April 30 Information Session
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.