Michael Gordon* explores a misconception about Kitsilano in the Seventies – that, in a reaction to what was felt to be ‘out-of-control overdevelopment’ (see West End), Kits was downzoned. Not quite.
Many years ago, Vancouver’s Director of Community Planning advised me that the 1975 downzoning in Kitsilano to prevent highrise residential development was not a downzoning. Upon further researching this, I discovered to some extent he had a point.
In July 1964 Kitsilano, Fairview, Kerrisdale, Mt.Pleasant and other neighbourhoods had their apartment RM-3 zoning amended to encourage ‘tower in the park’ residential development up to 120 feet.** Previously, the maximum height was three to four storeys. Subsequently in Kitsilano, only seven highrise residential buildings were built along with a variety of four-storey wood-frame apartment buildings.
The RM-3 zoning had encouraged large site assemblies because it was the only way to achieve the maximum density and height of 36.6 metres (or about 11 to 13 storeys). Density bonuses were given for large sites, low site coverage and enclosed or underground parking. (This zoning still applies in areas of Fairview and Kerrisdale.) Small- and medium-sized sites were built to a lower density and three- to four-storey wood-frame construction.
Things started to heat up in Kitsilano in the 1970s when:
- There were social tensions related to the displacement by new development of residents who wanted to stay in Kitsilano.
- Condominium development became more prevalent than purpose-built rental.
- More affordable housing choices such as ‘shared’ houses, housekeeping units in houses, rooming houses and small older rental apartment buildings were replaced by condo development for higher income residents.
- Condominium developments occupying most of a city block were clearly for higher income people as they included a swimming pool, tennis courts, a sauna and other amenities.
The one on the left on West 3rd was the last highrise built in Kitsilano (1976) and was a focus of significant opposition and public demonstrations, as documented in this Vancouver Sun article:
The ‘Carriage House’ got built and, clearly from their sales ads, was to be marketed for high-income residents – ‘a new lifestyle where leisure and luxury go hand in hand.’
Subsequent to the so-called ‘downzoning,’ 14 non-market developents were built or established in existing buildings for low- to moderate-income families, seniors and other households e.g. a person with a disability.
The maximum height was now four storeys which leant itself well to non-market courtyard family-oriented developments such as Helen’s Court Co-op on West 1st Avenue, built in 1984.
So why was the 1974 zoning change with a reduction of height from 10- 12 storeys to four storeys in some respects not a ‘downzoning?’
First, non-market developments and purpose-built rental, which included lower and moderate-rent apartments, could still be considered at the same maximum floorspace density of 1.9 as was possible under RM-3, without assembling a large site.
Also, market development on small- and medium-size sites could still achieve the same density in four storeys that were built before under RM-3 (about 1.45 FSR in four storeys).
But clearly, large site ‘up-scale’ ‘tower in the park’ developments with tennis courts and a swimming pool were no longer supported.
*Michael Gordon has worked as a planner for 44 years, including as a Senior Planner for downtown Vancouver (1992 – 2018).
**In 1961, the Architectural Institute of BC submitted to City staff a lengthy report recommending all the provisions that got incorporated into the RM-3 ‘tower in the park’ zoning. It was not until July 13, 1964 that Council approved an amended RM-3 applying to Kits, Kerrisdale, Mt. Pleasant, Fairview and other neighbourhoods. The new zoning reflected all that AIBC had recommended.