Archive for June 2014
No, Norquay does not have a particular pothole problem. But the pothole serves as a perfect icon to rebut City of Vancouver claims to have delivered “amenity” to Norquay.
Certified Genuine Norquay Pothole
Would any reasonable person attempt to make a case that filling a pothole amounts to providing special benefit to a mass-rezoned neighborhood? No. Pothole repair is a simple case of ordinary upkeep. A service that should be taken for granted.
Yet City of Vancouver staff persist in trying to rebrand routine maintenance as special favor shown to Norquay for enduring a widely unwanted mass rezoning — the second in an ever-lengthening series of “planning” assaults that almost always target East Vancouver.
Here stand three hollow icons with feet of clay.
One — Norquay Park Renewal Completed in 2011
The whole story was told two years ago as a case study in misrepresentation. Like so many Vancouver parks, Norquay Park exists today because of boggy land that formed the headwaters of Still Creek. Land that seemed unusable for anything else. Today the built-on land to the west shows severe instability. To keep it brief, Norquay Park was long overdue for upkeep, and would have seen much less improvement without a happenstance federal grant spun out by the 2008 Great Recession.
Two — Improvements to Kingsway Completed in 2012
This detailed story has also been told as the first of a series of accountings. All that needs to be repeated here is that the whole stretch of Kingsway was sadly overdue for ordinary fix-ups, especially replacement of
• Sidewalks like a used minefield lying in wait to take out unwary pedestrians
• Roadway pavement rutted by heavy vehicles into streambeds perfect for
The kicker is that sections of Kingsway where mass rezoning has not occurred received the same upgrade …
Three — Clarendon Connector Completing in 2014
Even as recently as early 2013 it seemed dubious that the Clarendon connector would be anything more than one of those items whose failed delivery will allow City of Vancouver to trot out a new promise for the same old thing.
What is the “Clarendon connector”? In a nutshell, remediation of some ancient planner slip-up when the street grid was laid out for the Norquay area of East Vancouver. Fixing a stupid mistake should never be called a “benefit.”
Even current “completion” of the Clarendon connector has failed to include the plan-identified need for sidewalk on the north side of East 33rd Avenue running westward. It seems City of Vancouver always has to cheap out on some detail just to remind East Vancouver how poor it is.
Bottom line? Norquay residents appreciate these improvements, no question. But they do not appreciate the effrontery that would try to pass off routine (and overdue) maintenance as anything special.
One — and only one — apparent special “extra” has come Norquay’s way since mass rezoning, and that deserves recognition, if only as footnote to this exercise of demythologizing Norquay’s supposed benefits. A new pedestrian crossing for Kingsway at Wales was not listed in the report for the Skyway Towers development now underway at 2711 Kingsway:
CD-1 Rezoning: 2667-2703 Kingsway — City of Vancouver, Policy Report, Development and Building
Only this crossing, which has also been delivered:
4 b. Provision of a pedestrian-actuated signal at the intersection of Kingsway and
Rhodes Street with the developer paying 100% of the cost, to a maximum of
$300,000 (2011 dollars) (Appendix B, page 6)
It is not clear where the additional crossing came from, or how it was paid for, but it has been noticed and appreciated.
Even more appreciated would be a similar crossing for Nanaimo Street at East 27th Avenue to serve all those Norquay residents who face death every time they walk to Nanaimo SkyTrain station. Back when, we were told our neighborhood would become more walkable. But Nanaimo Street remains a downhill racetrack through Norquay.
Report Card on Delivery of Public Realm Improvements
in the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre
In November 2010 Council approved the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan, and the associated Public Realm and Transportation Improvements Plan for the Norquay Shopping Area along Kingsway. This report card is an evaluation of the degree to which the City of Vancouver has done what it committed to do. It does not assign credit or blame to any individual or group, nor does it account for factors that have made delivery more or less difficult.
