Avalon Open House
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 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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org