In principle, the idea of infill in already built-out neighbourhoods is seen to be a good one, especially to broaden the choice of options. At the community planning stage, there’s general acceptance.
Reality is tougher. Two prominent cases for apartments on parking lots have received a lot of pushback – in the case of the Delbrook proposal in North Van District, council rejection; in the case of the Larch Street proposal in Kitsilano, considerable neighbourhood opposition.
Even in the West End, one neighbourhood you’d expect would welcome infill, the dilemma of scale and relationship to the existing fabric becomes apparent in these two examples. The first – around five storeys, about the same as those examples mentioned above – was submitted almost immediately after the approval of the West End Community Plan in 2013 – a proposal for a rear parking lot at Cardero and Comox, as reported in PriceTags in 2014. The comments detail the complaints.
Nonetheless, it is now under construction:
The other, a half block away, at 1685 Nelson, is considerably different in scale – actually an extension of to a heritage-quality house – but also meeting resistance.
The concerns? Here are some by way of Glenda Bartosh:
Right now on Bidwell, we have three heritage beauties all in a row; but if this goes through, the backside of 1685, which is visible from Bidwell will be at least 75% new infill, according to the proposal, and totally interrupt the existing streetscape.
The heritage windows in the original house will be replaced with new vinyl ones that retain the leaded glass decorative elements (seriously?).
A stucco finish and “high quality aluminium” windows are destined for the addition, along with an underground garage — complete with a garage door facing Nelson Street that looks like it belongs in Surrey or Coquitlam — to replace an existing, new, perfectly livable suite so that an electric vehicle can be plugged in.
Amenities like a hot tub and water wall are proposed for the roof; plus condos in excess of 2,000 sq. ft. — totally atypical for the West End.
And, no, the property is not on the heritage registry, although we are asking city hall to do so. Many owners think by registering such a house it would be harder to sell and therefore lose value. My research shows just the opposite — a 7-8% increase in value.
So far the Heritage Commission has not even seen the application, when at least one of city hall’s own staffers thinks it should. And while staff says that the West End Community Plan sufficiently deals with 90% of infill and redevelopment on heritage sites like this one, it also acknowledges 10% will fall through the cracks. I’d say this site is part of the 10% — a fallen one. And that we can do better.
Whether large or small scale, infill has its problems. As a solution to the housing crisis, it’s not likely to deliver an amount of affordable housing sufficient to justify the extra time it takes to process and respond to community concerns.
Indeed, these examples are on-the-ground illustrations of Mayor Kennedy’s observation noted in the post below:
How do we provide new non-market housing options (shelterless to living wage) without touching the older stock that already provides a lot of the affordable housing. In other words, when you have to tear something down in a built-out city (or change the scale of existing neighbourhoods with increased density), you will not be well received.