Eye on Norquay

Looking Out for East Vancouver

2699 Kingsway  (2011)

[ See also:  Update of 20 Oct 2011 ]
[ See also:  Update of 20 Dec 2011 ]


When developer-inspired planning overrides all community interests, existing residents disengage and smolder with resentment. In the first decade of the third millennium, the City of Vancouver has chosen to sow the wind. Norquay has been one strong gust in the stirring air. To engage in this hasty documentation of planning atrocities seems the only useful avenue left to me, at least within the bounds of “public process.”

What 2699 Kingsway Is

The location is best recognized as including the site of the former Wally’s Burgers at 2703 Kingsway. The rezoning application web site [1] designates the project as 2667-2703 Kingsway — eight parcels of land on the north side of Kingsway, across from Norquay Park, just west of Earles Street. The rezoning url and the Urban Design Panel both designate the project as 2699 Kingsway.

The land assembly measures about 300 feet of frontage and not quite 100 feet of depth. That is about two-thirds of an acre, or about seven standard-depth 33 foot residential lots. Rezoning is sought from existing C-2 to C-1, to enable construction of 129 dwelling units in two buildings of 12 storeys (118 feet tall) and four storeys (49 feet tall), with five levels of underground parking, and floor space ratio of 3.8.

This is the first major rezoning to follow on the 4 November 2010 approval of the “Norquay plan.” A massive handover to the developer, a paucity of payback to the local community, and utter neglect of local residents in the planning process — all of these portend an unhappy future for “Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre.”

The Set-Up

With only one working week left before a “public hearing” that almost certainly will approve the proposed rezoning of 2667-2703 Kingsway, I start off by thinking how rapid and how covert this rezoning process has been. Response is really not wanted. Providing opportunity for public input seems a formal requirement only, a possibly unpleasant step for officials who are required to maintain a pretense of “hearing” from persons other than the developer.

The rezoning application web site [1] advises that “copies of the draft by-laws are available for viewing starting July 4” and “additional plans are available for viewing at the Planning Department.” In other words, the real goods can be had by making a trip to city hall during only seven intervening working days.

Comment here is based on the pdf’s available through the rezoning web site, supplemented by the June 14 policy report to Council [2] where referral to public hearing occurred, and by the Summary and Recommendation [3] first posted on 6 July 2011. The minutes of the June 14 Council meeting do not specify the date of public hearing. The listing of Council Meetings [4] first provided the information on 6 July 2011, less than one week prior to the public hearing. When the hearing date went up on the Rezoning Application site, who can tell?

The Backstory

In December 2007, I attended a meeting of the Norquay Working Group (NWG) in its first phase. This was after a June 2007 draft plan survey had gone to about 2400 dwellings in the neighborhood, and before the City released results showing the Norquay community’s strong rejection of the proposed plan. At that meeting, a NWG member complained to me that the owner of the Wally’s property just wanted to be able to develop his property. The complainer later proved himself to be a person also engaged in property development. At least three persons in that first phase were directly tied to commercial property development interests. Thus from the outset, “planning” for the future of Norquay was colored by the self-interested economic agenda of developers.

Urban Design Panel minutes for 30 June 2010 [5] record a review of plans “to construct two 4-storey mixed use buildings on this site.” This planning and review demonstrates that the “considerations” imposed on Norquay in October-November 2010 were not needed to encourage development on this site. Plans had already been drawn.

On 22 March 2011, a Norquay planner emailed the NWG about two upcoming open houses: For the next day, 23 March 2011, the rezoning applicant to hold a “local” open house. For 7 April 2011, The City to host an on-site open house. Written notice was mailed out only to “those of you who live within a roughly 3-block radius of the old Wally’s site.” This was the full extent of consultation with the community. Short notice, and perfunctory performance of meaningless formality.

An astute observer noted at the time that the date of application [6] for the 2699 Kingsway rezoning was 2 November 2010, two days before the Norquay Plan [7] went before Vancouver City Council. The unreviewed-by-the-community “considerations” that have dumped out-of-human-scale density along the entire Kingsway strip had not even been approved at that point.

On 4 May 2011 the Urban Design Panel reviewed [8] the revised proposal for 2699 Kingsway.

