Archive for April 2015
Comment on Development Application DE418823 under Apartment Transition Zone Policy
18 April 2015
The application is the first to come forward under defined policy for Apartment Transition Zone in Norquay. The location of the particular site raises area problems which cannot be divorced from the application. Genuine planning must address the context as well as the isolated building form on site.
A. Policy Framework
To layer Rental 100 policies on top of Norquay’s Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy seriously compromises the livability of this development and vitiates key standard design elements. The 12.5% increase of FSR (from 2.0 to 2.25) prevents achievement of the useful courtyard (minimum 30 ft. wide) as mandated by the Norquay Plan. The strict limits that Rental 100 sets on unit size results in almost no larger units with two major exposures. Two of the most attractive features of the family apartments intended for this zoning are being nullified.
B. Missing Sidewalks
Our greatest concern is that NO connective sidewalks exist in the area where this development is located. Areas shown in red on the map below have no sidewalk on either side of the street. The Transportation 2040 Plan states: “Pedestrians will continue to be the City’s top transportation priority.” (Transportation 2040, p.19) Yet currently no one can reach a bus stop or the SkyTrain from this building site without walking a busy street lined with parked cars. Without these sidewalks, children cannot safely access their school, their neighbourhood park, or the local daycare centre. The City needs to extend the sidewalk along Galt Street between this building and Nanaimo Street, and to install a sidewalk along one side of Baldwin Street between Galt Street and General Brock Park. These sidewalks need to be provided concurrently with this development, not imagined for some vague future date.
II. Specific Development Application
We like the simplicity of the proposed design of this building. We appreciate especially the following elements:
• Provision for interior ventilation and daylight by making it possible for air to enter the hallways via
grilles in the exterior walls of the stairways
• Balconies that do not protrude, but appear to be part of the building
• The dark colour of the building, which makes it appear smaller and cleaner
• The use of metal trim for better long-term maintenance (provided that the metal will not rust)
We are very pleased to see that all of the units in this building are two- or three-bedroom units, and that the increase in unit density is minimal. This respects the character of the Norquay area.
To form an objective and reliable judgment of architectural practitioners and rental real estate developer/owners is almost impossible. That said, we feel that both of these agents in the development proposal represent a standard that is as good as could be hoped for.
Jeanette Jones and Joseph Jones
A development application for 2312-2328 Galt Street happens to be the first rezoning proposal under Norquay Village — Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy. The application seeks to benefit from the Rental 100 suite of developer handouts at the same time.
The City of Vancouver is allowing two new experimental densities to collide, and Norquay in the heart of East Vancouver suffers the toxic density fallout. It was already unfair to target one of Vancouver’s already denser neighborhoods for more population with no added amenity. It seems beyond unfair to layer a second density handout on top of the first.
Apartment Transition Zone
First of all, the Galt Street application seeks to benefit from incentives provided by the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan.
Here is the relevant portion (pdf 46 of 108) of what Vancouver City Council approved on 4 November 2010 over the objections of a majority of area residents:
Note the following three divergences from how this new “zone” was presented in 2010 — and what has happened since:
I. Norquay was promised an Apartment Transition Zone. Instead, in 2013 it got an inflated loosey-goosey Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy.
II. In 2010 a Basic Development Parameter was specificed as 72 dwelling units. Presumably this figure applied to “one parcel.” The 2013 version of the zoning upped this figure to 180 for two parcels and 240 for three parcels. That represents an inflation of 25% for two parcels and 11% for three parcels.
III. The 2013 version of the zoning specifies at 2.4 that single parcels of less than 50 ft. ordinarily will not be eligible for rezoning. Land assembly is required. In the interim, however, City of Vancouver encouraged a misbegotten experiment on a 46.4 ft. parcel at 2298 Galt Street. Too bad planners had to see the face of Frankenstein before realizing that the monster needed to die. The four apartments in a nasty location have recently gone on the market at prices ranging from $878,000 to $998,800. (So much for Norquay’s vaunted new affordable housing.)
The 2010 Norquay Plan dropped significant additional density into RS-1 zones, and then the 2013 specifications stealthily pushed that density even higher.
The conclusion needs to go up front:
The City of Vancouver must make Norquay Apartment Transition Zone a no-go zone for additional Rental 100 handouts
This is not the place to get into all the details of the long, tangled, nasty history of Rental 100 incentives. Three points are enough:
The rental incentives “initiative” traces back to the 2008 economic downturn and a City of Vancouver effort to “stimulate” the construction and development activity that has become its only real business — apart from selling itself off as a global elite playground at the expense of most existing residents. This early account provides backstory:
Joseph Jones. The Ugly Story of Short Term Incentives for Rental. Vancouver Media Co-op (26 Aug 2010)
What was “short term” in 2009 has turned into a permanent deep trough for developers to pig out on at taxpayer expense. A recent mainstream media account makes it clear that developers are now interested in building rental properties even without these incentives:
Tamsin McMahon. Canada’s rental unit landscape witnessing a resurgence. Globe and Mail (16 March 2015)
In 2015 City of Vancouver budgeting, housing consumes 20% of capital budget and 35% of operating budget investments. Much of this “housing” consists of STIR and Rental 100 giveaways to developers. A correlate of this use of scarce resources is no amenity increase for the predominantly East Vancouver areas where the density is getting dumped.
