January 30 Public Hearing
The rezoning of 2298 Galt Street from RS-1 to CD-1 went to public hearing on the evening of 30 January 2012 as the fourth item on the agenda. Details are provided in the report to Council:
By 8:00 pm the first three items had been approved with minimal presentation, reporting, comment, questions, or discussion. What was to happen on the single lot at 2298 Galt Street then took up two hours of Council time.
The minutes for the meeting show response as 5 emails opposing, 4 speakers in support, 3 speakers with concerns, and 8 speakers opposed. All of the supporters appeared to have direct ties to development interests, and they spoke only in platitudes of increasing housing stock and affordability. At the vote, the Vision bloc prevailed 8 to 3. Carr and Affleck and Ball voted no on the basis of strong community opposition and failure of the project to respect the context and the Norquay Plan. Carr offered an incisive summation of criticism of the project. In closing comment, both Louie and Robertson acknowledged that the proposal was less than ideal.
A primary point was that this one-off rezoning of a leftover lot should be regarded as applied to an orphan lot and not considered to set any precedent whatsoever for the Transition Zone in Norquay (a total of approximately 160 parcels). Even so, it is a stretch for the first development in this zoning to occur on a single lot. Prior discussion with the community through Norquay Working Group made it clear that the four-storey apartment form was expected to require land assembly that would make possible U and H forms that would allow for light, cross-ventilation, and underground parking.
2298 Galt Street is an orphan lot only because the developer proceeded to develop a two-acre parcel ahead of the Norquay plan, and left one piece of land undeveloped as a staging area for the building of the large four-storey condo at 2239 Kingsway. The remaining 8 parcels along Galt Street were all developed with outright allowed single-family houses. At the very end of the large-parcel development, with no respect to context, this CD-1 development on a single lot was proposed.
In the meeting, planner Grant Miller said he would rather avoid the use of “orphan lot” terminology. Planner Paul Cheng used the term and said he didn’t know what else to call it. Page 2 of Appendix E in the report to Council in fact appeals to “orphan” status for the single lot at 2298 Galt Street.
Residents from the immediate affected area provided strong evidence of poor planning for parking, and for difficult parking enforcement. Homeowners routinely find entrance to their garages blocked by parked cars. Competition for on-street parking is harsh. The Urban Design Panel review of 2298 Galt Street made itself ridiculous by offering a strong suggestion that the four on-site in-building garages might be designed for easy conversion to other use. The Renfrew-Collingwood community vision that underlies the Norquay Plan asserts “assurance that parking and traffic impacts would be addressed” along with (not in reaction to) population increase. The report to Council cynically tosses the ball back into the court of new residents: “Staff welcome neighbours to pursue resident parking only regulations”! By the end of the meeting, it appeared that Engineering is prepared to move ahead with atypical provision of signage and enforcement for the laneways lying between Galt and Kingsway.
It became clear from testimony that recent purchasers of both the single-family houses along Galt Street and the condo units at 2239 Kingsway were misled by the agents who sold the development. None of them expected to have the context immediately ruptured by this out-of-scale development on a single lot. The “scale” model presented for the development perpetuated various distortions: (1) The displayed surrounding context of four-storey apartment block on Galt Street and a tower on Kingsway is extremely unlikely to exist within the lifetime of current owners, since most of what exists is already new construction (2) No respect was shown for the sharp upward slope of land toward Nanaimo Street (3) Variance in set-backs from Galt Street was seriously fuzzed. The report to Council also contributed to distortion by citing the greatest possible depth of this irregular lot, not mentioning the least depth of 103 feet on the west side, failing to use even an average figure. The dishonesty of this reporting to Council meshes with the dishonesty that marketers showed to purchasers. [Personal observation: on a visit to the sales center for the development, Eye on Norquay observed a plan showing a continuous row of single-family houses along Galt Street.]
The specific housing type rezonings to implement the Norquay Plan approved by Council on 4 November 2010 have not yet gone to public hearing. The owners of some 1900 properties have had no legal notification of the details of the “planning” that will affect the value and livability of their properties. The 2298 Galt Street rezoning relies on (1) Presumptions about a Transition Zone housing type that has been discussed only vaguely with the community (2) Divergence from even those vague understandings (3) Development of further specifications with absolutely no community involvement or even opportunity for feedback (4) Running far ahead of the public hearing (no sooner than 2013) that would lend any legitimacy to the housing form.
Planning consists of “making this up as we go along.” Vision will always approve what developers work out behind the scenes with planners. Residents get no say in the planning for their communities. Public hearings are pro forma rubber stampings. Respect for a stated plan seems much stronger if the issue is subdivision of a 90-foot lot in Shaughnessy — hundreds of acres in East Vancouver receive far less respect.
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Note: Council minutes record Joseph Jones and Jeanette Jones as “neither in support of, nor in opposition to the application.” This reflects three factors: (1) Recognition that the proposal falls within the technicalities of the vague Norquay Plan, if not within its spirit (2) Appreciation for the developer’s investment in design (3) Special orientation of the building to 2239 Kingsway and to the side lane to the west.