Archive for December 2011
Norquay residents have recently experienced the precious light of December sunshine. Brightness ruled in Vancouver on 21 December 2011, the shortest day of the year.
In midafternoon at a house in Norquay, almost level rays from the sun reach through a back door window to the front door, a distance of fifty feet. This is the daylight that planners and their “standards” say does not matter. Future development on Kingsway would steal that light.
In the City of Vancouver, if a rezoning application happens to provide a “shadow study,” the perfunctory and misleading graphics often illustrate only midday periods (10 am, noon, 2 pm) only in seasons of peak (summer solstice) to mid-range (spring or fall equinox) light conditions.
Since no one is seen to have a right to daylight, any such consideration amounts to empty gesture. Planners love to chatter about the amenity that development will bring. Residents meanwhile can only fear, knowing that detriment such as loss of sunlight will never be compensated for. In a more just world, developers and their clients would have to pay for the costs that they now freely impose. Or possibly even the municipal authorities who hand over the rezonings.
Deliberate effort is made to minimize the ugliness of shadow impacts by limiting so-called data to times when the sun is high in the sky. Ironically, these may also be times when shading might be welcome as relief from fierce and burning sunlight. Conversely, no respect is given to the shorter, darker days when all light and warmth are most welcome.
A look at two recent rezoning packages for Norquay and East Vancouver demonstrates how little care and attention is given to seasonal light. Since links to the application materials will conveniently evaporate from the online public record, one relevant document is copied to Eye on Norquay for continued access.
In sequence of approval, the first case is 2699 Kingsway (in particular see item A). The application itself provided no specific shadow study for the twelve-storey building. The report to Council only showed incidental concern for the shadowing cast on an adjacent daycare, which put the proposed development “in conflict with the City’s own Childcare Design Guidelines” (p. 5). The solution? To direct the pittance Community Amenity Contribution of $105,846 entirely to mitigating the negative impact of the development! At the Development Permit Board on 12 December 2011, ongoing concern for shadow impact on the neighborhood to the north was brushed off as “consistent with the shadow studies shown in the CD-1 By-Law” — a typically circular and self-serving assertion.
The second case involves the mass rezoning of three acres and 33 parcels for 1114 dwelling units, to include three towers of 28-30 storeys at Boundary-Ormidale-Vanness in East Vancouver. The ridiculous shadow study employs a distant perspective from directly overhead — and then crops off the shadows that the towers would cast at equinox! The report to Council fails to include the shadow study. Early on, a bare assertion mentions “guidelines” that presume to embody
key urban design principles [that] provide careful configuration, sizing and placement of high-rise towers to minimize shadow and overlook impacts (p. 5)
… and that’s all, folks! Except for one passing cynical nod to “concerns with shadows” (p. F-2), found in a single paragraph on Height buried in an appendix near the end of the report.
Extracts from the 22 September 2010 Urban Design Panel review of the entire Norquay Neighbourhood Centre Plan show repeated concern for sunlight effects [ emphases added ]:
The Panel suggested looking at the Kingsway cross section with respect to all issues of sun access, traffic noise, pedestrian effectiveness as well as being willing to be distinctive and respond to the specific conditions that exist.
One Panel member suggested adding plaza areas to both sides of Kingsway and that the sunny side could have the wider sidewalks.
One Panel member noted that the south sidewalks would be in shade in areas with 6-storey massings.
The Panel thought there was a need for a public realm plan as part of the centre and realized that this might happen in the next stage. They realized that it would require little bit more detailing and noting things like the importance of the use adjacency to the public realm, the importance of sun access and the importance of a range of public spaces.
The Norquay Plan glibly blew off these concerns with two quick paragraphs of bland assertion under the heading Building Heights and Shadows (p. 20-21), including this sentence:
Shadow studies were completed as part of this plan and show that there are little to no shadow impacts on any proposed ground-oriented housing areas.
Reference is made to a “six-to eight-storey model” — one that had already caused concern at the Urban Design Panel. Then at the last minute Council imposed a base condition of ten stories along all of Kingsway, an increase of 25% to 66% on already problematic height.
When it comes to sunlight, the deeds of planners and developers and politicians loom as pure darkness for the Norquay stretch of Kingsway, and as damnation for livability.
[ Published on what may be the darkest day of the year in the ecclesiastical calendar. ]
Key improvements to planning for new development at 2699 Kingsway
• Increase of plaza gateway width by a factor ranging from 45% to over 120%
• Building reorientation that respects connection of Norquay Park to future greenway
• More definition of plaza gateway as public space
[ The following report was prepared by Norquay resident Jeanette Jones, who attended the 12 December 2011 meeting of the Development Permit Board and offered comment. See also details at 2699 Kingsway for the development proposal as it went to City Council half a year earlier. ]
On 12 December the Development Permit Board looked at the proposed plans for 2699 Kingsway. Here is a brief summary of key changes to the plan.
1 The public central plaza has been reconfigured to improve its ability to function as the gateway to the future Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. The plaza is now 58 ft. wide at Kingsway and 47 ft. wide at the lane (up from 40 ft. at Kingsway and about 21 ft. at the rear of the plaza). The angled wall at main floor level of the 4 storey building east of the plaza strengthens the connection between the plaza and the pedestrian crossing to Norquay Park. The plaza will be open to the lane for its entire width. The concrete seating wall has been moved and turned 90 degrees to allow easier access to the plaza. In large part, these changes were made in response to concerns expressed by residents.
2 Because the plaza was widened, the 12 storey tower of the building on the west side of the plaza was shifted 8.5 ft. westward.
3 Amenity space for the development has been moved to the northeast corner of the ground floor of the 12-storey tower. This will help to animate the north end of the plaza.