The planning for this development reeks of insider dealing, severe lack of community consultation, handover of excessive density for no real return to the community, and egregious shortcutting on timelines.

About Community Nonresponse in Norquay

It seems futile to respond to the done-deal backroom shenanigans that try to pass for “planning” and process. Norquay residents are not stupid. It has become clear that no input will make any difference whatsoever. The ongoing strategy of planners, ever since the strong community rejection of the 2007 Draft Plan, has been to ride roughshod over the wishes of local residents. That persistent punishment has taken its evident toll on community spirit and community interest in Norquay.

The policy report [2] indicates that 658 notifications to surrounding property owners resulted in 3 comments on the 23 March 2011 open house. This is the nonresponse of an abused community.

Response to the 7 April 2011 shows an even worse pattern. [Personal note: I happened to be away from Vancouver during the three weeks that encompassed these two events.]

A total of 65 attendees signed in and 52 comment sheets were completed. Ten comment sheets were completed by property owners or employees of businesses within the notification area, or nearby in the neighbourhood. The remaining comment sheets were completed by persons giving addresses elsewhere in Vancouver (28) or were from other municipalities (14). All 52 comment sheets were in support of the rezoning application. (p. 6)

A Memorandum [9] to Council, first posted 6 July 2011, provides copies of the 52 comment forms collected at the city-sponsored 7 April 2011 open house for 2699 Kingsway. None of the responses show more than simple, crude personal affirmations of height, density, new construction, and presumed affordability. Not one of the responses provides analysis of benefit to or loss by the community. It is plausible that all of these unanimous “pro votes” were mustered by developer interests.

The imbalance evident in this result is striking. Friends of the development industry converged on the open house, while most local residents despaired and just stayed away. This again is the nonresponse of an abused community.

About the Rezoning / Development Proposal for 2699 Kingsway

Since detailed and considered comment is clearly unwanted and seems likely to receive little consideration anyway, review here is limited to a handful of salient and horrifying issues. Especially since this report is being prepared under severe time constraints. (Indeed, needed information has continued to trickle forth during composition, entailing cumbersome ongoing revision.)

A.  Shadowing

The consideration given to shadowing effect is not acceptable. See appended table. For the darker half of the year, and for all of the days in that period, when absence of light already contributes to seasonal affective depression, the buildings will cast a shadow greater than their height. For the taller building, that means at the equinox a brief minimum shadow of 138 feet, trending upward at winter solstice to a minimum noon shadow of over 380 feet. In rough terms, that amounts to shadow reaching across upwards of 1 to 3 properties having a depth of 120 feet.

The Norquay Plan [7] has failed to recognize the importance of both land slope and of shadowing throughout the area. Because of orientation of Kingsway to the sun, the north side should be planned for lower heights than the south side. This was one of the many requests of Norquay Working Group members that planners completely disregarded.

Despite provision for an unjustifiable FSR of 3.8, it does not follow that a building height of 12 storeys (118 feet) makes any sense — except to facilitate developer profit from selling views. Although divided on many issues, the Norquay Working Group had much unity on rejection of height. Yet even that rare point of agreement has been disrespected by developers and planners and officials. The Norquay community had no say in determining heights along Kingsway. Subsequent planning for Cambie Corridor has demonstrated that planners go more gentle as they go further west — even though Cambie with its central boulevard is far wider than Kingsway. East Vancouver is being treated like a cesspool. Experts like Patrick Condon and Lewis Villegas confirm that such height is not required to accommodate foreseeable population increase in Vancouver.

B.  Community Amenity Contribution

The entire “benefit” to the Norquay community of this out-of-human-scale development, the $105,846 Community Amenity Contribution specified in B.9 of the Policy Report [2], is a slap in the face to Norquay and demonstrates the emptiness of the fine promises made to improve our neighborhood in tandem with excessive densification. This pittance of CAC is directed entirely at mitigating the outsize development’s shadow impact on the existing Duke Street daycare! Norquay Working Group was told that the daycare, which impedes land that should become a part of the long-promised greenway leading to Renfrew ravine, holds some remaining portion of a sixty-year lease. Thus do city planners intend to waste our pittance of a CAC on a temporary set-up whose very existence prevents realization of a major promised amenity, the greenway. It is astonishing that the Policy Report (p. 6) [2] can even contemplate daycare relocation to Slocan Park. Norquay Working Group has been given to understand that a condition of the donation to the city of the Slocan Park land was that the land never be encumbered with buildings, but remain as open green space.

