Architecture
April 19, 2021

Buildings that Changed Vancouver: 2280 Cornwall

Michael Kluckner riffs off the post from Michael Gordon below to recount the story of the building that marked the end of the highrise era in Kitsilano*.

2280 Cornwall

It was the end of ’71 when developer Ben Wosk started work on the apartment building at 2280 Cornwall, following the path set by the St. Roch at 2323 and Century House at 2370 West 2nd in 1966 (left), and Las Salinas at 2310 West 2nd and Seaside Plaza at 2324 West 1st in 1968. The earlier “highrises” are on big pieces of property, like the West End ones of the ’60s, with a lot of open space and low FSR, as were Carriage House and similar buildings erected at that time in South Granville and Kerrisdale. Very different from everything today.

People including some NPA aldermen naively believed that the height limit was three storeys at the beach, although it was actually 120 feet or 12 storeys. Bruce Yorke of the Vancouver Tenants Council led the protests – something people have a problem understanding today, that highrise apartments were equated with higher rents than the lowrise ones, and with displacement and gentrification.

(The blowback was so immediate that Tom Campbell, the NPA mayor at the time, intervened with Wosk to get a stop on the highrise proposal.)  Wosk agreed to build only three storeys “on condition the area is rezoned so that no other highrises can be built,” according to the Sun, February 16, 1972.

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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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Guest writes below:

… maybe that sign was placed instead of a “hazard” sign to make visible the massive dark log at night in an unlit parking lot.

Possible – given a lack of ‘Hazard’ signage at the Park Board or City.  Sure, that’s it.

However, a few hundred metres to the north along Arbutus Street, there is this: a closed gate for another parking lot next to the beach and basketball courts.  Note the signage.

More than that, note how the gate completely blocks the roadway, leaving no room for cyclists to get from the beach to Arbutus in order to avoid cycling through the most conflicted part of the park, where they are explicitly prohibited from riding.  So they have to go on the grass.

This is another small gesture of contempt.  But the Park Board simply doesn’t care.  They’ve effectively gaslighted the cycling community from getting resolution to the Kits/Hadden Park conflict, despite years of consultations and committees.  Some commissioners, like John Coupar, simply don’t want cyclists going through their parks for transportation, which might require upgrading the paths to City standards for space and separation.

Some activists fear a Kits flow way, as described below, would give the Board the precedent to remove or not build proper cycling paths. Then the City would be responsible for designing and paying for the infrastructure, and taking whatever political backlash that occurs (when, for instance, removing street parking).

What’s even more curious is that a majority of commissioners come from the left, especially the Green Party.  And they apparently have no desire or political will to resolve this.

So nothing happens.  Except the placement of barriers to discourage cycling.

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Presumably, that they are obedient idiots.

The Board placed a log to prevent access to the Kits Beach parking lot off Arbutus Street – and then put up an unmissable sign to require cyclists to dismount and walk across a few hundred metres of empty asphalt.

Which no cyclist will do.  Ever.  Thereby reinforcing the meme that cyclists won’t obey laws.

So the Park Board thinks they’re idiots, no matter what they do.

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What can be done – quickly – to solve the problem illustrated in the post below: unsafe crowding, as walkers, runners, dog walkers, cyclists and rollers of all kinds try to maintain respectful distance on the narrow Seaside pathway through Hadden and Kitsilano Parks?

 

We already know what to do.  We did it on Beach Avenue:

The Beach Flow Way takes the pressure off the seawall, giving those on feet room to pass so the runners can keep safe distance from the walkers by using the bike lane.  And the cyclists have room to sort themselves out on the two traffic lanes taken on Beach.  The athletes in their pelotons and the families with their kids can share the same flow way in both directions, in a comfortably defined space distinct from the west-bound vehicle traffic.

It was cheap to do, and it’s largely self-policing.

And we can do it in Kitsilano:

Ogden-Maple-McNicoll-Arbutus-Cornwall is a missing link to connect Vanier Park with the Point Grey Road greenway.  It requires no more expense or effort than Beach Avenue.

