August 20, 2015

Candidates for Post-Mortems: Controversial projects that actually got built

In the column excerpted below that Michael Geller wrote for The Sun, he suggests there could be “post-mortems on controversial projects that did get built, in order to determine whether the concerns materialized.”
And he asks: “Perhaps Price Tags readers can suggest candidate projects.”


Every time I drive by Granville Street and West 16th Avenue in Shaughnessy, I think about the three-year battle that preceded approval of the attractive townhouse development overlooking the intersection.

16th and G


I have similar thoughts driving by Cambie Street and West 33rd …



Larch Street just south of West 39 Avenue …



… and the 2000-block Esquimalt in West Vancouver.



In each location, neighbourhood residents vigorously opposed projects that are now completed and occupied. They could offer important lessons on how best to deal with neighbourhood concerns related to future developments. …

These case studies are not intended to say that neighbourhood concerns over rezoning applications are never valid. On the contrary, they often are.

However, in order to better assess the validity of these concerns, it could be very valuable if planners, neighbourhood organizations, and perhaps journalists carried out post-mortems on controversial projects that did get built, in order to determine whether the concerns materialized.

Is the building out of scale and character? Did nearby property values drop as feared? Were there neighbourhood traffic and parking problems?

Ongoing reviews of controversial projects might help us all gain a better understanding of what to watch out for in neighbourhood plans and rezoning applications. This, in turn, will help us accommodate future changing housing needs in our communities.


Full column here.  Add your suggestions in the Comments.

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  1. Abraham Rogatnick’s House on 4400 block west 11th Avenue. He wanted to subdivide it so two smaller houses could be made that would be sympathetic to the surroundings. And he wanted all the money from the sales to go into three city arts organizations. The community fought it tooth and nail. I heard that given the result many wish they had not opposed it.

    The White House in Kitsilano also had an unhappy ending which you might recall from Council days. The Safeway site on Charles and Nanaimo was another lost opportunity where community activists got what they asked for and regretted it.

    The United Church on 16th Avenue was killed by a last minute ambush by activists and the local children lost their swimming pool. Lots more examples. A list of these kinds of decisions and whether people were happy with them would be helpful for citizens and Council.

  2. Projects that take over five years to gain approvals suggest more important questions than whether or not concerns materialized. The real question is; did the applicant respond to critics and revise the design or was the public simply worn down over time. In other words is public input real or not?

  3. The Rize (now Independent) building at Kingsway and Broadway would be a good project to post mortem once complete. Over 200 people spoke at its public meeting with a significant majority speaking against the proposal.

    Some of the issues of concern that I recall being brought up:

    * Negative impacts on Watson Street and 10th Ave bike lane increased building traffic to the parking lot and from commercial semi truck deliveries.

    * Poor architectural design would set a bad precedent for the form of future Mount Pleasant developments.

    * Landlords would cite the building as an example to get special exemptions to raise rents.

    * “Neighbourhood character” would be ruined. How/why was up to the speaker, but it seemed like many simply hated the height. What “neighbourhood character” means has always been pretty vague to me.

    1. “Neighbourhood Character” as your bias quotationally puts it, means it reflects the historic context defined by prominent blocks like the Lee Building. Of course the new tower will be occupied, that doesn’t mean it was the right decision for the area.

      1. I put “Neighbourhood Character” in scare quotes because it’s so difficult to define and definition often seems personal. As well, it must be noted that for some people, the current neighbourhood character could be hated, so change from the neighbourhood character could be a positive.

        The “Flats on Georgia” building on E Georgia in Chinatown is a daring, modernist building that stands out amongst the heritage buildings around it. One might say that it goes against the neighbourhood character, but on the other hand its thin and narrow form is consistent with the forms of other Chinatown buildings, and so in that aspect it fits in very well. I’m not sure where it falls in terms of aligning with the neighbourhood character of Chinatown, though I like it quite a bit.

  4. I already responded on flickr that Michael Geller’s thesis is “based on the assumption that NIMBY opposition to development is tractable to reason and evidence”. Re-reading his OP I also would add every time I drive through the intersection of Granville and West 16th, or Cambie and West 33rd I am too pre-occupied with keeping my eyes on the traffic to worry about the architecture. In evidence whereof I will add that I was unaware of the existence of Steel Toad (near Main on 2nd, an intersection I turn left through at least once a week) until my partner was driving and I could think about something other than crazy lane changers. My faith in windscreen surveys has never been very high.

  5. I can think of a few overblown NIMBY reactions that never materialized into anything.
    The Kearney Funeral Home at Cambie and Second.
    The Broadway Youth Resource Centre at Fraser.
    The patio of the CRAFT brewery in the Olympic Village.

    1. With the CRAFT patio, the NIMBY’s actually did win—the patio expansion was curtailed significantly, and added sound barriers were added. The original plans were to extend the patio to the edge of the raised platform, and included a second/mezzanine story. I’m waiting for a second round of anti-CRAFT sentiment once people start moving into Pinnacle’s “The One.”