This extremely negative picture might change if the existing daycare site were soon to become an effective portion of the envisioned open greenway to Renfrew ravine. This faint possibility was given a harsh blow by an incidental comment made by the planner who presented the 2699 Kingsway project to the Urban Design Panel on 4 May 2011, with a statement to the effect that none of the current city-owned properties along the greenway route exist to that purpose, because all are held by the Property Endowment Fund, which must realize return on the “investment.” As a Norquay Working Group member who has heard so many planner promises about this great benefit to Norquay, it came as a huge shock to discover that in effect there is no property whatsoever dedicated to the greenway.

C.  Insignificant Lift Produces No Compensating Community Benefit

Appendix F of the Policy Report [2] shows that public benefits under human-scale existing zoning would amount to $706,997. Under the proposed out-of-human-scale rezoning, there is an increase to $1,367,150. This confirms to Norquay residents that they have become a density dumping ground for the city. By no stretch of imagination does an additional $660,153 begin to compensate Norquay for what is being forced on it. Given the opportunity to understand the options and to vote, Norquay residents would never accept a building height increase of 140% (118 instead of 49) for a benefits increase of 93%. Nor would any rational person.

At Norquay Working Group Workshop 5 on 14 May 2009 [10], a city official from Real Estate Services made it clear to Norquay Working Group that development payback would never amount to anything significant for Norquay. This first rezoning proposal bears that conclusion out. In the Q&A, the city told Norquay there would be no requirement that our neighbourhood seek this denser development. Here is just one of the myriad of lies that have been told to Norquay residents.

D.  Placemaking Requires Project Alteration

The language of section 3.A.b.3 under Conditions of Approval of the Form of Development in the Summary and Recommendation [3] is far too vague. As an observer of the Urban Design Panel review [8], I would say that the single most important suggestion to come from that body was: “Design development to have the project better address the unique confluence of two street grids.” In my understanding, the suggestion specifically meant that the southwest corner of the four-storey Building B east of the public plaza should be shifted east to provide a wall parallel in orientation to the streets (Rhodes and Wales) that run alongside Norquay Park toward Kingsway, and thus afford a v-shaped opening leading north from the Kingsway sidewalk toward the envisioned greenway to Renfrew ravine.

E.  A Ground-Level Garbage and Utility Excrescence As Focal Point of the Site?

Unless covered by the vague section 3.A.b.4 under Conditions of Approval of the Form of Development, the Summary and Recommendation [3] appears to leave aside and unaddressed the vital first recommendation of the Urban Design Panel consensus on key aspects needing improvement [8]: To relocate the garbage room from the courtyard area and to remove it from the focal point of the public space that separates the two buildings. (To situate this garbage/utility facility in a position of such prominence, at the northwest corner of Building B, might perversely be regarded as an unwitting public art contribution — a symbolization of how the City of Vancouver has treated Norquay and intends to continue to do.)

F.  Parking

Appendix A to the Policy Report [2] specifies without adequate explanation this reduction to parking requirement: “Except that the minimum required parking shall be 10% lower than the minimum parking requirements in the Parking By-law as of November 18, 2010.”

See Appendix I for background detail on parking in Norquay planning. The bad faith of Norquay planning stands exposed in this first major rezoning application, which disrespects even the minimal Norquay Plan guarantees of “maintaining standard city parking requirements” and providing “one off-street parking space per primary dwelling unit.” It seems ludicrous to assume that a requirement of even one parking stall per dwelling unit would serve to prevent vehicle spillage from this outsized development into a degradation of the surrounding area.

