Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson stirred up local media with a 1 March 2017 annual keynote address to the Urban Land Institute.
If you had coughed up $125 in good time, you could have gone to the Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront to hear Robertson’s latest wild stabs at gaining favor with the perceived voter. But if you weren’t a developer, you probably didn’t show up at that expensive scene.
Ordinary tax-paying residents are left to sift through skimpy news accounts to try to get a handle on this “preview of new directions the city is planning to take to produce housing for people, not investments.” That just-quoted gist comes from the caption to the story in Metro, a news source which has recently zoomed to the top of the heap for content and reliability.
Three points jump out from that Jen St. Denis coverage on the day of the speech:
• Find ways to increase density on lots without land assembly
• Attempt to encourage new housing that people will live in — not hold as
• Encourage duplexes to multiply into four-plexes
What follows is a seasoned Norquay take on these febrile brain waves. In case you forgot, Norquay was mass-rezoned in 2010 to achieve some of these goals. Singled out. “Planned.” And promised alleviating amenity that shows almost no signs of ever being delivered in the lifetime of existing residents.
First and foremost, why would Robertson jump off in so many directions at once without making any attempt to assess the current state of the Norquay experiment? Our ADHD mayor hotfoots from homelessness to civic logos to EcoDensity™ cubed. Confidence wanes that he has any clue about what he is doing, other than scrambling to front for whatever he is advised to front for. A weird style of “leadership.”
Without Land Assembly
The Norquay mass rezoning set off a speculative wave of land assembly that is still reverberating. At one early stage Klein Group was hawking most of the south side of Duke Street between Duchess and Earles. Robertson imagines he can somehow rezone without rezoning?
One especially nasty early experiment at 2298 Galt Street demonstrated that “four-storey apartment” without land assembly was not a good idea. Planners subsequently recognized that fact in the zoning for RM-9A.
New Housing that People Will Live In
Here is a recent photo of 4565/4571/4585 Slocan Street, three sixplexes built under conditional RM-7 zoning as stacked townhouse.
On multiple recent occasions we have observed this new housing being marketed without advertised open house to sizeable groups of what are almost certainly offshore investors. These smaller investors may feel forced to rent the units to cover mortgage, thus sacrificing the purity of newness. But who can tell?
Double Duplex = Fourplex … On One Lot
The duplex form in Norquay has seen considerable take-up by developers. A new duplex, strata-titled on half the land, is not much cheaper than an existing fee simple house (not so new) on a whole lot. So duplex has not brought the promised new level of affordability. Besides that, as expected, rapid redevelopment has rushed the extermination of older more affordable housing, obliterating what would have been a more organic cycle. If the failed experiment at 2298 Galt is what Robertson means by “four-plex,” start to shudder.
Gregor Robertson is proposing to make a bold move on all of Vancouver — okay, probably never Shaughnessy and certain other special areas, because essential inequities must be maintained — a bold move based on an absolute jumble of notions. Perhaps he and his “planners” should start with a good stare at Norquay in the rearview mirror? But that is not where you can imagine a bright future, like you can when doing ninety miles an hour down a dead-end street.
Never forget the bottom line, whatever emits from Robertson’s mouth. The perennial task is to open up vast new tracts of already built-on Vancouver land for ever-increasing developer profits. And to do that in a tricky fashion, so the new lift value accrues mainly to the developer, not to the current property owner.
Frances Bula. The signs of a ‘failing city.’ Globe and mail BC ed (2 Mar 2017) S1-S2
Mike Howell. Housing options coming to single-family neighbourhoods. Vancouver courier (2 Mar 2017)
Matte Robinson. Robertson takes frank tone on housing crisis. Vancouver sun (2 Mar 2017) A3
Jen St. Denis. Emptying neighbourhoods sign of ‘failing city’: Vancouver mayor. Metro (1 Mar 2017)
Jen St. Denis. Can Vancouver avoid empty neighbourhood ‘death’ with gentle density? Metro (2 Mar 2017)