1. Pedestrian controlled traffic signals on Kingsway — A+
Signals have been installed at Rhodes (not part of the original plan?) and at Wales, on either side of Norquay Park. A mid-block signal between Gladstone and Nanaimo is scheduled as part of the development at 2220 Kingsway.
2. Landscaped median on Kingsway — C-
The median has been constructed and planted. Perennials growing in the median seem to be doing well. However, of the 25 trees planted, 17 are dead or dying and only 8 look alive and healthy.
3. Corner bulges — C
The six planned corner bulges have been constructed. However the four bulges that were landscaped are now completely overgrown with weeds.
4. Corner bulge and bike path at 34th and Wales — C
This very large corner bulge has been constructed. There is some landscaping, which appears to be receiving care. But the suggested benches, brick surface, and trees near the street are missing. The bike path that connects Norquay Park and Duchess Street and passes through this bulge amounts to an unmarked strip of asphalt on both sides of Kingsway.
5. Sidewalks — A
Broken and heaving sidewalks have been replaced and corner ramps installed where needed, with appropriate sidewalk stamps. Sidewalks in new developments are 25 feet wide (except at 2300 Kingsway, approved just ahead of Norquay planning).
6. Boulevards — B
Street trees have been planted where needed and appear to be growing well. The special “Norquay” tree surrounds have not been installed.
7. Street furniture — C-
The number of bus shelters has not changed. Neither has the number of benches, except for several added by developers at 2300 Kingsway and at 2239 Kingsway. Six problematic CityLine litter bins have been replaced by a better design. There are also two new plastic litter receptacles attached to poles. Five other litter receptacles that were attached to poles have been removed and not yet replaced. Only 10 of the proposed 37 bike racks have been installed, and most of these predate the plan.
8. Utility Poles and Light Fixtures — A
Installation of new light fixtures and new poles where needed is now almost completed.
(a) 2699 Kingsway — A-
This development, currently under construction, will contain the plaza that will function as the gateway to the Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. As a result of strong feedback by Norquay residents, the width of the plaza was increased and other improvements made. It seems that the redesigned plaza will work well as gateway to the park.
(b) 2220 Kingsway — D
This development has been approved, but construction has not yet begun. The site, which was to be open and permeable, will now be almost completely covered by a podium, topped by three towers surrounding a raised private courtyard. The “plaza” has been greatly reduced in size and relegated to the northwest corner of the site, where it will mainly function as entrance to the grocery store retail anchor.
10. Pocket Parks and Small Parks
(a) 2300 Kingsway — A-
A small landscaped pocket park with seating has been built on the corner of Nanaimo and 30th Avenue as part of this development. It is well maintained. The proposed litter bin has not been installed.
(b) 2220 Kingsway — C-
A small park is to be built at the corner of Gladstone and 30th Avenue as compensation for reduction of the plaza size [see 9(b) above]. Some of the proposed park space appears to have been separated by plantings to become outdoor seating for a restaurant. Vents from the underground parking intrude into park space. The park will contain landscaping, seating, and some play equipment.
* Subject to reevaluation when the project is completed.
Prepared by Jeanette Jones
Eye on Norquay blew its way through a swirl of tweetstorming earlier today, Monday, 23 June 2014. Exhumation from the wreckage may be perused below.
A prime lesson: any “due diligence” that involves delving into the #eastvan situation may hit rich paydirt in the Eye on Norquay archive.
In part, the following snippets serve as dig-it-up demo and as a highlights-of-abuse tour. Since the snippets are nonclickable images, live links to Eye on Norquay are provided below the relevant segment.
* * * * * *
Norquay Public Realm Workshop
* * * * * *
The Birth of Vancouver’s 22 Neighbourhoods
Expansion of Proposed New Housing Zones in Norquay 2006-2007
2 Nov 2009 Abusive Carve-Out of North Norquay
City of Vancouver Backs Off on Marpole
* * * * * *
Last Line on Page 15
… other Council priorities for area planning, including … other Station Areas
(such as Nanaimo and 29th Avenue).