G.  Scale Disproportionate to Site

The Norquay Plan [7] identifies (p. 12) “a few select sites” for “height increase … in exchange for additional at-grade public open space.” The 2699 Kingsway site apparently is being taken as an instance of “Mid-Block sites (on the north side of Kingsway) for Pedestrian Linkages and Mews (up to 10 storeys).” Twelve storeys here is too much, despite the “considerations” never seen by the community prior to plan approval, which now allows up to 10 storeys along all of Kingsway throughout Norquay. In the case of this particular site, the property is already encumbered by land which naturally must provide such linkage and cannot be built on. Therefore it is not apparent why this site requires any such concession to the developer. See section H following for elaboration.

Note further that the Norquay “planning” defines “Large sites (greater than 1 acre) for Public Plazas (up to 12 storeys).” Even with the aforementioned — and highly resented — “considerations” added to the picture, justification for going from 10 to 12 stories on this particular site seems extremely thin. Recall that this site is about two-thirds of an acre, which is far less than what is deemed a “large site.” For purposes of comparison, the 2300 Kingsway (old Eldorado) site at Nanaimo is 2 acres (with a premature 22-storey tower); the 2400 Motel site on Kingsway is 3 acres (and confirmed in Norquay Plan [7] for a 16-storey tower at maximum).

H.  Sewer Right-of-Way Should in No Way Entitle Developer

A sewer right-of-way that encumbers the assembled parcel of land underlies the “public plaza.” My understanding is that this is a buried stream that leads to Still Creek in Renfrew ravine. This impairment of the property has always been there and has been a given in the valuation of the property. The developer and the city rightly work together to fit this feature into the development proposal.

The Policy Report [2] states at A.1 under the heading of Density: “For the purpose of computing floor space ratio, the site is deemed to be 2521.3 meters square [27,140 sq. ft].” The available drawings indicate site dimensions of slightly less than 298 ft. by 95 ft., or 28,310 sq.ft. The difference of 1170 sq.ft. should be accounted for more clearly. Specific indication should be given of how this land area calculation relates to the Policy Report [2] requirement at B.c.2 and B.c.3 for “public use of the Metro Vancouver right-of-way,” and whether any value is credited to the developer.

In marketing the 2699 Kingsway project, the developer should be required to disclose prominently the fact that an underground stream traverses the center of the property. No buyer should suffer a later nasty surprise if the presence of substantial adjacent water flow affects the many levels of deep-underground parking, or possibly even the foundations of the structures.

I.  Questionable Calculation of Lift

It is often stated that the City of Vancouver seeks to recover about 75% of land lift as public benefit. The associated pro formas are financial black boxes that the public never gets to look into. It beggars belief that the developer would ever engage in this rezoning exercise for a mere additional $220,051 ($660,153 is 75% of $880,204, which would leave $220,051 as the 25% for the developer). Prima facie, it makes no sense for a developer to trade the certainty of C-2 outright development at 2699 Kingsway for the uncertainty and substantially increased performance risk of the proposed CD-1 unless (a) anticipated return to the developer far exceeds the calculation shown by the City (b) the developer has been given to understand that the City will cut corners indiscriminately to enable the development.

Why the City would thus choose to stand with the developer against the livability of the area (considerations of human scale and shadowing suffice to be named here) must remain a matter for speculation.

If I had more time, more energy, and most importantly — more faith in the probity of the City of Vancouver and its officials and planners vis-à-vis property speculators and developers — I would examine these plans in more detail and make further suggestions. It remains to be seen if even these few comments will have any impact at all.

More General Norquay Considerations

While the rezoning application for 2699 Kingsway occasions the following comments, they have more to do with planning for the Norquay area than with the specific spot rezoning itself.

J.  Expedient and Compromised Sequencing of Norquay Plan Realization

Although the “Norquay Plan” was approved by the Vision-NPA portion of Council on 4 November 2010 [7], in the face of strong community opposition, the due implementation of that plan, with official notification to approximately 1900 property holders to precede a public hearing, has not yet occurred. To rush meanwhile toward this highly concessionary spot rezoning for 2699 Kingsway seems both blatant and cart before the horse.

K.  Disrespect of Community Vision

The Policy Report [2] claims recognition of Council Policy (p. 2). The disrespect of this rezoning proposal for the Renfrew Collingwood Community Vision [11] is manifest. Consider only section 19, which provides for no development such as that proposed for 2699 Kingsway. Note further that the Vision states clearly at 15.5 that sixplexes “will not be considered if additional housing planning occurs in the community” — yet at the 4 May 2011 meeting of the Urban Design Panel, the presenting planner told the UDP that Norquay would be getting nineplexes! Note finally section 26, Community Involvement in Decision Making, a provision that top-down planning for Norquay has turned into a sick joke.

