In the City of Vancouver, council is trying to get as much done as they can before the October 20th election.
That includes rushing two Council reports — the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) rezoning plans for 750-772 Pacific Boulevard (the Plaza of Nations site, or Sub-area B), and the 777 Pacific Boulevard site (1 Robson Street, or Sub-area 10c).
The reports for these two sites can be found here and here. By approving these two reports to go to public hearing this summer, the Vision party dominated council can be assured that at least part of their housing mandate is pressed forward. But at what price?
While affordable housing will be built, the City has made some precedent-setting choices in their intent to cram overbuilt, bulky buildings directly into three view corridors in these two rezonings.
Remember those three-bedroom “affordable housing” family units that Council said would be built? Guess what — the City has caved into the developers’ idea that the third bedroom can borrow light from another room, and not need to have a bedroom that has an actual exterior window. This means that these “inboard” bedrooms can save 200 square feet, and also means that developers don’t need to use highly valued corners for three-bedroom apartments.
Studies on light access suggest that locating children’s rooms away from natural light can lead to psychological effects during low-light Vancouver winters. But as one housing expert suggested, in a “crisis” anything goes, even bedrooms without windows to the outside.
Even more surprising is the City’s continuing push not just for higher square footage than originally approved for this plan, but also for their insistence of three towers to form the ‘Georgia Gateway’ and pierce directly into the Cambie View cones 9.1 and 9.22. Even the Queen Elizabeth Park View cone 3.2.3 will be corrupted by these proposed towers.
This means that if you’re walking or viewing the downtown area from Cambie Street anywhere from 10th to 12th Avenue, you aren’t going to see the mountains, just a concrete mass. Thanks to this council, at Queen Elizabeth Park you’ll get a massive view of a tower too.
If you’re talking with the lead planners in the world cities, you’ll hear whispers that they’ve heard about how difficult it is to work for this current Council, and about their intransigence. This is a partly a result of the politicization of the City Manager appointment by the current administration. Previously City Managers were promoted from within the City staff and carried on the stewardship and enactment of established policies beyond the election of each Mayor and Council.
For some reason, this Council has determined that Vision’s legacy of three piercing pinnacles of towerdom is more important than free and accessible mountain views.
Price Tags has already written extensively on why these view corridors, a public benefit accessible to every Vancouverite, are so important to maintain. Even former co-director of planning Larry Beasley, a globally-recognized planning leader, has been quoted as thoughtfully saying:
If Vancouverites were to weigh in on what public amenities matter to them, the view cones will be right up there with the seawall and beaches as a treasured public asset. Instead of cramming more housing in where it is crowded and blocks views, lets open up some new communities.
While tower heights of 300 feet (30 storeys) were approved in the plan for this area, the City is still insisting on two tall towers of 425 feet (42 storeys) “stepping down” to one tower of 400 feet (40 storeys). The rationale? For a “gateway”.
But a gateway for whom? Anyone approaching the city on foot, or by bike, public transit or a vehicle, is going to be looking at the mountains and the ground plane not an aerial photo of an urban design concept. Is overbuilding these sites and producing buildings of over 40 storeys really needed? Is this worth giving up the ability to have views to and through to the sea and mountains?
Why is so much being given up to the developer? Why is the developer allowed to privatize the public’s right to mountain views?