Eye on Norquay

Looking Out for East Vancouver

Archive for April 2012

Flat Roofs

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The Issue

Norquay residents and supporters need to resist any attempt by developers/planners to push new flat-roof design into the parts of Norquay that do not lie along Kingsway or form part of the narrow “transition zone” between Kingsway and the surrounding neighborhood.

Whenever the three new housing types (duplex, traditional rowhouse, stacked townhouse) are brought to Norquay open houses for review, there should be confirmation to the community that stacked townhouse in particular will not be permitted to alter the eclectic character of Norquay by substantially increasing the proportion of flat-roofed structures. The blight of this clearly unwanted design element must not be allowed to spread.

The table appended to this posting demonstrates that flat-roof design in Norquay is at present a minuscule component within Norquay dwelling types and comprises substantially less than 1% of existing dwellings.

It is not appropriate for “neighbourhood centre” planning to overwhelm and alter the existing organic mix of neighborhood design and character with cheap-looking and shadow-casting boxes that do not fit in and go against the clearly expressed wishes of residents.

What the Community Has Already Said

The Renfrew-Collingwood Community Vision confirms (p. 27) substantial community support for design that “reflects character houses in the area [and is] less boxy — scale and massing … to ‘fit’ … surroundings — encourage … pitched roofs, porches and entries” [all accompanying illustrations are sloped roof]. A similar level of support is shown (p. 28) for “steeped roofs.” Elsewhere (p. 53) that level of support is show for “townhouse development like Duchess Street apartments [pitched roof design] … compatible with RS-1.”

The Norquay Planning Background

Extensive community engagement with planners eventually led to city council approval of the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan.

But not all understandings of the community received explicit statement in the Plan. Right up until the end, the Plan was in flux. Besides that, little time was provided for the community to review the many pages that had been prepared by planners working entirely on their own.

Some of the best documentation for understandings on building design can be found in the materials presented to the Norquay community at Workshop 4 on 28 April 2009. One of five parallel sessions focused on Housing Character. The graphics provided showed predominantly sloped roofs, and the planner offered the provisions of RS-5 as an improvement on design that Norquay might look to enjoy. The planner was told that Norquay did not want flat roofs. This concern was repeated multiple times to the succeeding new planning team in phase 3 (2009-2010) of the Norquay planning.

Additional Practical Rationale

At the level of practicality, in Vancouver’s rainforest climate, three construction features in particular exacerbate the neverending problem of rapid wood-frame building rot, also known as “leaky condo” disease. One of those features is flat roofs that do not shed water rapidly. The others are (1) insufficient roof overhang and (2) plastic vapor barrier that restricts breathability and promotes in-wall condensation.

It is understandable that flat roof may be unavoidable in the design of buildings for the four-storey apartment housing type — destined mainly for the Kingsway transition zone, but also due to encroach into residential neighborhood around Norquay Park and along Earles Street. Two things make flat roof more acceptable for this type alone: (1) Ownership seems more likely to be landlord-tenant rental rather than strata ownership. Consequently, single building owners should be less likely to stint on the necessary inspection and maintenance than very small strata corporations are. (2) The height and location of these buildings (except in residential areas, where this type was a last-minute community-unapproved intrusion of the Plan) should make the flat-roof design less obtrusive over time.

Same-Day Update on 30 April 2012 — 4:48 pm

The attention of Eye on Norquay has been brought to a 14 May public hearing on a “Housing Demonstration Project” nearby in East Vancouver. Sixteen strata townhouses are proposed for an assembly of two residential properties that together measure 100 x 218 at 5761-5775 St. George Street. The presentation to the Urban Design Panel described “family oriented townhouses [whose] massing and design will have a relatively steep pitched roof.” Here’s hoping that the 1900 properties in Norquay will enjoy the same respect being shown to the context surrounding this “demonstration” project.

•     •     •

Appendix:  Street-By-Street Survey of Existing Flat-Roof Dwellings in Norquay

New Zoning                 Address
Duplex                     2470 East 29th Avenue

Transition Apt             2191 East 32nd Avenue

Duplex                     2325 East 40th Avenue

Duplex                     4718 Clarendon Street

Stacked Townhouse          2707 Duke Street

Transition Apt             5066 Earles Street

Transition Apt             2248 Galt Street

Stacked Townhouse          4616 Nanaimo Street

Stacked Townhouse          4632 Nanaimo Street

Stacked Townhouse          4850 Slocan Street

Transition Apt             5015 Wales Street

Duplex                     5651 Wales Street



Written by eyeonnorquay

30 April 2012 at 4:13 pm

Posted in History, Statements

Avalon Open House

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On 2 April 2012 a developer-sponsored open house about the future of the 1.25 acre Avalon Dairy site was held at Killarney Community Centre. (See appendix for text of emailed announcement.) Time constraint limited Eye on Norquay to about one hour for review of boards, conversation, questions, and comment form completion.