I get that the ugly politics of the original bikeway proposal and the polished resistance of Kits Points residents has made the Park Board gunshy.  And there has been considerable ongoing effort and consultation among the stakeholders, hoping to come to a satisfactory resolution.

But there’s a pandemic going on.  There’s no excuse for inaction.

 

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By Jeff Leigh
The Vancouver Sun has posted an editorial about the controversy regarding the proposed Kits Beach Park bike route, “Don’t Wreck Kits Beach Park with Unnecessary Bike Lane
Leaving aside the quip about chanting anti-car slogans (the advocacy group I work with has as a guiding principle respect for all transportation stakeholders – there aren’t winners and losers), there are numerous fallacies presented in the op-ed piece.  Starting with the title.  The proposal is for a low-speed path, not a bike lane.

Cyclists, on the hand, cannot safely ride through the throngs of pedestrians on the existing path — although many try — and want a route that allows them to complete a seaside circuit without interruption or the inconvenience of vehicular traffic.

We agree that riding through a throng of people walking on the existing shared path isn’t safe.  But diverting people on bikes (especially families with children) to a busy street and through a parking lot, particularly in summer, isn’t about inconvenience.  It is about safety.  It is about respecting the principles established in our city for movement, with people walking at the top of the pyramid, and people on bikes next.  Not last. And certainly not behind preserving all of the space for cars that is being championed here.
This is about park planning.  Note the photo the Vancouver Park Board use on their web site:

The matter was supposed to be decided at a Vancouver Park Board meeting this past Monday, but the board voted to refer it back to the engineering department for further study.

The construction of a bike route wasn’t supposed to be decided by Park Board Commissioners.  The recommendation by Park Board staff was simply for staff to work with City transportation engineering staff to advance designs, and develop budget cost estimates, in preparation for a full public consultation.  The Park Board Commissioners did not refer it back to Engineering, as Engineering isn’t a Park Board department.  They failed to refer it back.  They left it in limbo.  References were made in the meeting to next year’s Park Board commissioners dealing with it.

Considering that a bike lane through this park has been debated for five years or so, one might have thought that all the study would be done. But the total cost, the number of trees to be lost and other details are still unknown.

All the study was not done as Park Board staff did not start work on it until late in 2017, in response to community pressure to deal with a worsening problem.  That pressure came from the cycling community.  But also at the table with Park Board staff were local residents and representatives of various park user groups.  The costs and potential tree impacts are unknown because that work hasn’t been done yet.  The staff recommendation was for that work to be done. Park Board staff will struggle to do it without hiring outside expertise, or working collaboratively with Engineering staff, who had offered to help.

The route from Balsam Street and Cornwall Avenue in the west to Ogden Avenue and Maple Street in the northeast would result in the loss of about 930 square meters of green space, roughly the size of two basketball courts. Demonstrators before the meeting carried signs reading: “Is concrete the new green?”

There are many options that reduce that impact, and offsets that result in no net increase in paving if that is desired.  Those options are open to the Park Board. Utilizing existing pavement would be the first way to answer the concern.  That means dealing with the question of retaining all existing parking, designing a safe route down the existing service lane to the restaurant, and so on.
But if the goal is to remove paving, fine.  Should we start with the tennis courts, the basketball courts, or one or more of the three parking lots?  Or should we instead simply find a way not to encroach further. A basketball player and a tennis player holding signs saying “No Paving in the Park” may be inclined to opt for the latter.
Lowering the tone of the debate doesn’t help. Why is a safe path through the park called a cycling speedway?  Why the references to the Tour de France by path opponents?

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On the surface the conflict on Kits Point is about a continuation of the Seaside Route through and around park space. The Park Board has punted that decision.