2015 Capital Budget Expenditures — $306.0 Million (pdf 57 of 180)
2015 Operating Budget Investments — $9.4 Million (pdf 48 of 180)
2015 Budget Report DRAFT — Council Meeting February 24, 2015
This is a report on the 2312-2328 Galt Street open house of 15 April 2015. Comment on the development proposal is yet to come and will stand as a separate posting.
Approximately two dozen people attended a community open house for the proposed 2312-2328 Galt Street rezoning on 15 April 2015 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Also present were five different planning staff, two project architects, and the site owner/developer.
This is first development proposal to come forward under the Norquay Plan Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy. The development proposal also seeks to benefit from incentives available through the Rental 100 program.
A model of the proposed new 28-unit rental building was available for viewing:
In two separate episodes during the three hours, unusually upset immediate-area residents or owners complained vociferously and at great length about the out-of-scale nature of the development, and about a planning system in Vancouver that appears to serve developer interests only.
The first of the two unhappy people seemed to have connection with the newer single-family house to the immediate west (at right in photo of model) that seems destined to become squeezed between two four-storey apartment complexes. To the immediate east of that house the 2298 Galt Street development (four apartments in two buildings on a single lot) already exists as an ill-advised experiment that City of Vancouver encouraged prior to definition of the new zoning policy. The objector spoke in Chinese, and two of the planners had the language ability to interact with her. One point that could be understood by an onlooker was complaint that other lower-density Vancouver neighborhoods seem to stay protected from the sort of “planning” that has been forced onto Norquay.
The second frustrated person mentioned fifty years of residence, which from age appearance would mean having grown up in and still being occupant of a family dwelling. His greatest practical concerns seemed to be oppressive shadowing, exacerbation of an already severe parking situation, even more automobile traffic along a busy double-fronted street that functions more as a lane, and injection of 28 rental units into the midst of an existing single-family neighborhood.
For a good portion of the three-hour open house, three development planners had to take turns at trying to provide “ranter therapy.” The stress factor was obvious. Explanations of dry policy and bureaucratic process are not what people who feel threatened want to hear. This is the kind of unfortunate experience that tempts planners to discount or dismiss all input from the public.
The predominant planner response was to say that this kind of development is what Vancouver City Council has approved for the area. (Of course, City of Vancouver employees could never take the further step of outlining the politics of why most Vancouver City Councillors act as little more than a tool of developer money.)
Planners seemed to say two things for which they could have been taken to task by an informed participant. In light of the heated emotional situation, it did not seem useful to intervene in the exchanges with the following perspectives.
One planner (speaking out of direct experience with recent Marpole area planning) seemed to claim that the Norquay Plan had the support of a majority of area residents. The basis for saying this probably would be an assumption that Council would not flat-out stomp on a local area. However, the record shows that this is exactly what Council did to Norquay.
A formal community-wide survey strongly rejected the 2007 Norquay Draft Plan, and probably offered the truest indication ever of general Norquay sentiment. What the City of Vancouver did in the 2008-2010 wake of that result amounted to a sustained fabrication of “support” and smothering of evidence of widespread disapproval.
Another planner seemed to claim that Rental 100 policy would ensure that only reasonable rents would be collected by the property owner. It seems unlikely that City of Vancouver possesses now or will ever implement any monitoring or survey mechanisms to control the future market rents that Rental 100 properties will be able to collect. Norquay has already faced one outrageous Rental 100 project that appears to have fallen by the wayside.
Both the architects and the developer/owner communicated frankly in individual conversation. They appear to be committed both to building a quality project and to providing good long-term management. In a local real estate environment that so often favors hit-and-run construction coupled with quick-flip “investing,” their approach looked like good news for Norquay. But only time will tell.
Since the six open house panels for 2312-2328 Galt Street may never be provided on the City of Vancouver web site, and seem certain to disappear with eventual removal of the application information, photos are provided below:
View Analysis + Shadow Studies
Site Plan + Site Data + Design Rationale
Streetscapes + Context
Elevations + Sections + Perspectives
Comment on Development Application DE418725 under RM-7 Zoning
13 April 2015
We believe that this development application should not be approved in its present form for the following reasons:
1. The applicant has miscalculated the area of the site. According to our calculations, the site area is 7194 sq. ft. (109 × 66), and not 7496 sq. ft. as stated in the project statistics on the site plan. At the maximum unit density of 132 units per hectare, the true site area should yield 8.81 units. When this fractional number is rounded down as required by the District Schedule (4.18.2), the result is 8 units.
