Ground-Oriented Buildings in Vancouver Residential Areas
The City of Vancouver appears to be attempting to redefine “ground-oriented building form” under Interim Rezoning Policy (IRP) to include a higher building form located off-arterial with almost no ground-level access. IRP is a city-wide policy introduced in 2012 that has seen little take-up so far, but a policy which is reported to have spurred considerable land-assembly speculation across Vancouver.
An Open House for a proposed development under the IRP at 3365 Commercial Drive / 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue was held on 21 May 2015. The site includes 5 lots of varying sizes (one of them presently owned by City of Vancouver). The developer proposes a secured market rental apartment building complex consisting of a 6-storey wing fronting on Commercial and a 4-storey wing fronting on 18th Avenue. A shared entrance and elevator join the two wings. Five for-sale ground-oriented units at the western edge of the site are offered as transition to adjacent RS-2 zoning.
The IRP states that “mid-rise forms up to a maximum of 6 storeys” may be considered if they front on arterials. In this case, a 6-storey building is proposed to front on Commercial Drive. “Within approximately 100 metres of an arterial street ” (i.e. behind the apartment building), the IRP permits “ground-oriented forms up to a maximum of 3.5 storeys, which is generally sufficient height to include small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses, and courtyard row houses.”
1. Current Definition of “Ground-Oriented Building Form”
Until now, the phrase “ground-oriented forms” has been understood to mean “small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses, and courtyard row houses,” as specified in the IRP. The description does not include 4-storey apartment buildings.
2. Apparent New Definition
In the case of this application, we understand that three of the ground-level units in the 4-storey building are to have ground-level entries, although only one such unit shows on the floor plan. The City seems to be implying that the presence of these ground floor units with ground-level entries allows the entire 23-unit wing fronting on 18th Avenue to qualify as a “ground-oriented building form.”
Planners at the Open House referenced examples in other parts of Vancouver – multi-storey apartment buildings where a few of the ground floor units have private, ground-level entries. This weak analogy provides no basis for redefining a clear specification by IRP. An apartment building containing a few units that have private ground-level entries does not magically become a ground-oriented building form.
A 4-storey apartment building has much greater density than other low-rise forms. For example, in Norquay, the maximum allowable FSR is 0.9 for the RT-11 zone (small house/duplex), 1.2 for the RM-7 zone (rowhouse/stacked townhouse) and 2.0 in the transition rezoning policy (for 4-storey apartments). The allowable unit density per hectare is 74 for RT-11, 132 for RM-7, and 240 in the transition rezoning policy for 4-storey apartments. To allow the City of Vancouver to redefine this term through precedent would have huge implications not only for IRP projects, but for all City policies that include the words “ground-oriented building form.”
There is a real shortage of small house/duplexes, traditional row houses, stacked townhouses and courtyard row houses in Vancouver. They are a true transitional form that combines features of both single family houses (private ground-level entries, easily accessible open space) and apartment buildings ( attached side walls, shared parking). The stated intent of the IRP is to encourage the building of these housing forms between the apartment buildings on the arterials and single family residential areas.