Archive for September 2018

Questions to Staff

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A Case Study in “Duplex” Impact on Norquay

 

 

 
Canning the Clarifications

At some undetermined point in the relatively recent past, Vancouver City Council streamlined the “process” of public hearing by having councillors direct “questions to staff” via email for later, canned, premeditated, bulk “response” by staff. This format often leaves the onlooker wondering what the “question” actually was. Most of the verbal exchange between councillor and staff has been killed in the interests of control and speed. This innovation typifies what Vision Vancouver has done to public hearing procedures over the past ten years. Some glutton for wonk could provide a great public service by timelining such changes in procedure.

What follows is a case study in the quality of planning staff response to questions. A comparison with detailed independent data leads to one frightening result. This result brings into question all of the newish mode of planning staff’s rapid-fire bulk-packaged response to “questions to staff.”

 
From and For the Record

On the evening of 19 September 2018, a member of planning staff delivered bulked planning staff answers to questions from councillors as part of the public hearing on

5. REZONING: Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for Most RS Zones to Allow
Two-Family Dwellings (Duplexes) to Increase Housing Choice
https://council.vancouver.ca/20180918/phea20180918ag.htm

Below are three transcriptions, in chronological order, of remarks made during the five minutes that run from 3:00 to 8:00 on the video record at

http://civic.neulion.com/cityofvancouver/index.php?clipid=3496176,005


At what price … Typically in the market we see a lot more of this product on the east side than the west side because zoning enables duplex in a lot more neighborhoods on the east side than the west side.

The neighborhood that is most likely for duplexes to work is in the northeast quadrant
[followed by specific mention of Grandview-Woodland]

In our experience on the east side of Vancouver, where we see a lot more of duplex zoning in place in neighborhoods such as Norquay for example, the uptake of building duplexes in zones where duplex is enabled is quite low, about 1% annually since 2013. It’s happening slowly.

 
Eye on Norquay Direct-Observation Data

 

    New-Build Applications by Type / Zonings (excluding RM-9A)

    Outright Duplexes    Conditional RT-11    Conditional RM-7


2014         26                    5                    5

2015         14                    8                    9

2016          5                    3                    8

2017         13                    4                    3

Totals       58                   20                   25


Note: Conditional RT-11 and conditional RM-7 = More than a duplex

Note: Total land parcels in RT-11 and RM-7 = 1648




       Land Parcels Assembled for Conditional Projects

          20 Assembled RT-11      25 Assembled RM-7
    
          One    Two              One   Two   Three   Four

2014       3      2                2     2      1

2015       6      2                2     6      1

2016       2      1                      7             1

2017       3      1                1     1      1

Totals    14     12  =  26         5    32      9      4  =  50


Total of  20  Building Sites Assembled for RT-11
    from  26  component parcels

Total of  25  Building Sites Assembled for Conditional RM-7
    from  50  component parcels 

 

 
Comments on Assertions and Data

In Huber’s “answers to questions,” there seems to be a lack of clarity operating between (1) report on actual experience with duplex in Vancouver, and (2) projection of impact of duplex into existing RS zoning.

It appears that planners anticipate that East Vancouver will continue to be the primary area for construction of duplex, even after the possibility of duplex has been extended citywide. This accords with previous Eye on Norquay analysis in The Duplex Set-Up. The obvious question is, why would City of Vancouver plan for such continuance of inequitable distribution? The most apparent answer is that planning has designed RS duplex specifications to perpetuate inequity in order to avoid or minimize west side blowback.

The 1% per year statistic for Norquay seems decontextualized, minimized, and misleading. If 58 parcels have accommodated outright duplex 2014-2017, there remain an unmentioned additional 45 parcels / assemblies that have accommodated yet more new development. The component number of parcels for those other 45 new strata developments actually calculates to 76. Thus an overall total of 58 + 76 parcels have been affected by new development over the four-year period of 2014-2017. That total of 134 as a proportion of 1648 yields a redevelopment percentage of 8.1%, which annualizes to 2% — double the figure provided by staff. A factor of 100% difference in reported result is not a minor difference. Norquay’s on-the-ground experience is that conversion of more affordable old to far-less-affordable new is NOT “happening slowly.”

