So far, the opposition has the momentum – to newer, denser development in the region.

The District of North Vancouver Council turning down the Delbrook and Edgemont Village rezonings is the most jaw-dropping.  But similar responses are seen in Port Moody and White Rock.  In Vancouver, it’s unclear.

What will happen when significant development proposals come forward that aim to address the housing crisis?   Willwe then hear this message from councils: ‘No, this is too much, too fast – and, actually, we’re not in so much of a crisis that we can’t take time to rethink and replan.  This could take years.  So in the meantime, we’re not going to approve more projects that are opposed in the community and become controversial.’

Oh look, there’s one now.

2538 Birch Street – the Denny’s site not far from Granville and Broadway.


Some in the surrounding community are mobilizing.  Here’s their website –

Some of your neighbours are actively questioning the proposal going to the City for a new mixed-use development at Broadway and Birch. The original approved plan called for a height of 16 floors – this developer is now going back to the City for an increase to 28 floors.

This will change our Fairview, Kitsilano, South Granville neighbourhood’s distinctive features and impact livability. Most importantly, it will create a precedent for future development along the Broadway Corridor.

Michael Geller has written about the project in his Courier column.  He reports that the ask from the developer is for “rezoning approval for an even higher 28-storey, 10.7 FSR building containing 262 market rental units under a new Moderate-Income Rental Housing Pilot Program that will come into effect in 2019.”

So: a big increase in density under a program designed to encourage this kind of moderately-priced rental housing stock – pretty much what every candidate said we needed more of.  However, decisions trump promises.  Whatever the City Council decides will reflect their actual priorities, not their campaign ones.

If the decision is to reject, postpone or refer until after the completion of the Broadway Corridor Plan, somehow to be integrated with the multi-year cityplan, then it won’t much matter if Council says that, nonetheless, it will continue to entertain rezonings in the future for affordable housing.

If there’s a message that significant change in the short term (yes, spot rezonings!) won’t be well received, then that’s a satisfactory outcome for the preservationist side.  No will be the word heard by the community – the development community in particular – until such time as we hear ‘Yes, this is what’s acceptable to us.’

Michael Geller, having been a proponent of more change in the city than most, still opposes the Birch Street project.  That’s his No.  His Yes for the whole future station area at Broadway and Granville would be Downtown South.  At about 5+ FSR, it’s a scale and density that have worked pretty well.  But if not that, then what?  What would you say Yes to?  Without specifics, it’s still a No.

Add this project as another data point on the Bushfield-Prest Chart, another small project with a very big message attached.


Bushfield-Prest Chart



  1. If the area could have a 16S condo … any PBR has to have some significant carrot to have similar viability. A PBR with 20% nonmarket has to have even more carrot. Thats the whole point of the MIRPP … to flexibly add carrots as needed. The PBR probably only needs a few stories above 16S to have similar viability. The MIRPP aspect demands at least a few more additional floors … add a few to a few and you very quickly get very near 28S, so its not altogether surprising they get that number using something better than analogy math.

    Unless there is some other manner by which carrots can be given, or the city/province/country starts building things itself, this is the way the math will go. If there are no other carrots to give, then height is necessary – especially as most of the other carrots would be tax breaks or similar which would in effect raise everyone else’s taxes to compensate (I hear folks hate that). This is a ‘free’ benefit to all but the neighbourhood.

    I live in the neighbourhood, so let me give my neibourly feedback that I say YIMBY to it, I don’t have anything against this tower, and know from being out walking that it isn’t going to overshade anyone who wasn’t already being so by someone else. So while my feedback isn’t really worth any more than someone who didn’t live nearby, since local seems to trump sense, let that be my vote.

    @MGeller mentioned in his piece:
    “A few years later, I angered many Cambie corridor residents by proposing a fourth 18-storey rental tower at Langara Gardens. While it was approved, a subsequent application for three more rental towers was rejected due to community opposition. Today there are plans for buildings up to 28 storeys on the site.”

    Since the age of the buildings he refers to at Langara and the ones along Broadway are ballpark the same age, this is a useful comparison … the neighbours along broadway are very nearly the same 18 Story buildings he proposed at Langara. This new tower is very nearly the same 28 Story building as now being proposed on Broadway. Why is this tower at Langara so obviously ok that its suitability is not even worth mentioning but the one on Broadway is ‘too big’? I would suggest the context on Broadway supports a large tower better than that at Langara, all other things being equal.