L.  Ad Hoc Spot Rezoning Shows Little Regard for Broader Community Planning

The rezoning proposal for 2699 Kingsway amounts to a second one-off spot rezoning for Norquay, whose only real concern is to maximize benefit to the developer in a rapid time frame. Contribution to place or community comes only as incidental gesture and afterthought. The damage done by 2300 Kingsway, the first and premature one-off spot rezoning, to the possibilities for a coherent and integrated “neighbourhood centre” is already apparent. History seems set to repeat.

M.  No Amenities and Benefits Strategy in Place

There is no amenities and benefits strategy in place for Norquay, although one is presumed (p. 23) in the Norquay Plan [7]: “More detailed work is required to develop a complete Public Amenities and Infrastructure Financing Strategy appropriate to the amount of new development planned in the Neighbourhood Centre.” Norquay Working Group was told by planners that residents would have opportunity to participate in that planning. At that same meeting planners terminated the Norquay Working Group! Shortly afterward, planners flip-flopped and declared they did not want any public participation in defining new housing types or in setting amenities and benefits strategy.

N.  Fragmentation of Benefit Means Fragmentation of Community

City planners facilitate atomization of Norquay by acceding to developer convenience of linking benefits to particular site. Of particular concern is the notion that each major site development have a micro-plaza, an area that ultimately serves the development itself as semi-privatized space. (Indeed, the 2300 Kingsway development features an entirely privatized interior plaza.) Norquay Working Group members have identified the need to consolidate this type of benefit in a single, larger, truly public space at the central 2400 Motel site. The mechanism for realizing such consolidation is treated in paragraph M above. Norquay does not want or need a fragmented collection of vertical gated communities.

O.  Accelerated and Hasty Development, but No Real Benefits

A trickle of meager so-called benefits from one-off development is insulting to Norquay. We anticipate that the Property Endowment Fund cannot wait to flip off the centerpiece three-acre 2400 Motel site and leave behind only peanut shells for local residents. So far the Norquay Plan looks like an ever bigger lie and boondoggle. In addition to significant up-front capital injection, Norquay needs area provisions for CAC and DCL that will accrue to the creation of a center, especially a substantial public facility (the favored candidate has been an arts-oriented community center). Piddles on the periphery, like mitigation of shadowing on a transient daycare, accomplish nothing but expressing contempt for Norquay.

P.  Invisible Amenity for the Benefit of Only a Few

The chief “amenity” produced by 2300 Kingsway was a 37-space daycare. This almost invisible benefit, to be enjoyed by very few persons, lacks requisite public profile, in light of the huge impact of the development on the surrounding area. Norquay residents have already said, enough daycare now, future “benefits” need to provide quality of life improvement for the broad community. What response by the city and the next developer in the lineup? The second spot rezoning at 2699 Kingsway turns again to almost invisible daycare, and does not even provide any new spaces!

* * *

Appendix I: Background on Parking

The Terms of Reference [12] for the Neighbourhood Centre Delivery Progam specifically call for care in addressing automobile parking at 3.1.2 Parking Strategy and at 3.2.3 Traffic, Parking, and Utilities Action Strategy. The derived Community Vision [11] asserted:

Vision participants … were also concerned about potential parking and traffic impacts arising from additional units. As a result, each proposal for a new housing type has been made conditional not only on an increase in community facilities and programs needed to serve any population growth generated by the new housing type but also on an assurance that parking and traffic impacts would be addressed. (p. 30)

Norquay Working Group members raised parking issues with planners on repeated occasions, but always met with derisive brush-off. The Norquay Plan [7] eventually included a lip-service single paragraph on parking which stated:

The effect of new development on on-street parking availability is a frequently cited concern. This Plan responds with maintaining standard city parking requirements for most development types (indeed, underground parking required for developments in the Kingsway Rezoning Area should increase supply overall). New housing types will be required to provide one off-street parking space per primary dwelling unit (off-street parking is not required for secondary suites or laneway houses) with equivalencies permitted if at-grade spaces cannot be provided for ground-oriented housing types (for example, with rowhouses or stacked townhouses on narrow lots). (p. 20)

