Archive for April 2014
Summary: Mechanistic citywide rental criteria for new construction threaten to add windfall incentives for developers to swarm into East Vancouver with outrageously unaffordable rental projects. The City of Vancouver’s hasty and careless response to a fall 2013 lawsuit against STIR and Rental 100 seems to have opened a loophole that already produces unintended consequences.
Unaffordable Housing. That’s the name on the freight train that the Vision Vancouver bloc at city hall says it hopes to slow down with a makeshift handbrake. So the smoke billows and the atmosphere stinks.
Through diversionary haze, all a careful observer can make out is tons of public money being shoveled into the firebox of a developer juggernaut. No bottom line. No accountability. No results.
The “affordable rental” scam has surrounded Norquay, as already mapped out in Encircled by STIR. Rental 100 is now attempting to stomp an especially abusive footprint straight into Norquay and East Hastings.
A lot of the latest problem seems to trace back to a patch-up job that City of Vancouver slapped onto a defective Vancouver bylaw in December 2013. That dodgy maneuver specified a citywide set of maximum “affordable” rents. One effect of that hasty “affordability” tweak is to sic the developer wolfpack onto local areas that offer the greatest margins for exploitation. East Vancouver turns into a killing ground where lowest costs can be paired up with highest payback.
Case Study: Banditry at 2768 Kingsway
A rezoning application for 2768 Kingsway seeks to charge downtown rents for heavily subsidized new construction, rather than proceed with the kind of development anticipated by the 2010/2013 local area plan.
In every respect, this application looks like a ripoff. The only apparent motive is maximization of profit at the expense of both Norquay and all taxpayers in Vancouver. The comparability data is absolutely grim.
First — Anticipated rental costs sit at the top of the current allowable scale. Per square foot costs of $2.41 to $3.11 translate to $1400 for a studio, $1500 or more for a one-bedroom, and $2000 for a two-bedroom. These rents are not appropriate to the area (see table appended below).
Second — The developer pushes the envelope on already bloated provisions for building size (FSR) by attempting to obtain a 3.91 that would disrespect the Norquay Plan. This greed seeks to exceed the FSRs of the largest Norquay developments over the past decade: 3.6 at 2300 Kingsway at Nanaimo [built], 3.8 at 2711 Kingsway / Skyway Towers [under construction], 3.8 at 2220 Kingsway / Kensington Gardens [being marketed].
Third — The developer seeks waiver of the fees (DCL and CAC) that are supposed to fund amenity increase in step with population growth, a balance promised in the Renfrew Collingwood Community Vision. Accelerated regular new development has so far brought Norquay no public realm improvement beyond routine maintenance.
What Is Going On?
Compared with the STIR project at 4320 Slocan Street (FSR 2.14), 2768 Kingsway thinks it is entitled to rents that range from 49% to 61% higher on a square foot basis. Compared with the Rental 100 project at 1568 East King Edward Avenue (FSR 3.79), 2768 Kingsway computes as 41% to 86% higher. Something is clearly out of whack.
It’s hard to believe that the location factor could justify higher rent for 2768 Kingsway. 4320 Slocan is on a quieter street, is closer to a park, and lies a short walk from the East 29th Avenue skytrain station. 1568 East King Edward offers much better shopping, is closer to a park, and provides handy connection to three bus lines.
Time frame (January-February 2014) is similar when 2768 Kingsway is compared with Rental 100 applications for 7350 Fraser Street (FSR 2.61) and 3501-3523 East Hastings Street (FSR 4.00). The 2768 Kingsway rents run 34% to 73% higher than 7350 Fraser, while variance from 3501-3523 East Hastings Street is small. Conclusion: The two higher-FSR proposals are trying to zip through the same loophole. Meanwhile, 1568 East King Edward and 7350 Fraser show that more reasonable developers plan for a more reasonable return on investment.
When the first incentive program to construct rental housing began in 2009, it was called “short-term.” From the outset, no effective conditions or limits were placed on the “market-affordable” rents that could be charged. In part, developers were thought to need a handout because the economic system they so intertwine with took a big hit in the 2008 downturn. Why not extract money from hard-pressed taxpayers and use it to prop up teetering developers?