  2. Apples to apples would be helpful here. Even after the 4th tower at Langara, I think the overall density of that site is less than 1.0 FSR. Oakridge Centre, with 11 towers exceeding anything at Langara Gardens, is in the vicinity of only 3 FSR. This is due to their large sites and generous open spaces. The West End, until the last few years, was generally built at a density of 2.6FSR or so, and up to 6FSR under the recent – and quite controversial – rental incentive program.
    The concerns that Michael Geller is talking about for the current proposal is not only built form (height, massing, coverage, etc.), but also this elusive metric of density, or Floor Space Ratio. I share that concern. That is an unprecedented density for an entire precinct if this becomes the template or precedent, as these things usually do. (How does the city say no to the next one, and the one after that? Closing the door after property values have inevitably been ratcheted upwards is pretty difficult.) Precincts at that density and corresponding height, massing and coverage, etc., are an entirely new condition for mixed use/residential precincts in our city and region.
    Given all this, I don’t think it is too much to ask for the city to show its citizens – not just neighbours – what this unprecedented level of density and built form could/would look like at full build out. It could be fine, but nobody can actually say for sure, can we?And, to be perfectly clear about it, if we are told that this will be the only one at that level, due to a unique set of (unspecified) circumstances, that is cold comfort indeed.

  3. In the short term, it would behoove developers to provide throwaway plans just to test the waters – mugger money, essentially. In the longer term, though, assuming the City is truly interested building more housing, Council and the Mayor must summon something akin to courage and over-rule this type of NIMBY tyranny for the benefit of the City they were elected to govern. “Yes, I hear your opposition and sympathize, but we’re allowing it anyway.” Validate their sheltered little fears and move on. You’d think it would be easier with an entirely at-large Council, but they still run for the hills at every critical tweet.

    Buildings of any size cost a lot to plan, design, and construct. Larger ones also often require investors, who need plans and some guarantee of return. Development is difficult in a climate of feckless obstructionism, especially over nonsensical things like “building form” and “context”. If your house will be forever shaded by a proposed building, that’s one thing. It’s cause. But to oppose a development solely because your sensitive eyes can’t abide geometric asymmetry, well, you’ve tipped your hand. You’re clearly a raving lunatic shouting on the subway. The City is right to smile at your general direction without making eye contact, nod its head, and walk past you to go about its business of responsible governing.

    1. Alternative scenarios are very useful, but I’d prefer the City itself put them forward at the right time in a structured process., before final decisions are made.

  4. “Some in the surrounding community are mobilizing, Here is their website …”
    There is no their.
    Some anonymous person, a renter according to them, puts up a website.
    They say they speak for “neighbours” who are “actively questioning.”
    This piece of website trash should be binned.
    Then again, what a tragedy if the glorious historical landmark BOWMAC/TOYS R Us sign should in some way be diminished in prominence by new development. What a loss to the tight/knit community of this area, not to mention the rest of us; and tourists too; a tragic loss of our commons.
    A better title for this website trash would be BLOWMAX.

  5. This site is a scant 325 m (3-minute walk) from the soon-to-be Broadway x Granville subway station, and 450 m (5-min. walk) from the Oak Street subway station site. Three existing buildings within 75 m of the site are 14-15 storeys. Two apartment towers not two blocks (150 m) south are each 12 storeys and situated in a field of low rises.

    This proposal and some of the reaction to it begs for a strong urban design component to be part of the upcoming Broadway Corridor Planning exercise. In that regard, options for stepping down the heights and adjusting the massing (considering lower, broader buildings consume more land) away from rapid transit stations would give the public something broader to chew on, rather than focussing only on the tallest building. The residents are obviously ignoring the taller precedents in their own neighbourhood that appeared well before the Broadway subway was approved.

    Looking at it another way, removing the site / project-specific myopia will help visualize the protection of low and mid-rises on the leafy streets of South Granville and Fairview Slopes by allowing Broadway to densify and take the pressure off.

    If a compromise was proposed as a sop to the NIMBYs between the proposed 28 storeys and the adjacent pre-subway 14 storey buildings, that’d end up being only four or six storeys lower at best before the developer walks away, especially considering the pressures for affordable housing and the outrageously walkable proximity to two rapid transit stations on one of the region’s major arterials and many kilometres of handy continuous sidewalk retail.

    Why bother?

