
    On the other hand, The No Tower Movement is essentially a well respected group of Grandview Woodlands residents that clearly represent the people of this neighbourhood. They should not be dismissed. I salute these people for resisting the sustained, professionally organized and well funded whitewash of the project by Boffo.

    1. If ye ain’t withus you be agin’ us. Sounds like pure nimby presented as good versus evil.

      1. Ron, as I recollect, you were always at odds with the people at City Hall, now you seek to alienate ordinary residents of the City as well. You would be wise to be a little more selective in your dismissive, off the cuff mock southern bigot responses to what I see as being ligitimate concerns. Calling people NIMBYs just because they are in opposition to your ideas does absolutely nothing to further meaningful discussion.

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