Although the 2009-2011 STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing) policy was executed by Vision Vancouver, it was developed under the preceding NPA administration.  Four years later, Daniel Fontaine, an NPA kingpin of that party’s 2005-2008 reign, was crowing that Vision Vancouver had put NPA developer-friendly policy “on steroids.”  One developer party carried forward the policies of another without blinking an eye.
As short term turned into long term, STIR spawned a daughter named Rental 100. Only five months after specified-term STIR came to an end, this new program emerged to prolong giveaways for developers.
A little over a year later, in September 2013, West End Neighbours filed a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver, in part because “for-profit affordable rental housing” lacked definition.  In response, the City of Vancouver scrambled to amend its related bylaw.  Ahead of the 3 December 2013 amending, West End Neighbours issued a press release that their lawsuit would proceed to B.C. Supreme Court because the tweaks would fail to address their complaint.  Frank Luba reported estimated cost of waivers under STIR and Rental 100 to stand at more than $13 million.  The case went to two-day hearing on 9-10 April 2014, and a decision remains to be handed down. 
The Bigger Picture
The existence and affordability of rental accommodation in Vancouver has become an ever hotter topic over the past decade. In spring 2014, impending bad news about a sharp spike upward in the annual street homeless count follows right on the heels of years of a highly contentious 30-year plan for the Downtown Eastside.
A prominent feature of the Downtown Eastside plan is intended disappearance of SRO accommodation. It seems no coincidence that affordable SRO is evaporating at the very same time that the plan is being adopted. Speculators and profiteers promptly pounce on emerging opportunity.
At the other end of the rental housing spectrum, the upper end, the City of Vancouver since 2008 has been shifting millions of dollars into the pockets of developers and landlords. Incentive programs reduce the costs. A big item is direct waiver of the fees (DCL and CAC) that are supposed to provide citywide infrastructure and local amenity.
This backdoor depletion of public realm parallels the flood of speculative global capital that is being permitted to “invest” in Vancouver real estate — while housing no one.
What Is to Be Done?
First — Hopes ride on the outcome of the lawsuit pending against the City of Vancouver.
Second — City of Vancouver staff need to recognize looming disaster and modify policy before East Vancouver gets further trashed by this loophole. Citywide policy on affordable rent levels must factor in real land values, and not enable windfall handouts.
Third — Rental data needs to be incorporated into online information about every rezoning application that seeks subsidy from the City of Vancouver. Every incentivized project should be required to provide detailed and comparable financials. Developers who rake in millions from the public purse should not expect to maintain a veil of privacy over their profit levels. Profit beyond reasonable return on investment should be clawed back by the City of Vancouver.
Fourth — The applications in process for 2768 Kingsway and 3501-3523 East Hastings Street need to be closely monitored and spoken to with vigor at every opportunity for formal public input.
The next opportunity is an open house for 2768 Kingsway on Thursday 1 May 2014 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm at George T. Cunningham Elementary School (Activity Room), 2330 East 37th Avenue.
The City of Vancouver web site for Rezoning Application — 2768 Kingsway also provides a link for online comment.
 Joseph Jones. The Ugly Story of Short Term Incentives for Rental. Vancouver Media Co-op (26 Aug 2010)
 Daniel Fontaine. EcoDensity on steroids triggers neighbourhood opposition. 24Hours Vancouver (21 Aug 2013)
 Carlito Pablo. City of Vancouver to amend STIR and Rental 100 bylaws after legal fight. Georgia Straight (19 Nov 2013)
-A Development cost levy by-law amendments to the definition of for-profit affordable rental housing
-B [Staff presentation]
 WEN rejects City of Vancouver’s bylaw tweaks on STIR/Rental 100 (1 Dec 2013)
 Frank Luba. West End group ready to sue. Province (2 Dec 2013) A8
 Bob Mackin. West End Neighbours society wonders what is affordable. Vancouver Courier (10 Apr 2014)
* * * * * *
About the Table
Rental data for each development proposal was obtained from the relevant project planner by telephone. This information is not included in the materials that City of Vancouver temporarily posts on its rezoning application website.