Further note that our tabulated data excludes 2013 and 2018. Beyond that, the foregoing analysis takes no account of the other larger-scale redevelopments that have taken place under RM-9A (5 projects) and CD-1 (very large projects = 3 during period and 2 underway) — projects that have added well upward of 500 more dwelling units to the same local area.
 
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

27 September 2018 at 9:52 am

Posted in East & West, Events, News

The Duplex Set-Up

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Who Benefits?

 
Does this photo of Gregor Robertson look woolly? It was grabbed from defective City Council video on the evening of 18 Sept 2018 during a public hearing on duplex housing in “most RS zones.” What wool is being pulled over whose eyes, and to conceal what?

 

 

First of all, a declaration. Residents of Norquay have little skin in the game when it comes to duplexing the sixty-some thousands of RS (single-family) zoned properties that remain across Vancouver. Norquay and next-door cousin Kingsway-Knight were mass-rezoned out of RS in 2010 and 2004 respectively. The number of those parcels totaled around 3400. This was one-twentieth of the RS that has remained until now. Two working-class immigrant neighbourhoods were conscripted for experimentation. The two adjacent areas constitute the geographic heart of East Vancouver, and sit at the eye of Vancouver’s gentrification hurricane.

That said, it is true that an expanded playing field of sixty-some thousand additional properties might diffuse the speculation frenzy that a series of “new community plans” has fomented over the past decade. Perhaps the storm of noise and traffic and dirt might slacken by finally doing a “Go West” that reduces the concentration effect? Alas, the apparent Duplex Set-Up stratagem suggests otherwise.

 
East and West

News reporting on the approval of duplex in RS has raised a point that merits elaboration. The general point is stated by urban planner Andy Yan in a Vancouver Sun article of 21 September 2018 [1]:

 

 

More than five years ago Eye on Norquay quantified east-west population disparity in Vancouver [2]:

 

 

This new RS-to-duplex maneuver promises to widen that east-west population gap even further.

 
Supplyist Enthusiasms

A recent networking of supplyists has made a thing out of hit-squadding on public hearings. These activists profess a two-fold belief:

        Any form of denser new housing anywhere is a priori good.
        The economics and the social consequences do not matter, since housing is in crisis.

Supplyists front-loaded this public hearing, and may now revel in imagining that they have romped over the enemy in a major skirmish. Perhaps they have, assuming their creed is the only metric.

A bit further into the first evening, one supplyist (with academic background in study of airbnb) offered up a profusive hardshell trickledown credo, and lavished onto the duplex initiative a personal testimony of faith, love, and especially hope. The core of the expressed hope: anyone who buys a new duplex for around $1.5 million will free up other more affordable housing further down the cost ladder. But never mind about what is demolished to build the new. Systematic thinking would recognize that this fervor encompasses the general economics of neoliberal trickledown. But no question about that was put to the speaker.

 
A Few Devilish Details

In a nutshell. The application of duplex potential to existing RS zoning, as presently formulated, seems fated to languish with little uptake. What canny developer would rush to replace RS with duplex at FSR 0.7 [3] when they can instead pillage so much present (and near-term-future) RT zoning for

        7% MORE FSR?

That is 0.75 instead of 0.7. This differential looks like a sneaky way to appease pressures for increased density on paper, yet to maintain west-side privilege on the ground. Meanwhile naive supplyists subside into reveries of recent conquest.

Nailing down the specifics of the zoning details is mind-numbing and time-consuming work. First note that the RT zoning currently set at FSR 0.75 encompasses RT-5, RT-8, RT-9, and RT-11 [4]. Item 6 of the 18 September 2018 public hearing [5] — deferred into the indefinite future during the public hearing on the
RS-to-duplex Item 5 — would have upped to 0.75 the FSR in Kitsilano’s RT-7 and Cedar Cottage’s RT-10.

 
Heaping Density onto Existing Density

The net effect of the RS-to-duplex public hearing is to incentivize builders who operate under the new duplex zoning to zero in on the already denser RT zones.

 

 
     https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Zoning-Map-Vancouver.pdf

 
On the 21 July 2016 zoning map displayed above (the seriously out-of-date version currently provided by City of Vancouver), RT zoning is the yellow sectors that collar the downtown core, stretch along Kingsway, and jump off into Marpole. Vancouver’s last decade of “new community planning” has consistently dumped new density onto existing density, in targeted local areas that already suffer disadvantage. The disparity trend continues under the guise of a specious universality.

