Design & Development
July 28, 2016

The Changing Arterials of Vancouver

It’s been a decades-old commitment to add density along the major arterials of the city. (Residents of low-density and single-family neighbourhoods tend to support the initiative because it keeps higher density along the edges and provides a buffer from the busier routes – though most people would prefer to live on the quieter inside streets.  See the West End and Kerrisdale on either side of 41st.)
Still, as examples emerge, the results are looking good.  For example, along 41st across from Oakridge:

 
Even better, the row housing lining up along Oak:

 

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Many voices in the housing conversation cry in various ways and loudly about the detached single-family home, who’s buying, and how to stop “them”, how to preserve fond memories of washing the Buicks on Saturday morning.  All as if this is both the norm, and an absolute entitlement for any person who chooses to live in Vancouver.

But there are rising voices of those looking in other directions.
Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail writes about people who support increased density.

Their group, Abundant Housing Vancouver, is an unplanned participant in what has become an almost overnight social movement in dozens of American cities, where advocates have banded together to demand population density, more housing projects and less militant protection of single-family neighbourhoods.
. . . Mr. Dawe and others would like to see municipal councils be brave enough to start allowing denser development in the huge areas of land now set aside for single-family housing.
Danny Oleksiuk, a 31-year-old labour lawyer, said he was motivated to join up when he saw a map showing that 31 per cent of Vancouver’s residents live on 83 per cent of the available land.

“My interest is really in the single-family neighbourhoods, where it’s now a $2-million entry price. There’s a lot of land there and not a lot of people, but it’s illegal to build affordable housing.”

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City of Vancouver staff want to show off their ideas and get your thoughts during Phase 3 of the Cambie Corridor planning program.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

11 am to 3 pm

Oakridge Auditorium

Lots to talk about, including Canada Line station rezoning, ground-oriented and family housing, public spaces, transportation (generally) and major sites.

More info HERE.  And it’s a big area, with lots to discuss.

 

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This just in from Business in Vancouver:

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Single-family lots in East Vancouver are gradually densifying through city bylaws that allow legal suites and laneway houses, but builders say the ever-increasing cost of Vancouver real estate is making it harder to find properties and turn a profit. …

Properties increase in value by around $900,000 when a builder tears down an older bungalow and replaces it with a larger house with a legal basement suite and a laneway house. 

The trend pushes the price of the built-out property into the $2.4 million range, the kind of hefty price tag once reserved for Vancouver’s west side.  …

The rapid price acceleration, combined with the City of Vancouver’s lengthy permitting process, has led to another layer of deal-making: it’s common for builders to buy a house, tear it down and begin the permitting process. 

They then sell the lot with the permits in place, but not yet paid for, to another builder. Selling the lot with the new house not yet started allows the second builder to avoid paying GST on a new home. …

The densification trend is largely not happening on the west side, Atwal said, characterizing buyers in neighbourhoods like Dunbar as wealthy people who would rather use the garage to house an expensive car than build a laneway house.

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More intriguing details here.

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Tonight, actually.  That’s when Michael Geller goes before a public hearing at West Van Council:

 It is the District’s first Heritage Revitalization Agreement proposal involving an older house and infill. While the resulting FAR is less than 0.6, it represents an increase over the District’s 0.35 FAR. A number of neighbours will be appearing in opposition. They would prefer to see the older house go, and no zoning changes.

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Details here on his blog.

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From our eclectic reader, Daily Scot:

Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of “Manhattanization” when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they’re debating the wisdom of 40 stories.

They should try 100 stories on for size — or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That’s the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was “downsized” from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic. …

What’s so terrible about megatowers? They cause wind tunnels at ground level. They block out the sun, putting huge swaths of city in shadow. They create canyons trapping air pollution and heat in summer. They kill others’ views.

Michael Mehaffy, an architectural critic based in Portland, Oregon, has likened super-tall residential buildings to vertical gated communities cut off from the neighbors far below. Furthermore, the buildings are often half empty.

That’s because these ultra-expensive spaces are being marketed to a global elite seeking a safe place to stash their money. Billions are pouring in from Russia, China,Saudi Arabia and Latin America. …

Seattle’s proposed 4/C megatower — so named for its location at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street — would be the tallest building on the West Coast. Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?

“Vancouver envy,” Mehaffy responds, referring to the tower-crazed Canadian city about 150 miles to the north. “The irony of that is a lot of people there are upset at the development.”

Such discontent may explain one Vancouver developer’s announcement that his project’s $18 million penthouse would be sold only to a local resident. …

The theme this campaign season is ordinary Americans’ wanting their power back. That should extend to politics on the very local level. Residents have a right to determine the destiny of their neighborhoods.

The real estate barons often call the shots in America’s city halls. The people must tell the politicians inside that there will be consequences to ignoring their opinions.

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969 Burrard St & 1019-1045 Nelson St

This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground

From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):

The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:

  • restoration of First Baptist Church;
  • new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
  • a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
  • a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;

Other key parameters of the proposal include:

  • a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
  • a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
  • 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.

This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.

The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).

