Archive for May 2011
[ Comment posted in response to: Erick Villagomez. Towers on Cambie: Vancouver’s top planner explains. Tyee (13 May 2011) ]
“Character of the Corridor” Means — Trash East Vancouver
Director of Planning Brent Toderian says: “Anything from four stories up to 10 stories depending on the character of the corridor.”
Enamoured of the corridor concept, Toderian could not allow Norquay in the heart of East Vancouver to have the neighbourhood centre that was being “planned” — or at least, was in the works before he came along to trash CityPlan. As of last November, Norquay gets a neighbourhood strip instead. And planners have the gall to call what they have done up a “village”!
Policy has already judged the character of our Kingsway corridor to call for imposition of the maximum 10 stories. (The first new development application now proposes 12 storeys.) Thus will our neighbourhood get bisected along an entire mile by merciless height.
In other words, take an area that has already done far more than its share in accommodating density, treat it like crap, and proclaim “revitalization.”
The term corridor has lovely military connotations — and so suits a planning agenda that favours the automobile over anything else, including people.
A “town hall meeting” on Friday May 13 brought out 150-200 people from across Vancouver. The Unitarian Church sanctuary at 49th and Oak had well filled pews. Shannon Mews Neighbours Association (SMNA) sponsored a forum titled The Impact of Civic Planning Policy on the Future of the City’s Communities.
Up at the front, a panel consisted of three city councillors (Ellen Woodsworth – COPE, George Chow – Vision, Suzanne Anton – NPA) together with announced NPA candidate Bill McCreery. Each of the four made statements on assigned topics, followed by four rounds of in-turn comment on those topics. Woodsworth led off on spot rezoning, followed by Chow on planning for the future, McCreery on healthy neighborhoods, and Anton on EcoDensity™.
Most of the applause went to comments made by McCreery and Woodsworth. The explanations and defenses offered up by Chow (representing Vision) met with almost universal silence. Anton fared better than Chow, but not nearly as well as the other two panelists.
Chow demonstrated incomprehension of even the fundamentals of recent Vancouver planning history. According to Chow, CityPlan (binder held up for all to see) came forward in the early 1990s, and then there was a “switch” to the visioning process. Perhaps current Vision councillors have grown so accustomed to switching that nothing at all has — or should expect to have — continuity. The truth is that community visions were supposed to be the implementation of CityPlan.
The plight of Norquay received good exposure. Candidate McCreery recounted his own perturbation at witnessing city planning staff solicit support for their plan within the council chamber on 4 November 2010. [ Even after that inappropriate planner activity, the minutes (p. 2) record 15 of 23 speakers opposed. ]
The Norquay circumstances contrast starkly with the recent Cambie corridor outcome — mentioned in the town hall meeting — where a majority of speakers supported the recommendations [ the minutes confusingly record “105 speakers, 64 in support of and 43 opposed” (p. 3) and then follow with a record of yet more speakers! ]. For anyone to make much of that majority support among Cambie corridor speakers seems strange, since an even stronger majority opposed seems not to have mattered at all for Norquay.
Perhaps the most poignant comment came from a woman accompanied by her young daughter. A resident of the area near Cambie and King Edward, she detailed severe difficulties (daycare, school enrollment even within catchment, community centre activities) that force her to compete for places through lottery and vigilant online registration. She questioned how city officials could contemplate further intensification in the Cambie corridor when residents already have to live under such inadequate conditions.
Throughout the evening, the strongest applause tended to follow remarks about the dysfunction of current city planning in Vancouver, and the shortcomings of both city planning staff and of the councillors who should be giving them proper direction.
Background note. As the event approached, panel representation for Vision Vancouver underwent this series of changes: First, Geoff Meggs was announced as participant; second, Meggs had bowed out and no one from Vision would be coming; third, George Chow stepped up to the plate.
Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight has reported on the event at length.
A careful analysis of the fifteen display panels that Vancouver city planners presented at the 30 April 2011 information session on Zoning for New Housing Types shows multiple worrisome changes in Norquay planning.
All of these changes demonstrate deliberate creep. The unwanted Plan that the City of Vancouver forced on Norquay in November 2010 is already failing to set limits. At every turn, planners seek increased floor space ratio, increased height, and less restriction on total redevelopment of consolidated parcels.
Only watchdog response by Norquay has any hope of holding planners even to what they imposed less than six months ago! Norquay is being subjected to the instability of perpetual uncertainty as experimental housing types spawn ever smaller, darker, taller boxes to maximize developer profitability at the expense of livability.
Here are three specifics:
• For Traditional Rowhouse on two 44-foot lots, the number of proposed units has been altered from five at 16 feet wide to six at 12.5 feet wide.
• For Stacked Townhouse on two or more lots, floor space ratio has been upped from 1.1 to 1.25, and what was basement crawl space has become a full additional floor in an even taller building, with no replacement of lost storage space.
• In the Small House/Duplex zone, the requirement for retention of character houses has been eliminated.