 
Equity and “Next Steps”

A true concern for equity would suggest the simple solution of setting FSR at 0.75 for the RS-to-duplex, rather than the 0.7 that was proposed and approved. The problem with that approach is that the 7% increase would generate land lift — a result unwanted by the City — for some sixty thousand properties across Vancouver. That lift would go on top of the land price increase that already seems likely. A priori, how could adding two-for-one opportunity into existing zonings not result in some land value increase?

What is the bottom line of today’s apparent agenda? How to pretend to upzone widely, while preserving traditional east-west disparity. See? That little mass rezoning hardly made any difference at all. You silly fearful people. Now, what’ll we do next?

Sneak preview [3]:

        Floor area allowances combined with parking relaxations could be increased to incentivize
        duplex /triplex/fourplex development while floor area reduced to discourage new single-family
        homes (especially houses built without secondary suites)

 
•   •   •   •   •   •   •
 

[1]
Joanne Lee-Young. Developers, candidates and planners argue over Vancouver’s move to allow duplexes. Vancouver Sun (21 Sept 2018)
https://theprovince.com/business/local-business/developers-candidates-and-planners-argue-over-vancouver-councils-move-to-allow-duplexes/wcm/cd951f3a-48ba-4076-989e-57ad72448767

[2]
East Van Gentrification: Norquay at the Eye of the Hurricane
https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/gentrification/

[3]
Page 6 of Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for Most RS Zones to Allow Two-Family Dwellings (Duplexes) to Increase Housing Choice
https://council.vancouver.ca/20180724/documents/p6.pdf

[4]
Zoning schedules (relevant section is 4.7.) are viewable at:
https://vancouver.ca/your-government/zoning-development-bylaw.aspx

[5]
Pages 7-8 and 10-11 of:
Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for RT-7 and RT-8 Zones (Kitsilano) and RT-10 and RT-10N Zones (Kensington-Cedar Cottage) to Increase Housing Choice
https://council.vancouver.ca/20180724/documents/p3.pdf
 
 

Written by eyeonnorquay

23 September 2018 at 4:20 pm

Posted in East & West, Events, Maps, News

Rezoning of RS for Duplex

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Submission to Mayor and Council Re: Public Hearing 18 September 2018 — Agenda Item 5
REZONING: Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for Most RS Zones
to Allow Two-Family Dwellings (Duplexes) to Increase Housing Choice

 
Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre in East Vancouver includes 1.5 sq km or 370 acres. Since 2013, 1911 lots in Norquay have been rezoned from RS-1 to new low density housing zones that allow for duplexes, triplexes, rowhouses, stacked townhouses and 4-storey apartments. All of the new zones permit duplexes to be built outright on single lots. During the last 5 years more than 60 duplexes have been built or have started construction. Today Norquay amounts to a City of Vancouver demonstration project.

Most Norquay residents do not object to allowing duplexes in our community. There is a completed duplex on our block. We are fine with this.

However, Norquay’s experience shows that more regulation for outright duplexes is needed. There are three major concerns.

One problem has been very large lock-off units. We have seen several lock-off units that are really one-bedroom suites. Appendix B of today’s Report proposes a maximum size of 350 sq. ft. for lock-off units. We support this change. But two other major problems remain unaddressed.

First, living rooms and bedrooms are usually too small. Living rooms typically accommodate only a couch (and sometimes a chair). Second and third bedrooms often measure less than 60 sq. ft. We saw one unit with 4 bedrooms all measuring 8 x 7. These are not livable family dwellings. At present, no regulations govern room sizes in Vancouver. The 1992 High Density Housing for Families with Children Guidelines document is being updated. But these guidelines apply only to apartments, not to lower density housing forms.

The second problem is inadequate attention to external design. The External Design criteria now proposed for all RS zones are essentially the same as what is being applied in Norquay today. These requirements are a good start, and they have resulted in acceptable external design for approximately 80% of our new duplexes. But that is not good enough. Our Norquay neighbourhood deteriorates when 1 out of 5 new duplexes is an eyesore.

Look at these paired pictures of duplexes built outright in Norquay — visual successes and visual failures.

http://www.vcn.bc.ca/norquay/duplex-2018.html

Staff have confirmed that building duplexes in RS zones will not provide substantially more housing units or increase affordability. This is all about increasing housing choice. Is this worthwhile goal urgent enough to sideline the two major problems that I have described? No. Before approving any proposal to build duplexes outright in RS zones, Council needs to direct staff to develop and bring forward for approval (1) guidelines for room sizes that apply to low density housing forms, and (2) additional regulations to govern external design.