Reams of Documentation
Prime Counterexample = Sixplex
Last Item on Timeline
Uncertain — Planning for the SkyTrain area of Norquay that planners excluded on 2 Nov 2009.
* * * * * *
Increase in Community Facilities and Programs
* * * * * *
The Election Was the Consultation
* * * * * *
Plundered Plaza at 2220 Kingsway
Primo Norquay Abuse
* * * * * *
End of File
On the evening of 16 June 2014, City of Vancouver planners / consultants held a Norquay Village Plan Public Realm Workshop at Renfrew Community Centre from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. The CoV web site captioned the event “Explore Ideas on Public Space” and elaborated:
City staff and consultants PWL Landscape Architects will listen to your ideas on plazas, Ravine Way,
and other neighbourhood places.
A new planner (the fifth since 2006) assigned to Norquay, Joyce Uyesugi, introduced herself and briefly sketched her understanding of recent plan history. Her comments on the relationship of Renfrew Ravine Linear Park to a future bicycle route (to follow a separate Eastside Crosscut Greenway) generated a series of questions from the audience. The first question was how the evening’s exercise would build on the considerable work already done by Norquay residents in preparing the Norquay Plan. There appeared to be no connection.
Uyesugi Tells Norquay about Implementation
Workshop attenders agreed to start with a discussion of Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. Three smaller groups gathered around separate tables for most of the remainder of the evening. The only two specifics announced for the workshop in the emailed invitation were (1) Plazas and open spaces along Kingsway (2) Ravine Way. These two topics absorbed practically all of the attention and discussion.
Renfrew Ravine Linear Park Tops the List
A remarkable degree of consensus and emphasis emerged from the three independent groupings.
“Don’t Sell Off Any CoV Land” — First Item on List
None of the land already assembled for the linear park should be sold off.
At points where the existing footprint is narrow, additional land should be acquired. Irregularity in boundary offers opportunity for creating spots of special interest along the way. This could mirror to some extent the way that Kingway cuts across the street grid. The right of adjacent residents to erect high fencing means that the linear park must maintain significant width to avoid becoming a cramped corridor.
Existing street and boulevard space should be appropriated to form continuous parkway.
Safety (especially of children) in moving along the linear park is a first consideration. The aesthetic superiority of continuity is obvious. A continuous pathway serves the Norquay Plan objective of increasing walkability.
Delivery on the linear park should begin as soon as possible.
One opportunity for phased delivery is to open up a simple route that can be walked, even if landscaping etc. are not yet affordable. A low-cost three-foot-wide strip of bark mulch would be enough. Another opportunity would be to convert one or two of the streets adjacent to the existing community garden and deliver soon on at least a two- or three-block stretch. Since the mid-1980s, this promise has mostly been deferred and repromised. That’s already one generation that has passed.
Linear park design should emphasize the natural.
This criterion applies to features (slopes, runoffs, etc), plantings (native species), and materials (local stone and wood).
A continuous pedestrian connection should be established.
A pathway should lead from Norquay Park to the 29th Avenue skytrain station and the head of the still-open Renfrew Ravine. The gateway site at 2711 Kingway is already under construction.
Lots of Ideas for Renfrew Ravine Linear Park
Most of the energy and focus went into considering Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. This is understandable, since future plazas at the Purdy’s site (Kingsway at Earles) and the 2400 Motel site (Kingsway at East 33rd) do not seem to be on the near horizon. Recent “plaza” design at 2220 Kingsway suggests that certain developers can do pretty much anything they please, regardless of what the Norquay Plan intends. To the extent that greater Plan definition could achieve a better result, these are features that should be expected of any future Norquay plaza:
• A single contiguous space whose proportion approximates a square
• Plaza to be located at ground level, with podium form not allowed to wall off and
privatize all remaining space
• No plaza space shut off from public access by inhibitory features like walls or pools of water
• Edges abutting new development to be activated by appropriate retail (coffee shop, etc)
• Open space, at least some uncovered, with natural features
• Clear separation from required Kingsway setback so as not to cannibalize that benefit
The schedule announced for Norquay Public Realm foresees a draft plan being brought back to Norquay residents in Fall 2014. Given the clarity and unanimity of workshop directions, there seems little reason for this schedule to fail to be realized.
