2298 Galt at UDP
Draft plans for two four-storey apartment buildings at 2298 Galt Street went to the Urban Design Panel (UDP) for review on 21 September 2011. The developer of the site seeks rezoning to CD-1 for an irregular RS-1 single-family house lot measuring 46.4 feet frontage x 102.7 deep (west side) / 121.2 deep feet (east side).
An anxious panel began their first of three reviews on that date by reminding the outside observers present that they had no right to make comment in that forum, and also (as can be read on the UDP web site) that
The Panel is strictly an advisory body and makes recommendations only. It does not have the authority to approve or refuse projects or make policy decisions.
In other words, UDP review is one little mostly-meaningless gesture in a ritual where all significant communication occurs between developer and city planning staff. The “public” typically gets two meaningless opportunities for “input,” once to “comment” on a developer-led open house after plans are near final, and once to “speak” to a done-deal public hearing where City Council rubberstamps the rezoning. All of this public ritual could be called farce of democracy through simulacrum of consultation.
Public access to these proceedings was sharply curtailed when UDP gave the presenting architect the option of not having the event videorecorded by a public observer, and she “preferred not to.” Scrutiny is not wanted. This semipublic forum would really prefer to operate in an inaccessible back room.
UDP members look at any proposal from a narrow and formal design perspective that excludes social considerations and community context. Panel focus fixates on the isolated physical character of a proposed development within a specific site. Ensuing comment relies heavily on jargonistic and subjective aesthetic vocabulary.
Within their mandate, most of what the UDP said and concluded would be hard to argue with. One panelist deserved strong applause for calling for more overhang of the rooftop. The Vancouver scandal of building to incur water damage never seems to end. (What proportion of the local construction economy is based on remediation of stupid building practices?) Two other panelists sounded like blinkered agenda pushers when they suggested that the four garage spaces for the four apartment units be designed to encourage other uses. This unfortunate idle theorizing actually became enshrined as one of the three “key aspects needing improvement”!
Consider allowing for flexibility of other uses for the garages
A site visit or a site video would show panelists that there is already harsh and continuous competition for existing street parking on both of the streets that sandwich the site, Galt Street and Kingsway. To wish that people did not use cars is not making them go away, however politically correct “no cars” may be with UDP types and city planners.
Perhaps more interesting than the UDP verbiage was what Vancouver city planners had to say. This particular case was called what in large measure it is: an “orphan lot” — even if artifically orphaned on purpose by the developer! The sad thing is, this rezoning sets a precedent for all other single lots in the Norquay four-storey apartment zone, not just “orphan” lots — something on the order of 300 parcels. Only the extra FSR that comes with land assembly (2.0 rather than 1.19) can incentivize development of the U and H forms (the only thing that planners ever proposed to Norquay Working Group). One land use professional doubts that the differential is sufficient, and city planners seem unlikely to improve the neighborhood by increasing the differential through reducing what is possible on a single lot.
Even while a city planner was saying that three-lot development is “most desirable,” in the next breath he said that this project will “inform what could be done on a single lot”!
The Norquay Plan map that city planning showed to the UDP was not accurate. The four-storey apartment zone was represented only as a boundary area stretching along either side of Kingsway. The last-minute extensions of this zone around Norquay Park and along Earles Street were not shown. That kind of misrepresentation probably does not matter, since UDP looks nowhere beyond the delineation of the site under review, and cares nothing for the implications of setting broad precedent throughout the community.
Two misrepresentations on the part of the building designer:
• The model shown to the UDP had imagined future buildings surrounding the site. Existing physical
context would have made the proposal look far more out-of-scale.
• The land slopes sharply upward to the east, but the model assumed flat land, so even the imagined
future was a serious distortion.
In sum, pervasive disrespect for context.
Ultimately the 2298 Galt Street development proposal is about getting as much as possible crammed onto one lot. Forget the many new residents who already have trouble parking. Forget all the new dwellings just built adjacent to the site by the opportunistic developer. Forget the rest of Norquay, and the potential dog’s breakfast of one-off development on hundreds of single lots.
In a sense, the overall message is to forget planning — stuff that just gets in the way of development.