The Avalon Dairy site has been in play for almost a year now. Eye on Norquay reported on the May 2011 advertisement for sale. Two days before Christmas 2011 the Vancouver Sun reported that the property had been sold to Avalonna Homes for $6 million. CityHallWatch elaborated on that story a few days later. Ongoing lack of news formed the basis for a follow-up CHW story in March, followed by almost immediate update that an open house was on the near horizon.

Anxieties about the future of the Avalon Dairy site have been percolating among the development-watch community. The mystery surrounding the corporate nature and history of the unknown entity “Avalonna Homes” has caused concern.

The Event

The Avalon open house proved to be a rare pleasant surprise. The event could provide a model for how developers and city planners should approach local communities. It is difficult to separate this broader matter of process from the specifics of the individual site.

At the usual open house, Vancouver residents always seem to confront a done deal that planners and the developer have already cooked up. In other words, say what you like, there is no choice, the train has left the station, and you are nothing but a ritual passenger serving a decorative function. The comment sheet serves mainly as confetti. A prime example is the similar open house held at the beginning of the proposal to redevelop the Jeffs Residence site.

So what was different this time around?

One of the boards showed two separate flow charts: one for the process that would relate to outright development allowed under existing RS-1 zoning, one for an alternative process tied to heritage revitalization. I asked a planner where the open house fit into those two charts. The heartening answer: well ahead of everything.

The Proposal

There was not much of a proposal, and that was good. The boards were clear, apparently free of crude bias, and dealt mostly with history and description of the existing site.

The outright development alternative would see creation of 10 separate lots under RS-1, with extension of adjacent parallel street and lane, and a resulting four units per lot (house, basement suite, standard illegal second suite, laneway house), for a total of 40 dwelling units. (VanMap shows 5805 Wales as measuring 320 x 159. The adjacent lot to the west has a depth of 126. So ten lots at 32 x 126. With loss of 320 x 33 to additional right-of-way for East 43rd Avenue.)

The heritage retention alternative would, as I understand it, result in

         Up to 60 or so dwelling units if all are minimum size
         Larger units likely to bring total units well below 60
         One single strata development for the entire site
         Stacked townhouse with sloped roof as housing type
         No four-storey apartment
         No building height of four stories or greater
         A single level of underground parking
         Farmhouse retained in current position
         Many existing mature trees retained
         Separation of trees from excavation sufficient to ensure survival
         No further conversion of land to street or lane
         Increased availability of a desired new housing type

One further useful sidelight was learning that “Avalonna Homes” involves local smaller-scale builders, at least some of them resident in Killarney. Architect Hywel Jones also mentioned his own previous involvement in the demonstration project that built 24 dwelling units (8 row-houses, 2 triplexes and 2 five-plexes) on three large lots at 311 East 33rd Avenue.


The core of the open house questionnaire consisted of an opportunity to express approval or disapproval on three questions with a scale of 1 to 5:

1.  How supportive are you of the preservation of heritage resources, like the Avalon Dairy farmhouse, across
      the City?
2.  How supportive are you of preserving the Avalon Dairy farmhouse in its current location?
3.  How supportive are you of additional housing types (other than single family homes) on this site
      to facilitate the preservation of the original farmhouse?

Support for the denser heritage retention alternative seems attractive to Eye on Norquay on multiple grounds as already listed in points above. In particular, the broad-sketch proposal appears to

         Respect the scale of the RS-1 surroundings, particularly in terms of height
         Avoid the conversion of additional surface land to automobile use
         Ensure that developed parking space will be used for parking
         Seek quality in form of construction
         Add reasonable density to achieve the economics necessary for preservation of heritage and landscape

Key to this support are (1) the already assembled nature of the land parcel, and (2) the absence of previous regular RS-1 development. This means that this singular site and its development project could in no way be taken as precedent for anything else — or provide any justification for speculative land assembly in adjacent RS-1 zoning. Beyond these considerations, the proposed amenity appears (1) to offer a clear and truly public benefit that is proportionate to what the developer would receive, and (2) to respect the role of community choice in the matter.

*     *     *

You are Invited to an OPEN HOUSE

Regarding: Hywel Jones Architects is seeking public input as the first step in planning the redevelopment of the Avalon Dairy property at East 43rd Avenue and Wales Street.

When: April 2nd 2012

Time: 5:00pm – 8:00pm

Where: Room 203, Killarney Community Centre, 6260 Killarney Street

Your Ideas and Comments are Welcome

Subject Site: 5808 Wales Street

For further information contact: Jasmine Kafka at 604 801 5008 or jkafka@pottingerandassociates.com

Written by eyeonnorquay

4 April 2012 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Events, News