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809 West 23rd Avenue

The last PT Guest Editor wrote about comparing Burnaby’s density to Vancouver’s in Who Does Density Better?
A 1920s-era church at 23rd Ave & Willow could be saved if it’s turned into 6 townhouses with the flexibility of 4 lock-off suites. It’s 600m from King Edward Station and the neighbours are outraged it will no longer be a Single Family Home (SFH). There seems to be more outrage about this lot than there is about skyscrapers going up in Burnaby.
Let’s start with what we know then learn a bit more:

  • Metro Vancouver has mountains to the north, a border to the south, and an ocean to the west. Therefore it can only expand to the east, which it has been doing. We need to limit urban sprawl for all kinds of environmental, health, and economic reasons.
  • It is estimated that by 2030 the region’s population will be about 1 million more people than it is today. They will need places to live.
  • The City of Vancouver has, for about 2-4 mayors now, been encouraging density and running on platforms of density.
  • Friendly-density or “gentle densification” describes alternatives to high-rises such as 3-7 story multi-unit dwellings, townhouses, quadruplexes/fourplexes with a coach house, etc. and this density debate article is more amusing/sad 4 years later, depending on your point of view.
  • Transit-oriented development (TOD) “is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.”
  • The Marpole Community Plan, approved in 2014, allows for RM8 (Townhouse, Rowhouse) and RM9 (Townhouse/Rowhouse/Low-rise).
  • The Cambie Corridor Planning Program Phase 3 was approved by City Council in April, 2015. It covers Ontario to Oak Streets, 16th Ave south to the river. Since then the City has held launch events, walking tours, and workshops on Phase 3. It is currently in progress.
  • There was an open house in September, 2015. From the City’s website: “Staff have completed their initial review of the rezoning application and have requested revisions to the application including changes to improve the heritage conservation approach, explore further on-site tree retention and improve the relationship of the proposal to the surrounding residential neighbourhood. Once revisions are received staff will notify the public and invite further community feedback.
  • I asked staff what “improve the relationship of the proposal to the…neighbourhood” meant. Basically, due to feedback, revisions have been requested. They want to give people more time to give feedback. They would like to hear from people why this church is worth saving.
  • There is still time to provide online feedback on this development application (with no clear deadline in sight).

Hair splitting leads to split ends:

  • This property is within the Cambie Corridor near Douglas Park but about 1 block outside the area where changes are likely to be permitted.
  • Once Phase 3 is complete, it could be applicable without rezoning but this application was submitted months before the completion of Phase 3.
  • The residents who don’t want it say it’s spot zoning.
  • The City and developer say it’s not spot zoning it’s an application to rezone from RS-5 (Single Family) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District under the City’s Heritage Policies and Guidelines, including the Heritage Action Plan.

This Vancouver Courier article from October, 2015 explains what’s going on in depth.
What do you think?
SFH – (Single Family Home) is also the abbreviation for at least 2 other meanings. Those who don’t want more density in Vancouver – are they Stronger, Faster, Healthier or So F’ing High?
When people are outraged at building townhouses on a large lot in Vancouver, is it a sign that the reality of density, the people who want different housing options, and the future Vancouverites who don’t usually get a say are winning?

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On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
 
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
 
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it.

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In the wake of the NDP monster rally about housing affordability, reported below, provincial Housing Minister Rich Coleman rose in the legislature to say that Vancouver “has to learn from Burnaby” how to do density properly. I can’t find a story on-line to link to, but perhaps a diligent reader can. Brent Toderian, the former director of planning for Vancouver, said on his regular “On The Coast” gig on the CBC yesterday that he “picked his jaw up off the floor” when he heard Coleman’s statement.
This, and Brentwood, is the kind of development Coleman is apparently referring to:

Full story here from Vancitybuzz.com.
I could be back at UBC in 1970, taking pre-architecture courses, with the professors getting us to read Le Corbusier’s Vers Une Architecture Moderne and study the Radiant City, while we all wanted to read Jane Jacobs!
It’s an interesting contrast with this quote from a Barbara Yaffe column in the Sun at the beginning of the month:

Local politicians for years have tried valiantly to convince Lower Mainlanders the only real solution to unaffordable housing is densification.
But if results of a new survey on preferred development are to be believed, there is a big problem with their strategy: The public is not buying it.
Incredibly, 44 per cent of those surveyed last July said, “All or most future development should be single, detached homes” — a category of shelter considered something of a relic in a region with a shortage of land and housing stock.

This is the dreamscape (hallucinatory!) at work, but it speaks to a deep desire people have for their own little plot of land, somehow, somewhere, that is theirs and theirs alone. A corollary is the suspicion many people have of strata-title, of strata councils, of all the potential mess of collectively managing a huge asset. The demand for fee-simple housing, which is far outrunning the supply of it in Vancouver and elsewhere, explains its skyrocketing price.
Could Vancouver provide more opportunities for fee-simple, ground-oriented housing on small lots (say, 30 x 66 feet, like some of the end-block houses in old neighbourhoods like Mount Pleasant and Grandview)? The townhouse-building community hasn’t responded, to my knowledge, with fee-simple rowhousing. Could the RS-1 McMansionland on the west side of the city be carved up into smaller lots, densifying along the way, while retaining the opportunity for fee-simple ownership?
 

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