Governance & Politics
July 11, 2018

Vancouver’s Density In a Picture

The majority of Vancouver’s land is zoned for residential use, but forbids apartment buildings.  (click to enlarge)

Thanks to @GRIDSVancouver for this rendering of the opportunity in Vancouver to change zoning and provide more housing for more people.

My question: how will this play out in the upcoming civic election? A split across traditional left-right dimensions? Emergence of new poles of opinion  density increase, or status quo; rezone or not; rezone much, or a little; rezone on arterials only; rezone only mansion-oriented pockets; rip out bike lanes?

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Candidates of various persuasions keep telling me that housing is the #1 issue for Vancouver in the 2018 civic election.

I suppose that various parts of the political spectrum will find ways to claim this issue for themselves. Crazy, I know, but maybe by coming up with policies and platforms that lead to solutions. (Well, maybe.)

Here, COPE lets us know just what they stand for, as we tiptoe deeper into the troll-infested topic of housing, rezoning, density, neighbourhoods — and brace ourselves for the blow-back from certain quarters.

COPE’s opening policy statement (below) seems like a stake in the far left of the political spectrum. And would you expect anything less from the party whose recent electoral slogan was “Tax the Rich”?

With thanks to COPE council candidate Derrick O’Keefe (@derrikokeefe)

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There are some surprises in the City of Vancouver’s Northeast False Creek 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) — previously covered by Price Tags —which appear to favour the developer, not the public.

The BC Pavilion Corporation — or PavCo, the public developer and a BC Crown Corporation under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture — is exceeding the recommended square footage for the sites laid out in the guidelines by nearly twenty per cent.

The plan insists on a “gateway” of three over-height towers, well above the established heights for the site of 300 feet. Instead of three 30 storey buildings, the plan is asking for two tall towers of 42 storeys and a “smaller” tower of 40 storeys.

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YES! Vancouver is not to be confused with “Yes Vancouver”, the spankin’ new Vancouver civic political party of Mayoral hopeful Hector Bremner.

YES! Vancouver has been active since at least 2007, according to their web site.  And this is what they do.

YES! Vancouver is a philanthropic networking group of professional women looking to make powerful connections with fellow girl bosses, go-getters, and risk takers.

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Amidst the ongoing housing affordability crisis in the Vancouver region, and just four months before municipal elections, City of Vancouver council earlier this week unanimously approved a new financial strategy for the Housing Vancouver strategy.

Intended to support the addition of 72,000 new homes across Vancouver over the next 10 years — half of which will serve households earning less than $80k/year, and two-thirds of which will be for renters — this is just one among a number of decisions made by Council supporting their Making Room program, including:

  • creating Affordable Housing Endowment Fund
  • allocation of first $8M of Empty homes tax revenue to support co-ops, rent bank and SRO upgrades
  • amendments that would: allow triplexes, quadplexes and other multi-unit forms in low density neighbourhoods; set maximum unit sizes in low-density neighbourhoods; reduce or eliminate parking requirements; provide greater support for projects with community benefit, such as new rental, co-ops, co-housing or land trusts; and, in some circumstances, reduce or eliminate setback requirements and design guidelines that limit housing options.

All of Wednesday’s actions are summarized in this press release from the city.

Some critics have expressed concern that increasing allowable density on sites without significant changes to the rezoning and development permit process will just recreate the same affordability crisis we are in today, thus “kicking the can down the road”.

Are we sure this will bring affordability and sufficient options to the city? We asked some regular Price Tags contributors what they thought.

Photo: Lanefab Design/Build. Check out their #NoAssemblyRequired collection on Pinterest: “Built Examples of Small Lot Multifamily Housing”.

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In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26-storey office building at 555 Cordova. Dubbed “The Icepick”, the iconoclastic development would have been shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver.

Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and since it opened in 1914, the proposed remnant building site has been the station’s eastern access and parking lot.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot, and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back, this time with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original.

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Pseudonymous housing wonk YVRYIMBY (Vancouver, Yes In My Back Yard) has created a wonderfully simple yet powerful, data-driven graphical view of Vancouver and its housing crisis.

Consider it a required backgrounder to the premise that land locked up in exclusionary, low-density zoning inflates the cost of land in higher-density zoned areas, due to scarcity. Rezoning more land for higher density should reduce land cost per built square foot and, secondarily, reduce the demolition of existing rental stock.

Needless to say, these ideas attract varying opinion. Sort of like bike lanes did in the bad, primitive olden days.

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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?

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