Architecture
April 15, 2021

The Last Highrise in Kitsilano

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:

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Take a walk on the Fraser River Trail Greenway which is the perfect thing to do on a brisk spring day. You can start at the south foot of Blenheim Street, and you can go west where the private Point Grey Golf Club has worked with the City to create a publicly accessible trail along the Fraser River.

There was one section of the Fraser River Trail Greenway south of the Point Grey Golf Course that was inaccessible due to a large stream embankment. The Simpson Family in Southlands who had lost a son in an accident in the armed forces chose to honour his memory and paid for the public bridge which is accessible to walkers, rollers, cyclists and horse back riders. You can continue on that trail that proceeds west through the ancient territory of the Musqueam First Nation, and that trail joins up to Pacific Spirit Park at Southwest Marine Drive.

 

But let’s say you choose to go east on the City of Vancouver’s Fraser River Trail which was approved by Council in 1995. There is a footpath on city public lands, and you then can follow the Fraser River beside the city’s McCleery Public Golf Course. It’s a wonderful walk beside the Fraser. And then you run into this:

And there is the obnoxious, anonymous signage:

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This year the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has again shifted nimbly during the pandemic  to provide marvellous virtual offerings of dances, haiku, and virtual walks during their annual great springtime event.

Originally planted in Stanley Park as a gift from Japan after World War One,  cherry trees do remarkable well in the Vancouver microclimate. In the 1960’s  the use of smaller scale trees was popular  in the city. That included flowering crab apple and plum trees to augment existing and new cherry trees which provide a visual spectacle every March and April.

I have written before about the cherry blossom festival and also about the unnamed street in East Vancouver that gets inundated each year by dinosaurs, costumed admirers, weddings and others for the chance to get photographed under that street’s ceiling of blossoms.

This year here are some images from a westside walk in the Quesnel neighbourhood. The backlanes here are windy and hard to navigate through.  And in those backlanes a few surprises. Look at the image below.

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It’s true of how we use our cars: build another lane and it fills up.  People see the space meant to relieve existing congestion, and then either switch from other routes, drive at times they might otherwise avoid, or simply drive more to take advantage of the opportunity.  It’s called induced traffic.

And it’s true to a degree of how we move on foot.  People find uses to fill available space.

Here’s a recent example: the 800-block Robson, where the one block between Howe and Hornby just reopened.  Within a week it has become one of the best ‘people places’ in the city.  Here’s how it looked on Saturday afternoon:

Thanks to a busker who attracted a sizeable crowd that spread across the plaza, there was only a narrow path past his performance.  For bikes, no space at all.  And he was only one of several users of the block, not to mention the chairs and tables scattered across the space.

Essentially the congestion that characterized the right-of-way when it still looked like a street has returned, only now it’s more entertaining.  And just as a traffic engineer might argue that a newly congested lane is a sign of success – more drivers able to take advantage of a public good – so a crowded Robson Street is a sign of a successful urban space.  Maybe too successful.

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PT: Bob Ransford, who has been working on the Southlands project in Tsawwassen for years, brings another observation on change in that area:

Gordon wrote a few weeks ago about the wave of the future that has suddenly hit the beach with the recent popularity of e-bikes – not just in downtown Vancouver, around False Creek or the Stanley Park seawall, but on the hills of the suburban North Shore. It seems the perfect confluence of factors: an aging demographic, the yearning for pandemic-safe recreation, small, powerful batteries and falling prices for e-bikes, is suddenly manifesting in the form of a new suburban mobility.

On a weekend last September, in the midst of the pandemic, I was participating in the launch of sales for the first phase of housing at Southlands developed by Century Group – a new beach community rooted in farming and food in Tsawwassen.  On the two days, more than 3,500 came from near and far to wander through Southlands’ Market Square.

I was pleasantly shocked by the number of people who arrived on bicycles.  The tally of cyclists exceeded 730 cyclists over the two days.

What really caught my eye was the number of people who rode e-bikes to the event. Many of them were like me – aging boomers. Two of them were Tsawwassen residents Murray Pratt and Gord Sarkissian (below) who, in May, will be opening a new e-bike shop called Pedego Delta in a store-front space in Southlands’ new Discovery Centre building.

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In the 1960’s Jim Wilson bought a house in Dunbar at 3253 West 24th Avenue. Twenty years later in the mid 1980’s Mr. Wilson razed the house, and built a new house faced with stone, with an elevator, and an attic. The attic, as shown in the drawings approved at city hall was not to be accessed, but was just to be “there” to ensure that  Mr. Wilson’s new house was within the calculation of liveable square feet.

Like many homeowners of the time who were also required to have half height basements (full basements counted as floor space), Mr. Wilson  made his own decision to open up the attic of his new house, and use it as a spare bedroom for his aged parents and as a games room. All was good with this unapproved use until he installed large dormer type of windows in the attic, which alerted the neighbours that Mr. Wilson was using unauthorized attic space. Even worse, he had built a correct stairway and an elevator instead of a  ladder to access that attic. The neighbours called the city.

The evening edition of the Vancouver Sun on January 14 1987 screamed “Attic Builder Defies City” and had a photo of Mr. Wilson wearing what really looks like a vintage housecoat. In that article by Ben Parfitt Mr. Wilson stated he had spent $40,000 to jazz up the new attic with “wall to wall carpeting, a pool table, a guest room, a bathroom, and a window providing a spectacular view of downtown Vancouver. He also had installed an elevator to service the three floors of his house.

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