 
Jeanette and Joseph Jones

17 September 2018
 

Written by eyeonnorquay

17 September 2018 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Photos, Statements

Rezoning of KCC RT-10

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Submission to Mayor and Council Re: Public Hearing 18 September 2018 – Agenda Item 6
REZONING: Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law for RT-7 and RT-8 Zones (Kitsilano)
and RT-10 and RT-10N Zones (Kensington-Cedar Cottage) to Increase Housing Choice

 
The City of Vancouver proposes to rezone the RT-10 District of the Kingsway-Knight Neighbourhood Centre to RT-11. The Report Summary states that this change “will address the concurrent citywide goals of simplifying and consolidating regulations and providing more of the right supply of housing while reflecting different contexts of neighbourhoods.”

The RT-10 zoning schedule requires updating to make it consistent with citywide regulations that have been adopted since 2005. Some RT-11 regulations could be carried back into the RT-10 District. But a wholesale rezoning of the entire RT-10 District to RT-11 fails in “reflecting different contexts of neighbourhoods.”

We live in the small portion of Kensington-Cedar Cottage (KCC) that was rezoned to RT-11 five years ago under planning for the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre. We are part of both Norquay and Kensington-Cedar Cottage. But these two neighbourhoods are quite different. The same rules cannot indiscriminately be applied to both.

Here are three probable outcomes of rezoning the RT-10 District to RT-11.

 
1 — Many more character houses will be demolished.

        RT-11 zoning will imperil the 491 pre-1940 houses — more than 40% of the total — in the
        KCC RT-10 District. The Report states: “The increase to the permitted density for development to
        0.75 FSR may lead to demolition of older homes in favor of a more viable duplex development” (p. 14).
        The large number of character houses in good condition in Kingsway-Knight will face much
        greater risk of being replaced by duplexes. In Norquay’s RT-11 District, most of the older
        houses already have been demolished. Many of the 67 that remain either would not qualify as
        character houses or are in poor condition. Report focus on trade-off ignores this stark asymmetry.

 
2 — The quality of exterior design will deteriorate.

        At present the RT-10 District has extensive Design Guidelines, even for duplexes. Most new
        development there looks attractive. Replacement of those guidelines with the bare-bones
        RT-11 External Design regulations would lead to the outcome already perceptible in Norquay:
        approximately 1 in 5 duplexes built outright is an eyesore.

 
3 — Very little conditional development will occur, and many of the small house/duplex projects
       that are built will have problems.

        RT-11 zoning regulations were tailored to areas of Norquay where most parcels are wider than the usual
        33 feet and/or longer than the usual 122 feet. Only one of the 26 conditional development applications
        in Norquay so far has been for an assembly of lots that measure 33 x 122 or smaller.

        Conditional RT-11 development on a single lot most commonly results in a duplex plus a laneway
        house. This works well on wider lots (side-by-side duplex), or on longer 33 ft lots (front/back duplex).
        In the two instances where duplex-plus-laneway has been built on 33 x 122 parcels, the duplexes are
        side-by-side. Units are less than 12 ft. wide. Rooms are narrow and dark, and hallways consume a
        lot of living area.

        Relatively few parcels in Norquay’s RT-11 District measure 33 x 122 or smaller. This is fortunate,
        and may reflect good planning. Lot size would become a much greater problem factor in the
        KCC RT-10 District, where more than half the lots measure 33 x 122 feet and many of the remainder
        are even smaller.

When we take all of these considerations together, we can see an unhappy future for the RT-10 District if the proposal to rezone wholesale to RT-11 is approved. One. There will be very few conditional applications. Two. Character houses, most of them in good condition, will be demolished at an even faster rate and replaced by duplexes built outright. Three. Too many of these new duplexes on single lots will be eyesores.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Staff needs time to work out which RT-11 regulations are appropriate for the RT-10 District and which are not. Everybody needs to slow down. Much more work is required before Council approves the rezoning of the KCC RT-10 District.

 
Jeanette and Joseph Jones

17 September 2018
 

Written by eyeonnorquay

17 September 2018 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Statements