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
 
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

23 September 2018 at 4:20 pm

Posted in East & West, Events, Maps, News

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