* * *

Appendix II: Calculation of Extra FSR Handed Over to Developer

The Summary and Recommendation [3] states: “The proposed floor space ratio (FSR) is 3.80.” This seems deliberately misleading — like saying that the price of a new car is an untaxed dollar figure, when 12% must be added for HST before a purchaser ever drives that vehicle off the lot. The City of Vancouver needs to revise its FSR calculation policies to reflect the true figure. In the meantime, bureaucrats float an overall lowball figure, based on a set of buried exclusions, to make the developer density grab look far less than it really is.

In Appendix A of the Policy Report [2], under the heading “Density”, three exclusions require careful examination. One additional significant exclusion is left outside the following calculations: Unlimited storage space below base surface, and off-street parking at or below base surface to a maximum length of 7.3 meters (no specification of width).

Amenity areas to a maximum of ten percent of total floor area = 10,313 sq.ft.

The site area for calculation of FSR is “deemed” by the Policy Report [2] to be 27,140 sq.ft. The FSR multiplier of 3.8 yields a total floor area of 103,132 sq.ft. Ten percent of that result equals 10,313 sq.ft. of exclusion.

Residential storage space above base surface to a maximum of 3.7 square meters per dwelling unit = 5138 sq.ft.

“A total of 129 dwelling units.” 1 sq.m. = 10.764 sq.ft. and 10.764 x 3.7 = 39.827 sq.ft.
129 units x 39.827 sq.ft. = 5138 sq.ft.

Open and enclosed balcony/sundeck exclusion to a maximum of eight percent of residential floor area = 8256 sq.ft.

Assumption: Average residential unit floor area is 800 sq.ft. 129 units x 800 sq.ft. = 103,200 sq.ft.
8% of 103,200 sq.ft. = 8256 sq.ft.

Total exclusion = 10,313 + 5138 + 8256 = 23,707 sq.ft.

To the above calculated total floor area of 103,132 sq.ft. is then added the total exclusion of 23,707 sq.ft, for a grand total of 126,839 sq.ft. Then dividing 126,839 sq.ft. by original deemed site area of 27,140 sq.ft. yields an actual FSR of more than 4.67.

A “real” FSR of at least 4.67 represents a whopping 23 percent increase on the nominal FSR of 3.8.

* * *

Table: Shadow Length Factors for Vancouver: 49˚20´ North / 123˚5´ West

               Dec 21        Jan 21        Feb 21        Mar 21        Jun 21

06:00           ----          ----          ----          ----          3.63

09:00           9.78          7.83          3.77          2.16          1.03

12:00           3.23          2.68          1.76          1.17          0.49

15:00           7.08          4.52          2.60          1.74          0.88

18:00           ----          ----          ----         17.91          2.79

Source: NRC Calculator for Solar Angles


* * *


[1]  Rezoning Application — 2667-2703 Kingsway — City of Vancouver, Rezoning Centre

[2]  CD-1 Rezoning: 2667-2703 Kingsway — City of Vancouver, Policy Report, Development and Building

[3]  Summary and Recommendation — Public Hearing (July 12, 2011) — 3. REZONING: 2667-2703 Kingsway

[4]  Council Meetings — Vancouver City Council

[5]  Urban Design Panel Minutes for Wednesday, June 30, 2010 — Item 3. 2699 Kingsway

[6]  Community Web Pages — Projects and Construction — Project 4712 Overview

[7]  Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan (4 Nov 2010)

[8]  Urban Design Panel Minutes for Wednesday, May 4, 2011 — Item 1. 2699 Kingsway

[9]  Memorandum (July 5, 2011) — [Re: Comment Forms]

[10]  A Participant Report on Community Workshop #5: Assessing Options

[11]  Renfrew Collingwood Community Vision

[12]  Neighbourhood Centre Delivery Program — Terms of Reference (July 9, 2002)

Back to Eye on Norquay       [ Updated 20 Dec 2011 ]

Written by eyeonnorquay

5 July 2011 at 8:59 pm