The starting point was the Norquay application for 2768 Kingsway. A search for Rental 100 East Vancouver comparables led to those at 1568 East King Edward Avenue, 7350 Fraser Street, and 3501-3523 East Hastings Street.
Available data on two near-Norquay STIR projects is appended. STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing) was a 2009-2011 predecessor program.
Address 2768 Kingsway Application 28 Feb 2014 FSR 3.91 Total Units 38 Studio units= 8 avg= 450 sq.ft rent= $1400 = 3.11 /sq.ft 1 Bedroom units= 13 avg= 587 sq.ft rent= $1500 = 2.56 /sq.ft 1 BR+Den units= 7 avg= * sq.ft rent= $ * = * /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= 10 avg= 829 sq.ft rent= $2000 = 2.41 /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 0 [ * avg= & rent= included in 1 Bedroom ] Address 1568 East King Edward Avenue Application 24 Dec 2012 / 4 Mar 2013 FSR 3.79 Total Units 77 Studio units= 34 avg= 450 sq.ft rent= $ 750 = 1.67 /sq.ft 1 Bedroom units= 24 avg= 525 sq.ft rent= $ 900 = 1.71 /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= 19 avg= 700 sq.ft rent= $1200 = 1.71 /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 0 Address 7350 Fraser Street Application 9 Jan 2014 FSR 2.61 Total Units 96 Studio units= 0 1 Bedroom units= 76 avg= 582 sq.ft rent= $1047 = 1.80 /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= 18 avg= 757 sq.ft rent= $1362 = 1.80 /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 2 avg= 992 sq.ft rent= $1786 = 1.80 /sq.ft Address 3501-3523 East Hastings Street Application 11 Feb 2014 FSR 4.00 Total Units 87 Studio units= 25 avg= 452 sq.ft rent= $1443 = 3.19 /sq.ft 1 Bedroom units= 38 avg= 603 sq.ft rent= $1517 = 2.52 /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= 24 avg= 829 sq.ft rent= $2061 = 2.49 /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 0
Address 4320 Slocan Street FSR 2.14 Total Units 41 Studio units= 5 avg= 400 sq.ft rent= $ 770 = 1.93 /sq.ft 1 Bedroom units= 32 avg= 640 sq.ft rent= $1020 = 1.59 /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= 4 avg= 900 sq.ft rent= $1455 = 1.62 /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 0 Address 3068 Kingsway FSR 3.65 Total Units 30 Studio units= 0 1 Bedroom units= ? avg= ??? sq.ft rent= $1275 = ???? /sq.ft 2 Bedroom units= ? avg= ??? sq.ft rent= $1700 = ???? /sq.ft 3 Bedroom units= 0
Most of Norquay lies within the boundaries of the Vancouver local area called Renfrew-Collingwood.
The City of Vancouver has repeatedly stonewalled requests for information on how the first two “neighbourhood centre” planning areas (Kingsway & Knight and Norquay) were selected. Both were subjected to mass rezoning of hundreds of acres of single-family areas. The two lie side-by-side in the heart of East Vancouver.
Norquay itself is a demonstrated amenity desert: no community centre, no swimming pool, no ice rink, no library, no neighbourhood house. Despite promises, already dense population gets added to, with no corresponding increase in amenity.
There is far too little City of Vancouver comparative data that spans all 22 local areas. A recent report on Vancouver trees shows that Renfrew-Collingwood ranks near the bottom on that scale too.
One more piece of data to correlate City of Vancouver density-dumping strategy with existing subpar local conditions in Norquay. Bleed green while building out inequities.
Kingsway wanders for 6.8 diagonal kilometers across East Vancouver, running from East 7th Avenue to Boundary Road. During the past decade, real estate industry condo pushers have started making their moves along East Vancouver’s prime artery.
At the far western end, Kingsway has suffered the now legendary tortures of community planning for Mount Pleasant and peak resistance to Rize-Alliance spot rezoning at 180 Kingsway. At the far eastern end, Kingsway has suffered the three-acre plus consolidation of 33 parcels for the three huge towers of Wall Central Park.
