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. ]