Norquay Public Realm should have been defined in coordination with the spring 2013 public benefits “strategy” that went to Council with no public input into allocations, and well ahead of the spring 2013 rezoning approval for 2220 Kingsway, one of Norquay’s three most important large sites.
The February 2011 shutdown of Norquay Working Group sent a message that the City intends to tell Norquay what will be done, and to offer few or no opportunities for input. Two years of no public forum preceded the utter diktats of spring 2013. Even this long overdue “workshop” was described as nothing more than “listening to ideas.”
Informed Vancouver residents deserve better engagement. They should not be made to feel like aliens in their own neighborhoods.
A January 2014 development application for 4730 Duchess Street was the first to come in under new RM-7 zoning (2013) enabled by the Norquay Plan (2010). The application proposed to construct six stacked townhouses on a single shallow lot. This form on this site could have set disastrous precedent. City of Vancouver staff paid attention to detailed and considered comment on the application. Approval with conditions call for the project to conform to the intent and spirit of the Norquay Plan. Norquay residents applaud City of Vancouver staff for listening to concerns expressed about this significant case.
Residents of Vancouver are often left to wonder about particular negative impacts that their neighborhoods suffer at the hands of the City of Vancouver. Is there any use in trying to confront problems? Or will the municipal bureaucratic machine simply steamroll over any concerns?
Norquay’s history is littered with significant past abuses. The outstanding example is the October 2010 last-minute package of “considerations” that were crudely pasted onto the Norquay Plan — right at the end of more than four years of process. Abuses like this have contributed to hopelessness and burnout.
In April-May 2013 new zoning schedules were approved for Norquay, complex new documents that specify details that will impact the area’s 1900 existing single-family homes. Many of the development proposals that have come forward since that time have matched plan expectations, and passed without comment at Eye on Norquay.
But in January 2014, a potentially precedent-setting proposal called for and met with strong response. The first application under RM-7 zoning sought to slap the stacked-townhouse form onto a single land parcel whose proportion and location were clearly better suited to the traditional rowhouse form.
4730 Duchess Street
Thanks in part to strong response by Norquay residents and by city hall watchers across Vancouver, the City of Vancouver recognized that conditions needed to be placed on the application to bring it into line with what the Norquay Plan intended. Much credit is also due to City of Vancouver staff for recognizing undesirable consequences and rectifying the situation.
This was a huge piece of good news for Norquay, a strong indication that having a plan in place may mean that the Norquay Plan will come to be more respected as new developments occur. (This particular outcome is especially welcome in light of the disheartening plaza travesty that was perpetuated in the 2013 rezoning of 2220 Kingsway.)
In the recent history of Vancouver planning, Norquay occupies a singular position as harbinger of what other local area plans may expect to experience.
With the Kingsway and Knight “neighbourhood centre” plan, the City of Vancouver first set its sights on already-developed residential Vancouver. The unhappy result has already been documented in detail.