A detailed two-page comment sheet response can be found at Eye on Norquay. A follow-up Open Letter to City of Vancouver registers strong complaint about the failure of this planning to respect the details of the Norquay Plan approved by Council on 4 November 2010.
All readers of Eye on Norquay are encouraged to submit at least a brief comment about this latest “planning” for Norquay to email@example.com. These new housing types are likely to set precedent for what happens eventually with many other residential areas.
Just south of the Norquay boundary, a big piece of local history is going up for sale. The 1.26 acres of Avalon Dairy (two parcels of land at 2595 East 43rd Avenue and 5805 Wales Street) are now advertised by Colliers International as a “residential development opportunity.”
This is what happens when “planning” sets out to accelerate redevelopment in an area. Everything starts going into play at once, and the possibility of organic development over time gets lost.
The opportunistic and balkanized planning that has already been applied to Norquay guarantees that this particular “special site” will be up for developer grabs — and then built out with little respect to the broader context. After all, that land lies outside the Norquay boundary (by less than two blocks!).
The City of Vancouver loves to play boundaries both ways. The Norquay plan started out by jumping west of Renfrew-Collingwood (crossing Nanaimo Street) to carve a little chunk out of Kensington-Cedar Cottage, even though the topography made no sense. Then after 3 to 4 years of planning, a large northern piece of Norquay suddenly got lopped off in November 2009, toward the end of the process.
Whatever proves convenient for planners and developers — that is how boundaries get used. No way will the “neighbourhood centre” of Norquay be allowed to affect the exploitation of this piece of nearby hinterland (an area presumed to be less dense, and even to remain RS-1 single family zoning, because located further from the “centre” and therefore less walkable).
For more detail:
Neal Hall. Vancouver’s historic Avalon Dairy property up for sale. Vancouver Sun (30 April 2011) F2
Cheryl Rossi. Historic Avalon Dairy up for sale. Vancouver Courier 102:35 (4 May 2011) EW12
On Saturday April 30, Vancouver city planners in Norquay held an information session on Zoning for New Housing Types. According to the comment sheets, deadline for submitting a response is 9 May 2011.
Planners said that the fifteen or so display panels would be available on the web by Monday May 2. But as of 11:00 pm on that day, the panels had not been provided.
Turnout for the session in the middle of a sunny spring Saturday was not strong — perhaps a total of around 120 adults. (Compare that number with the affected residential population of about 10,000 in Norquay.) Most people came earlier in the day. Probably the largest group of attenders were motivated only by an understandable interest in what they might be able to build on their own property. Developers and real estate professionals made up a second and obvious strong contingent.
Apart from two observers from Eye on Norquay, it appears that only one other Norquay Working Group (NWG) member showed up, a person who had little involvement in the planning after 2009. (The NWG email contact list eventually came to number 40 to 50 persons.)
Many of the display panels sketched alternative configurations for stacked townhouse/triplex, duplex with infill, and traditional rowhouse. The overriding principle seemed to be maximization — of number of units, of size of units in relation to lot area, and of building height. For triplex, the graphics were conceptualized to the point of looking more like a Mondrian painting than like a building, as distinction between wall and roof remained dubious.
An outside visitor to the event concluded that Norquay was embracing this planning. The reality is otherwise. For Norquay residents who care about anything other than what they can build, or perhaps profit from, interest in “participation” has withered under ever-stronger planner contempt for and disregard of any expressed views.
The quality of resident-planner interaction in Norquay has hurtled downhill ever since a June 2007 survey demonstrated strong community opposition to the kind of planning that they eventually forced onto the community. What many in Norquay really cared about was human scale and a livable, sustainable future. Planners and City Council denied that future on 4 November 2010, when the unwanted and unreviewed Norquay plan obtained a stamp of approval from Vision/NPA politicians.
All three of the “new housing types” are experimental and still very ill-defined. The latest word is that planners hope to take the apparently yet unwritten zoning to Council in July 2011. As of now there appears to be no proposal for any practical review of built examples prior to imposition of broadscale rezoning. The cynical program: put the experiment directly into full production, prepare to cover up any meltdown with disinformation, and deal with fallout only if the results become too toxic to hide.
Since there is very little designated area for traditional rowhouse in Norquay, this housing type amounts to a Trojan-horse assault on other neighborhoods, where the specification can be rolled out as a done deal.
In all three instances of new housing types, local communities outside of Norquay may tend to think: “Not my backyard … not for me to say anything about somebody else’s backyard.” The irony is that Norquay could serve as testbed for blockbusting the remnants of RS-1 single-family zoning across the rest of Vancouver.
Don’t forget that the 22-storey tower dumped in early 2006 onto the corner of Kingsway and Nanaimo had nothing to do with a community plan. (Before that, no building over four storeys, and not many of those!) A few years further along, spot rezonings and policy changes for unwanted towers in West End, Chinatown, Mount Pleasant, Marpole are aiming to blockbust precedents into individual local communities all across Vancouver. Norquay has already served as bellwether.
At this stage, Norquay has much less left to lose than neighborhoods that have not yet been hauled off by city planners to meet their doom at a definitive public hearing.