Delay and indecision is pretty much the Park Board strategy everywhere within their jurisdiction.  See Jericho:

But the way some of the Kits Point residents (the most successfully parochial community in the city) have framed the debate, it’s also about a larger policy issue.  Is cycling for all an activity to be accommodated and encouraged in parks?
Two Park Board commissioners (John Coupar and Sarah Kirby-Young, NPA) used concerns over lack of details – no route, no costing – to avoid a decision to proceed.  That no doubt surprised the staff who must have been instructed to prepare a report without those details in order not to inflame the community with the impression of a foregone decision.
So the Park Board failed to affirm or reject the position of the opponents, which (without quite saying it) is that cycling should be kept out of their park.  Quote: “ ‘I’m happy with that. It’s a reprieve for the moment,’ said Peter Labrie, a Kits Point resident who believes a bike lane through the park is unnecessary.”
If the Park Board refuses to make a decision on a properly designed bike route to connect and continue the Seaside, they would be affirming that position.  Their position by default would be that an activity which promotes healthy recreation, is necessary for active transportation and advances the city’s sustainability goals is not something to be encouraged in their parks.  (You can see why they don’t want to have to say that.)
This protest is also about an even larger agenda, as articulated by Howard Kelsey of the Kitsilano Beach Coalition.

(Kelsey) suggested the decision represented a broader win against cycling advocates he believes had held sway over the city’s agenda.”
“The cycling agenda was just put on hold,” he told supporters. “They are not driving the agenda anymore.

 
Conclusion: Many Kits Point residents and allies want to discourage cycling in the city by preventing the funding and construction of safe cycling routes for all.  And they have come very close to saying that.
The question now is whether those running for office will also support or reject that de facto position.  Or will they pursue the NPA strategy of never saying no but never articulating a positive alternative, and where possible never voting for anything decisive.  Cycling will simply be suffocated.

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Recent development that was designed to face the Arbutus corridor, even when it was unused, decrepit, weed-strewn and rusting, was the right decision. Offices and suites facing the greenway will be the most valuable.

The temporary path is not complete. Jersey barriers block the way at the cross-streets; signs say pedestrians and cyclists should not do the obvious thing and cross the arterials at mid-block.  Instead, jog down to the signaled intersections.  Which they don’t.

They do the obvious thing.

Arbutus has been transformed once already.

And there’s lots more to come.

 

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The new paved pathway of the Arbutus Greenway pushes beyond Burrard, into the near-nameless neighbourhood north of Broadway. (Burrard Slopes, I think, but so bland.)


You can already see how the greenway is becoming the organizing open space for this neighbourhood, particularly with the new kid’s park on the curve, just before the Fir Street off-ramp of the Granville Bridge.

At this point, the pavement ends at Fir:

Beyond is the critical link that extends the greenway to Granville Island and Seaside (see dotted line on map above).  When completed, the AB then becomes the Kitsilano and west-side active-transportation connector to False Creek – and the network effect will balloon the use of the corridor.  Like any manifestation of induced demand, this is not to be under-estimated.

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Discovering the new Arbutus asphalt path – almost road-width – is like revisiting the 1990s in Vancouver, when the City was opening stretches of new seawall, particularly along North False Creek and Coal Harbour.  A time of discovery – new routes, more connections, an expanding network for alternative transportation.
The first extension of the seawall was also a temporary path, just asphalt and a chain-link fence, strung along the shoreline of the Expo site prior to its sale, laid down around 1990.  It stayed that way until the development of David Lam Park – when we experienced the new standard of active-transportation planning: a separated cycle track.
More kilometres of the now-named Seaside route followed, connecting False Creek to Coal Harbour – all built to the highest standards then devised.
Arbutus is in that tradition.  The finished design will come, and it will likely be terrific.  But in the meantime … immediate access, and a new mental map of our city and its neighbourhoods.


I discovered the latest expansion of the Arbutus pathway north from Broadway when cycling uphill on up Burrard past 4th on the separated lane snuck in by the engineers – and there it was.  Fresh asphalt!  The shock of the new. So perfect in its unflawed inky blackness.
Not even technically open, it’s too enticing not to be explored.

The new will fade, softened by nature, cultivated by the gardeners who are already colonizing the verges.

The future of the greenway as a cross-city corridor is settled.  The Arbutus Greenway isn’t going to become just extensions of the surrounding neighbourhoods, limited in use and accessibility.  Other people from other places, all part of a connected network of greenways, will be flowing through, on their way to other places.

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