The 1.4 km of Kingsway from Gladstone Street to Killarney Street bisects Norquay. (That one mile equals a fifth of Vancouver’s piece of Kingsway.) The contentious 2010 Norquay Plan disregarded policy fundamentals in order to upzone the entire stretch of Kingsway. The City of Vancouver then quietly abandoned years of multimillion-dollar planning that was based on a notion of creating a series of “neighbourhood centres.” After that never-signaled U-turn, Vancouver city planning has become an exercise in carving up the entire city into a network of corridors.
Eye on Norquay has decided to monitor all large scale development along all of Kingsway, including the western 3.7 km from East 7th Avenue to Gladstone Street, and the eastern 1.7 km from Killarney Street to Boundary Road.
Now, in April 2014, thirteen projects are listed in the first-release version of
which occupies a permanent position in the sidebar to the right.
This attempt to compile basic standardized comparative data on Kingway development relies mainly on extraction from the inconsistent, transient, obfuscated documents that City of Vancouver does make available. Links will go dead, because City of Vancouver rapidly and routinely disappears the developer-generated documents that are posted during the period of application for development and rezoning. For an outright application like 2239 Kingsway, no municipal information is ever published. Council-related documents (reports, summaries, by-laws, amendments, etc) take varied form and lie painfully scattered and buried.
Where there is no comparability, how can there be any real accountability? What is an open data policy worth when this kind of information is so obstructed?
The first Kingsway condo tower project, King Edward Village, occupies much of a triangle formed with East King Edward Avenue to the south and Knight Street to the west. Construction occurred in fuzzy relationship with concurrent planning for Vancouver’s first “neighbourhood centre.” This was hit-and-run planning, consisting only of a spot rezoning for King Edward Village and a mass rezoning of 1600 single-family homes. Eye on Norquay has already documented the sad story of King Edward Village and the never-completed neighbourhood centre planning for Kingsway and Knight.
The second Kingsway condo tower project, the Eldorado site at Nanaimo, (eventually called 2300 Kingsway) set out to blockbust Norquay only two months ahead of the community planning that should have preceded and created context for the development. That sneak spot rezoning hammered a one-off 22-storey tower into Norquay.
Both of these first two condo attacks along Kingsway leaned heavily on the get-rid-of-a-nuisance tactic. At East King Edward, a restrictive Safeway covenant saw an abandoned grocery store morph into a flea-market magnet for trouble. At Nanaimo, a combination of liquor store and bar and seedy motel generated predictable activities into past-bedtime hours. This cynical tool abused people living nearby into ready condo submission.
The third condo attack, 2699 Kingsway / Skyway Towers, like the second one, landed in Norquay. Nothing more needs to be said than that the developer’s application went in two days ahead of approval of the Norquay Plan. Note: the failed phase one (2006-2007) of the Norquay Plan saw heavy involvement by the property owner.
Within Norquay, the worst condo attack by far has been the latest. In 2012-2013 Westbank steamrolled over residents and the Norquay Plan with 2220 Kingsway / Kensington Gardens. Extensive effort and comment resulted in no modifications to an unprecedented, unfriendly incursion of a fortress gated community. (Who would have thought that gateway in the Norquay Plan would produce portcullis?)
Of particular interest are
• Projects located in Norquay
• STIR and Rental 100 projects
STIR, followed by Rental 100, stripmine East Vancouver public realm by waiving the DCL and CAC fees that should be contributing to growing amenity in step with development. A mapping of STIR demonstrates that Norquay has suffered disproportionate impact as one of three nodes of concentration for this 2009-2011 City of Vancouver handout to developers.
The Multiple Listing Service for Vancouver currently advertises a three-lot land assembly on Galt Street.
Right to Left: 2312 & 2320 & 2328 Galt Street
For practical purposes, these are adjacent identical properties: three older houses on 33×122 lots, each priced at $999,000, for a package total of $3 million. The main selling point is “Potential for LOW-RISE Multi Family unit Project.” These properties lie in an area covered by Norquay Village — Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy.