4 The brick pattern and articulation on the façade has been further developed to increase visual interest and variety.
5 Efforts have been made to mitigate impacts on nearby residents of noise and exhaust fumes. Exhaust and intake vents and an emergency generator will be situated for minimum impact, and garage doors and gates will be solid.
6 Commercial floor area has been increased to 0.35 FSR by replacing a portion of the at-grade commercial parking.
The Development Permit Board supported the development application, but expressed these concerns:
1 How will LEED Gold status be achieved? The architect believes that they will exceed the requirements, but planners are still looking for details.
2 Can the green roof planned for the low-rise building be made accessible to residents of the building, perhaps for a community garden? The architect believes access would lower the efficiency of the green roof.
3 Can screening be added around the penthouse to make it possible to add cell phone antennae unobtrusively at a later date? The architect would prefer that no cell phone antennae be installed.
When the applicant can resolve these issues to the satisfaction of the planners, the development will proceed.
A former member of the disbanded Seniors Advisory Committee emphasized the need to make new apartments meet the requirements set out by SAFERhome Standards Society so that seniors can age in place. The architect stated that although no units are specifically designated as “handicapped accessible,” all units are easily convertible for additional aids.
The Real Estate Weekly for Vancouver East (18 Nov 2011, p. R9) takes over half a page to herald “Two Amazing Development Opportunities” that lie about one kilometer apart in the Norquay area. View the advertisement for yourself. The first of these lies in the heart of Norquay.
“Opportunity #1” appears to be a package deal for 4 adjacent properties that are not yet officially mass rezoned out of RS-1 in Norquay. The four addresses on Slocan Street lie on the west side just north of Kingsway.
To chart the details:
Address Asking Price Lot Dimensions 2011 Assessment 4859 Slocan $1.329 Million 41.5 x 120 = 4980 $680,700 4865 Slocan $1.389 Million 43 x 120 = 5160 $678,000 4873 Slocan $1.369 Million 41.5 x 110 = 4565 $639,600 4879 Slocan $1.329 Million 31.5 x 110 = 3442 $674,000 $5.416 Million $2,672,300
It seems likely that a speculative interest has optioned these individual properties and is marketing them ahead of the planning that is underway. Norquay residents will never be privy to what may be taking place between developers and planners in the back rooms of City Hall.
A portion of these four properties would naturally fall within what has already been defined as “transition zone” for four-storey apartment. But the Slocan Street frontage of 157.5 feet far exceeds what might be taken as normal transition of one lot’s depth, which is the land between a laneway parallel to Kingsway and next regular street. Frontage for the three lots closest to Kingsway totals 116 feet, which approximates the norm for lot depth.
The first concern here is creep — an apparent attempt to drag an extra lot into the transition category. This might even be acceptable, provided any development proposal were to include setback and parking along the north end of the property, in order that the Rowhouse/Townhouse region beyond not be overwhelmed by immediate adjacency. After all, most of the “transition” zone finds a full street width separating the four-storey apartment zone from the neighboring new housing type.
Note also that VanMap shows 4873 Slocan as two tied properties: a 31.5 foot frontage like 4879 Slocan to the south, and then to the north a separated 10 foot frontage, apparently laid out as a narrow lane.
The second concern is premature speculation, a rush to do ad hoc development even before the planning has been established. The City of Vancouver needs to capture this “lift” — the more than doubling of assessed value in the asking price — and to ensure that their planning brings benefit to the neighborhood rather than simply handing a windfall over to property owners and/or speculators-developers.
“Opportunity #2” lies a little outside of any Norquay boundary that has ever been proposed:
4250 Atlin $2.1 Million 70 x 275 = 19,254 $1,046,100
Three comments can be made about this property. (1) It is zoned RS-1, is not a part of the extensive mass rezoning imposed on Norquay, and should constitute a part of the RS-1 that planners said would remain to the neighborhood. (2) Being on the west side of the Renfrew Ravine, it seems likely that City of Vancouver would require a portion of the land abutting the ravine as a condition of any future development [this has happened already]. (3) To allow development beyond current zoning right beside this unique natural feature does not seem appropriate.
Note further that Renfrew Ravine is a part of an extensive greenway that is to connect across Norquay to Norquay Park, a major promise to the neighborhood in the Norquay Plan.
Results from the Vancouver 2011 municipal election shed incidental light on the treatment that Norquay and other areas of East Vancouver are receiving from city planners, the politicians who approve their plans, and the developers who control the politicians.
Lorin Gaertner has prepared a map of participation rates for Vancouver polling areas based on City of Vancouver 2011 election data. Five shades of brown distinguish voter participation rates that range from a low of 17%-23% to a high of 37%-42%. For Vancouver taken as a whole, the overall participation rate was 34.6%.
Onto Gaertner’s map Eye on Norquay has imposed rough outlines for Norquay and for the recent Boundary-Ormidale-Vanness (B-O-V) rezoning of three acres at the eastern edge of the city. The map strongly suggests that abusive and massive development gravitates toward politically vulnerable areas.
Most of Norquay shows a participation rate of 23%-28%, well below the average. The northeast corner is slightly higher at 28%-33%. Boundary–Ormidale-Vanness fall in the lowest participation category at 17%-23%.
Note also the very low voter participation rates of other areas of Vancouver that are suffering current development attack: the Downtown Eastside, the West End, and Marpole.
In all cases a “revitalization” agenda envisions new construction that will eliminate still usable and more affordable existing dwellings (whether rented or owned). Mass rezoning and large-scale spot rezonings accelerate a redevelopment that takes no account of existing zoned capacity. The persons displaced by this dubious economic activity tend to be the poor, the working class, and the immigrant populations of Vancouver.