Therefore only 8 units should be allowed on this site rather than the proposed 9 units.
2. The units are too small. Only two of the nine units are more than 1200 sq. ft., the “typical unit size” prescribed by RM-7 zoning regulations (Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan Implementation Report adopted by Council after the public hearing of April 9, 2013, p. 11). The average size of these units is approximately 1000 sq. ft.
3. The units are too narrow. Living rooms fall short of the 14 ft. width prescribed by RM-7 zoning guidelines. (Section 2.2.2(b)(iv)
4. Unit 9 appears to have its main entrance through glass doors on the front porch. This is neither safe nor secure.
5. The protruding roof decks on the top floor break up the line of the building and shade the windows and balconies of the floors below.
Jeanette Jones and Joseph Jones
Absence of sidewalks in the general area of the Rental 100 development proposed for 2312-2328 Galt Street subjects all pedestrians to unsafe conditions and puts children at special risk. Streets are lined in red below where there are no sidewalks.
The site is one block west of Nanaimo Street and one block north of Kingsway. This location is subject to Norquay’s Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy. The proposed 28 units are all 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom, appropriate spaces to accommodate families. Units range in size from 630 sq. ft. to 1090 sq. ft.
Key walking distances for the location include one block to General Brock Park, about three blocks to the Terry Taylor Daycare Centre, 800 meters to Norquay Elementary School, and 700 meters to Gladstone Secondary School. The routes for buses 19, 25, and 33 are nearby, and the Nanaimo Skytrain Station lies 700 meters to the north.
Does this sound like a good location for family housing? It is. But lack of sidewalks presents a major problem. Residents of this building would not be able to reach any destination without walking in the street. The only sidewalk in the immediate area fronts nine contiguous recently developed properties just to the west, along the south side of Galt Street. But this small section of recent developer-provided sidewalk connects to nothing — appended Photo 1 of 5.
To permit this development in this location would clearly contravene longstanding City of Vancouver policy:
Families with children should have reasonable and effective access to essential community services and recreational amenities. … Effective access means a walking route which is both safe … and secure (having an environment suitable for elementary school children).
High Density Housing for Families With Children Guidelines (Section 2.1)
If this development proposal is approved, a condition of that approval must see the City of Vancouver commit to extending existing partial sidewalk eastward along the south side of Galt Street to make connection to Nanaimo Street. The steep grade and the semi-blind corner make this portion of the street an especially hazardous place to be walking. Even now, 100% use of available Galt Street curb parking is common — appended Photo 2 of 5. The reduced on-site underground parking requirement of Rental 100 can only exacerbate this already untenable situation. The great number of routinely parked curbside vehicles reduces available road space, increases traffic in the area, and impairs visibility for both drivers and pedestrians as they access roadway for sidewalk use.
Furthermore, a new connecting sidewalk must be provided along one side of Baldwin Street, for the entire block, to provide safe access to General Brock Park. The curve on Baldwin Street means a driver cannot see from one end of the block to the other — appended Photos 3 of 5 and 4 of 5.
The underground parking that serves the 94 residential units of 2239 Kingsway has already greatly increased traffic flow along Galt Street and Baldwin Street — appended Photo 5 of 5.
The City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 planning document states:
Pedestrians will continue to be the City’s top transportation priority. (p. 19)
The City of Vancouver must respect its own stated priority for pedestrians.
Photo 1 of 5 — Eastern End of Galt Street Sidewalk Section
Photo 2 of 5 — Curb Parking Unavailable along Galt Street (Morning of 11 April 2015)
Photo 3 of 5 — View to North along Baldwin Street (from Proposed Galt Street Site)
Photo 4 of 5 — View to South along Baldwin Street (from Brock Park)
Photo 5 of 5 — Lane Connecting 2239 Kingsway Underground Parking to Galt Street
A developer has applied to rezone three adjacent single-family-zoned properties at 2312-2328 Galt Street to CD-1 in order to construct a 41.5 ft tall building at an FSR of 2.25 to contain 28 secured market rental units and 24 underground parking spaces.
The City of Vancouver is holding a “Community Open House” on 15 April 2015 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Renfrew Community Centre — Room 112 — 2929 East 22nd Avenue.
Eye on Norquay has prepared a separate posting about Galt Street Sidewalks, an issue already identified as a matter of great concern. (More general comment will be provided after the upcoming open house.)
The two most important City of Vancouver policies that apply to this rezoning application are
Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre — Apartment Transition Area Rezoning Policy
Rental 100: Secured Market Rental Housing Policy
On-Site [Low-Visibility On-Ground] Development Proposal Sign
2312-2328 Galt Street on 11 April 2015