    1. More on the issue of height.

      The Eldorado, Nanaimo x Kingsway, is 24-25 storeys tall and fairly close to the scale of the Broadway x Birch building. There were no precedents for towers there until the Eldorado was proposed. There was local protest (Jak King et al) and in many respects they were right — the building was a bit over the top and out of context, but that should not have precluded mid-rises at key corners along the Kingsway Corridor. Further, it is part of a complex of buildings that step down from the corner tower and includes rentals. It is 800 m (8-10-minute walk) from a rapid transit station with fairly adequate bus service at the door.

      Compared to Birch St, the Eldorado had more justified knocks against it, but it went ahead. It’s a mystery why Birch is getting this kind of negative attention by some professionals in addition to the ubiquitous NIMBYs.

      1. Jak King – you couldn’t make up a name like that, has two books at the VPL about Commercial Drive. 10 copies. All are on the shelves. Dull dull dull.
        Deduction. Jak King needs a new hobby; or maybe a dog; or playing bridge with like-minded folk. “Oh dear oh dear. Things aren’t the way they used to be.”
        Reminds me of the spermatozoon in Woody Allen’s “Everything you wanted to know …”. The one dressed as a priest. Protesting.
        The Eldorado on Kingsway? No one gives a rat’s ass.
        Look at the huge Westwood project at Kingsway and Gladstone. Oh, horror, they flattened a Crappy Tire Store.

      2. The Eldorado is part of a redevelopment of a seedy stretch of Kingsway. It has a large Vietnamese population and the environs west to Knight Street have been a development free for all in the last decade. Corner lots on 22nd ave between Knight and Victoria have sold for up to two million, with up to five units replacing a single family house. Low rises on Kingsway between Nanaimo and Knight will be history, on the south side for sue.

        Cedar Cottage is actually a decent example of livable gentle density – single family homes often have a lane way house, there are several townhouse developments close to Commercial Street where young families prevail from a more affordable time, and corner lots are replaced by multiple duplexes. It’s close enough to transit and shopping that it works fairly well, and probably should be extended into other neighborhoods. I just can’t imagine the residents of Kerrisdale remaining silent about a similar addition of density, and there lies a big part of our problem.

  6. I kind of like this building. It reminds me a bit of Art Deco in its shape. Maybe they can make the lower podium in some old timey retro style, then people can pretend it’s only five stories high and ignore what’s above that.
    I agree with others, 28 stories is not too tall for being close to a subway station.

  7. The bigger question out of North Van District is how many times Council can block a development already far along in the approval process before developers start taking their money elsewhere. I’m inclined to think that there are more than a few projects that are suddenly on hold until investors can figure out just what the new Council is likely to approve.

    And of course, planning staff in the District must be in a quandary wondering how much of established practice is now obsolete.

  8. I’m on Kingsway almost every day. On it, across it, in its alleys – on foot, by car, and mostly by bicycle – from Mount Pleasant to New West.
    It is a bit run down in places – runover by the relentless scourge of bully motordom, but it is regaining its stature.
    It is one of the most historically important streets – from when it was an indigenous trail and a wagon road – to now with big developments in the pipeline.
    It was a big deal when it was paved in 1912; and turned into a strip mall.
    It needs to be tamed. The traffic is horrific. Ridiculous considering much of it follows the Skytrain route. Who are all these mad motorists? Where are they going? Why aren’t they taking mass transit. Someone please do a survey.
    I’m one of the very few brave or foolish enough to cycle there. Pity, because as a diagonal, and with a reasonable slope, it is ideal for bicyclists.
    Instead, it is scary.
    At the very least, the north lane should be a bike route. Dump the pestilence of parked cars.
    It could be a beautiful scenic route. The views to the North Shore are terrific. No motorists notice these.
    A couple of years ago a bubble tea shop opened at Kingsway and Joyce. It has created arrogant motorist behaviour – parking at the bus stop; and in handicapped around the corner. It is an accident waiting to happen. Another death. Another sacrifice to motordom.
    Kingsway. How many streets have a book of poetry by that name? It’s pretty good.
    And there’s a very good soundslide called “that goddamn 19 bus – late again …”
    Kingsway has character and texture. It should not just be a conduit for commuters.

  9. Bravo! Thank you! Some us that live in this area – Renfrew Collingwood – would like to celebrate Kingsway for what it could be with it’s hidden ‘character and texture’ that few are able to recognize as they speed along the historical trail. Ideas and efforts are blocked by its old highway status still fresh in local memories. Let’s recognize it as the colourful ‘International Ave’ it has become.

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