January 10, 2016

No space for sunny in a Greenest City?

I’ve enjoyed stirring things up this week, learned quite a bit in the course of the posted comments, and want to thank Gordon Price for the keys to the kingdom access to this forum to address Vancouver’s best and brightest! I’m handing over the keys to Nathan Pachal … have a great week!
I am concerned that Vancouver talks about its Green-ness, but there are legacy policies and infrastructure, and zoning, and existing built form, which all seems to get in the way of a truly green future.
I understand some of the below are being looked at, but I am also interested in what I might have missed … what issues are you dealing with which are helping or hurting the city’s green future? (transportation, building, infrastructure, social matters, garden space, etc… all fair game … I’m interested in in the whole list holistic urban green issues)
The following is a letter I wrote in response to a tweet by Andrea Reimar asking for things that people would like addressed at her Town Hall concerning the city’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan and the City’s new commitment to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 (I was unable to attend, so I couldn’t raise any of these the issues in person).
 

Hi Andrea,

My concern stems from the fact that I have been designing a house in an RS1 district, and unlike many other cities in the region which explicitly allow solar power or solar thermal power to pass beyond the zoning envelope (District of North Vancouver is a nice example, which has both envelope exclusion and some nice planning tools to determine solar viability). Vancouver did not sign the BC Solar Charter back in the 2000’s, and does not have this policy in place.

So its odd that Vancouver requires solar thermal hookups to roofs, but does not make allowance to mount the panels on those roofs. One could theoretically design a smaller house to keep things inside and ‘legal’, but with land prices, few want to not maximize their allowable FSR. Also, on an existing house, one would have to modify the house itself – a prohibitive measure to be sure. I have been told that Planning can make exceptions, but most clients I have dealt with are extremely hesitant to have to go through the time involved to do anything but the most rubber stamp permit possible – the permit processing time is already long enough without adding more, is the general feeling.

My conversations with planning itself have led me to believe that the exceptions required, while possible, would not be easily received … I don’t mind asking for exceptions if they are de-facto rubber stamps, but without a rule making things explicit, one is left at the apparent whim of the planning officer involved, and because that changes by the project, so does the possible response.

We recently had a client who, on the advice that a solar setup would complicate his house design/permit process, shied away from the inclusion of Solar + Tesla box. I have talked with several solar companies to see if anyone has any experience installing solar in Vancouver, and beside the odd civic structure, or commercial with flat roof and no envelope concerns, no-one has. Considering how much solar is being installed elsewhere (both PV and Solar Thermal), it seems odd that so little is being installed here, especially with the stated desire to be 100% renewable. There is so much catch up to do for Vancouver to equal, let alone significantly better many other cities (essentially any city in Germany, for instance) that unless there is a total reliance on hydro power for its renewable energy source, it seems hard to imagine that a solar revolution will happen here any time soon under the current rules.

One additional point about the RS1 area (which I pick because it is the majority of the city) is that it favors a N-S axis to housing, with vertical North and South facades (again, if one wants to build out to maximum FSR) .. so the law of Vancouver actually specifically makes the city a solar-inefficient place.

None of the above require significant changes in bylaw, and they have all been adopted elsewhere, some very close by. I think there would be an immediate uptick in solar if these changes were made, and I understand from one of the solar companies that I have contacted that there have been some conversations with planning about rule changes, but they didn’t seem to get the impression that any changes were soon coming.

Prehaps you can let me know if there are any planned amendments? The house which was considering solar is currently out for tender, so there is certainly time to add to it, if it were allowed.

Others have written about Vancouver’s high costs for solar permit, and requirement for structural engineer signoff … I’m not really concerned about either of those, though they would be incremental benefits of course. The main thing is, how install them elegantly, legally and efficiently, and what changes in law would make those possible.

Regards,

-Ian

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Comments

  1. Did I miss your full name, Ian? If not, please let us know who you are, okay? And thank you for stirring things up during your watch. Much appreciated.

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      Author

      Posted it on Sunday when I started my week … discovered I’m a bit too rusty to stir with Gordon’s polish … hope no-one minds a bit of oxidized stirring 😉
      Thanks for the kind words!
      -Ian
      Ian Robertson, MArch

  2. Green implies a lot of things. One thing it means to me is less car use and less resource use, for example water. Vancouvet fails on both right now.
    Todays car users do not pay for cars’ use of road space over and above gasoline taxes and registration fees. Vancouver is hamstrung here by the province as it comes to road tolls but it could tax parking far far higher. Why do we allow residents or anyone to park for free, or almost for free, on residential roads ?
    This is not green. This is pure politics i.e. vote buying. Land that cost $10-30M an acre or $250-750 a sq ft in downtown or high end residential locations needs to charge at least market value for parking, or more to discourage it.
    If a car measures say 6 by 20 feet or 120 sq ft that would be $30-90,000 per car. Using a market interest rate of say 4% that would be $1200-3600 a year or $100-300 a month per parking spot. More for real discouragement if we truly mean green. This would clear all the ugly back alleys and decking the residential roads somewhat so we could use them for more housing, playgrounds, bike paths or just green space . Doesn’t the word green come from green nature ( grass, forests ) ?
    Secondly, most single family homes in Vancouver are not on water meters. This encourages abuse or at least doesn’t encourage water savings. This is green ?
    Until those two obvious policy choices are addressed the whole ” greenest city” image rings hollow to me.

    1. Yes, when we consider the value of the land in the downtown area why do we allow street parking. It would be better to have those cars in car parking lots and use that space for either 1 of 3 things, wider sidewalk, projected bike lanes, or expanded patio space.

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    2. I believe water meters are overdue in places like CoV that have only recently started mandating them for some new construction. While costly to retrofit the entire water distribution system the long term alternative is worse: either billions to upgrade the supply side or running dry every summer.
      Charging for on-street parking is a more complicated matter. Not only does the value of 120 sq. ft. of asphalt vary greatly from one location to the next, but each municipality has its own idea of what parking should cost. Out in suburbia that’s almost universally “free”. Any suburban politician daring to charge for parking would be ridden out of town on a rail.
      In many low density areas I suspect the cost of enforcement would exceed the price most people would consider a fair market price for the space. Without effective enforcement the price is irrelevant.
      For an example of ignoring parking regulations visit an elementary school around 2:45PM and note all the vehicles stopped or parked in the “No Stopping” zones. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to get selfish parents to wake up and sometimes even that doesn’t work.

      1. Running dry this summer ? More like 2/3 full and overflowing this winter. A poor decision to restrict water. Better to meter it. A house with five people might use far more water than the neighbor single guy watering his lawn once a week. Poor public policy.
        Re parking near schools: yes a big problem. It tells me that we could charge far far more for car use. Only then might other options be considered . Google
        England no parking near schools
        And you see a similar problem there where some school districts ban car use within 200-300 m of schools unless you are a resident with a permit.
        As long as politicians do not tax cars they ought not to ask for other higher taxes to fund transit. We need a carrot and a stick. A limpy ( bus based) carrot won’t suffice.

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