As a latter-stage member of the Cedar Cottage Vision Implementation Committee, Joseph Jones witnessed these fallouts:
• A strong tilt toward developers and developer interests
• Lack of perspective that would have insisted on plan completion
• No will to continue despite City of Vancouver determination to kill vision implementation committees
• No real monitoring of plan implementation to ensure accountability
Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre followed close on the heels of Kingsway and Knight. In spring 2007 the neighborhood strongly rejected a cookie-cutter draft plan cobbled together in haste. At the same time planner hubris was kowtowing to unapproved EcoDensity with intentions to start up two more “neighbourhood centre” plans in 2008. In the wake of Norquay resistance, the City of Vancouver abandoned comprehensive local area planning in favor of a model that better supports carving out corridors and open-ending opportunities for spot rezonings. In the next “plan,” for Mount Pleasant, the City of Vancouver fumbled through a one-off jello-inspired transition to the current batch of four simultaneous new community plans. Three of those four have been executed in 2014: West End, Downtown Eastside, Marpole. Grandview-Woodland remains in notorious contention.
The big lesson that can be extracted from the foregoing is that only what a plan specifies has any hope of controlling what a plan delivers. That hope, unfortunately, relies on constant ongoing monitoring of how zoning schedules are being applied as development proceeds. (As important, and far harder, is reviewing newly written zoning schedules before they are approved at public hearing. The time frame for doing this tends to be impossibly constricted.)
In the absence of external scrutiny, even the specifics of “plans” get subjected to creep, elasticity, conditionality, and discretion. It is the business of developers to learn their way around City Hall. For mere residents, barriers to learning and the associated time expenditures usually prove prohibitive to even making an attempt to follow what is happening.
The playing field is harshly tilted, and developer goalposts are firmly positioned at the uphill end of the playing field. What the City of Vancouver allows to be built tends to become precedent for what the next development applicant will want to build. Thus can a “plan” become a springboard.
Newer plans, despite their turgid reams, may specify less. (The Mount Pleasant plan is infamous for lacking numbers for height and FSR.)
In sum, the price of seeing appropriate neighborhood buildout is perpetual unpaid vigilance on the part of local area residents.
This is the text of the letter that was emailed as soon as possible to our list of Norquay residents and supporters.
8 June 2014
Dear Friends of Norquay,
We are delighted to share some extraordinary good news about a recent City of Vancouver response to strong and numerous comments on a particular precedent-setting development that was proposed for Norquay.
In February 2014 we sought all possible support in making critical comment on an application to build six stacked townhouse units at 4730 Duchess Street. [ This was the story: https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/4730-duchess/ ]
This application, the very first one in Norquay’s new RM-7 zoning for Rowhouse/Stacked Townhouse, could have set a disastrous precedent.
The builder’s proposal disrespected both the intent of the zoning (far too little open space to blend with the physical character of the neighbourhood) and specific zoning guidelines (living spaces too narrow, units too small, insufficient daylight in some rooms, inadequate storage).
The City of Vancouver recently decided on the application. Although it has been “approved,” a set of conditions redefine the project and address concerns that were raised. (A copy of the City of Vancouver prior-to letter to the applicant, which sets out the conditions for final approval, is attached to this email [not reproduced on website].)
The first condition states that the applicant must undertake
significant design development to reduce the number of principal dwelling units to no more than
three, in a rowhouse typology; (Note to Applicant: Further, each principal dwelling may be equipped
with a lock-off suite in the basement level. After extensive staff review and consultation with nearby
residents, it appears that this site is unsuitable for a 6-unit stacked townhouse development due to
the sloping topography and shallow depth of the site. Further, the reduced requirement for bicycle
storage will allow a greater area of open outdoor space in the rear yard.)
The condition means that three traditional rowhouses, rather than the six stacked townhouse units originally proposed, will be built on this site. This outcome is consistent with the preferences expressed by residents during the Norquay planning process. The stacked townhouse typology was developed expressly for deeper lots, while shallow lots like this one were considered to be more suited to traditional rowhouse development.
A large number of formal comments made to the City of Vancouver by both Norquay residents, and by others across the entire city, appear to have been critical in leading the City to this decision. We say a very big THANK YOU to all who contributed.
The City of Vancouver listened to the voices of its residents in this case. We take heart from this result, which strengthens our belief that serious monitoring and considered comment can in fact make our neighborhood better.
Jeanette and Joseph Jones