Just to the west, at 2298 Galt Street, construction is underway on what is so far Norquay’s only instance of four-storey apartment under the Norquay Plan. This unfortunate experiment on a single lot will not be repeated. City of Vancouver allowed this rezoning to happen between November 2010 approval of the Norquay Plan and April 2013 approval of specific zonings. Land assembly is now required.
2298 Galt Street at Far Right
Imagine being the owner of the single intervening property, a newer house — potentially trapped and orphaned between the ill-advised 2298 Galt experiment and the 2312-2320-2328 Galt assembly.
Three years ago, in 2011, Eye on Norquay “participated” in the City of Vancouver Capital Plan process for 2012-2014. Back then, we argued strongly that our 2010 mass-rezoned 300-400 acres of Norquay should be put in line for some corresponding amenity and benefits. Check out the history in this posting from August 2011. The results were, to put it mildly, disappointing. Zilch for payback in 2012-2014.
Since that time, our tag-line for Norquay’s rapid redevelopment without promised corresponding increase in amenity has become all take no give.
Busy Brock Park — Early March 2014
Norquay has so far been treated as a location for resource extraction and density dumping. All those fine planner words during the lead-up to mass rezoning start to look like pure blather. So far, even outright-promised new garbage cans for Kingsway have failed to appear.
Future prospects look dubious, with impending shift to an even less-accountable four-year cycle. If nothing shows up for Norquay in 2014, it’s hard to believe we’ll ever see recognizable benefits. This round feels like do-or-die for Norquay. Can anyone believe that our 2010 Norquay plan would not be dismissed as “old” by 2018?
Drawing a lesson from 2011, Eye on Norquay has attempted an earlier lead-time. Previous experience made it pretty clear that solicited official Capital Plan consultation — will there even be any in the always inconveniently timed summer of 2014? — amounted to a going-through-the-motions seal on a done deal.
For whatever it proves to be worth, Jeanette Jones has exhumed stated promises, assessed reasonable priorities, consulted with relevant officials, and sent in a 2015-2018 Capital Plan submission.
Topping the list is improvement to Brock Park, which the official 2013 Norquay Public Benefits Strategy said
is considered to be the first priority for upgrading in the first 10 years of the Strategy.
Already into the fourth year of the 30-year Norquay Plan, little evidence is yet seen of intention to deliver. If Brock Park does not get slated for a significant upgrade in the upcoming capital plan, making the ten-year timeline looks like a squeeze.
In the immediate area of the park, recent and approved large-scale development already exceeds 20% of the population growth projected for all of Norquay over a period of thirty years.
Wonder why City of Vancouver wonders why no neighborhood wants to see increased development?
The following letter is being emailed to a newly revised and consolidated list of Norquay contacts, to ask for help with efforts to monitor new developments and to communicate timely information among affected residents.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR EARLY INFORMATION!
Dear Norquay Friends –
New developments keep coming forward in Norquay, especially on and near Kingsway.
A developer who seeks to rezone a site begins by making an enquiry to the City of Vancouver. A lot of exchange takes place between planners and the developer at this pre-application stage — ahead of a formal application. If a developer makes substantial changes to a proposed project, changes are most likely to occur at this stage.
As part of the pre-application process, the developer sometimes hosts a local-area community open house to get community feedback. Only people who live within a small radius (usually just two or three blocks) of a proposed site get notified about the open house. Other Norquay residents learn of the development proposal only when the developer makes a formal development application and posts a sign on the site.
If you receive notice of a community open house for a rezoning application, please let us know. Then we can pass this information along to the rest of our Norquay mailing list. The earlier in the process we have the opportunity to tell the developer what we think, the more likely it is that our comment will receive due consideration.
Please forward a copy of any information you may receive about any local pre-application Open Houses through the Eye on Norquay Contact Form.
To see Norquay monitoring that we have undertaken beginning in 2014, you can read recent postings at Eye on Norquay. Specifics can also be found through links in the right sidebar (Development Applications, Specific Rezonings, Documents, etc).
Exercise of genuine concern to see the best new developments possible, with input from persons well-acquainted with local conditions, will ensure that all of us enjoy improvements to liveability in our neighborhood.
Jeanette and Joseph Jones