2601 East 37th Avenue
Comment on Development Application DE417834 under RM-7 Zoning
14 August 2014
There are things I like about this application:
1. The finishing materials (cedar, metal, glass) are of good quality.
2. The design of the end of building flanked by East 37th Avenue is detailed and interesting. This does a lot to mitigate the fact that both buildings on this corner site front onto the same street.
I do have several concerns:
1. The basement level units are very deep into the ground. Access to daylight and air circulation will be substandard.
2. Only 5 of the 11 units are 1200 sq. ft., the described size of the “typical” unit in the RM-7 zone. (See Appendix below.)
3. Almost all of the private open space seems to be relegated to balconies (which I admit are fairly generous). The Guidelines state that ground level open space is preferable, especially for larger units (7)(b)(i).
4. The material on the web site is often lacking crucial information. In this case, the size of the units is not given.
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Appendix: Typical Unit Sizes for Stacked Townhouses in the RM-7 Zone
The March 2013 Report Summary accompanying the District Schedules and Guidelines for the new RM-7 zone in Norquay contains the following table:
Source = page 11 of:
Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan Implementation – New Zoning District Schedules (multiple small houses/duplexes and rowhouses/stacked townhouses)
There is no indication that any one of these four “key parameters” is more or less important than any other. Presumably all of these criteria need to be met before a stacked townhouse can be built.
If the typical unit size for a development with 4 or more units is to be 1200 sq. ft., I would expect that in any given development application, either (a) at least 2/3 of the units are 1200 sq. ft. or larger, or alternatively, (b) the average size of all of the units is at least 1200 sq. ft.
So far none of the three development applications posted on the City’s web site since the RM-7 zoning came into effect has met this
(a) 4730 Duchess Street. All of the proposed units were 1050 sq. ft. (Three rowhouses are now going to be built on this site instead of the originally proposed six stacked townhouses.)
(b) 4571 Slocan Street. Of the 18 units proposed, six are approximately 1285 sq. ft., six are 850 sq. ft., and six are 800 sq. ft. (average size is 978 sq. ft.).
(c) 2601 East 37th Avenue. Of the 11 units proposed, one is 1365 sq. ft., three are 1225 sq. ft., one is 1365 sq. ft., four are 877 sq. ft., and two are 677 sq. ft. (average size is 1014 sq. ft.).
Trying to build to the maximum allowed density within all of the “key parameters” listed above does create problems and inconsistencies. The requirements for backyard infrastructure (parking spaces, bike lockers, garbage containers, electrical transformers) make it hard to fit everything onto a given site, let alone preserve open space. In addition, sloping lots (almost all of the lots in Norquay, and indeed across Vancouver) make it difficult to bring the basement units high enough out of the ground to allow windows that will let in enough daylight and encourage air circulation.
But the solution to these problems cannot be simply to make the units smaller, the buildings higher, and the open space confined to balconies. The City needs to consider decreasing the 132 units per hectare unit density — a “key parameter” that carries neither more nor less weight than maximum building height or typical unit size. Fewer, larger units would decrease the amount of necessary backyard infrastructure and allow for more ground level open space, as well as making the units more livable for families.
An alternate solution is to require applicants to build rowhouses on sites where a stacked townhouse configuration cannot be built within all of the key parameters, especially on sites with a depth of less than 110 feet.