In principle, the idea of infill in already built-out neighbourhoods is seen to be a good one, especially to broaden the choice of options.  At the community planning stage, there’s general acceptance.

Reality is tougher.  Two prominent cases for apartments on parking lots have received a lot of pushback – in the case of the Delbrook proposal in North Van District, council rejection; in the case of the Larch Street proposal in Kitsilano, considerable neighbourhood opposition.

Even in the West End, one neighbourhood you’d expect would welcome infill, the dilemma of scale and relationship to the existing fabric becomes apparent in these two examples.  The first – around five storeys, about the same as those examples mentioned above – was submitted almost immediately after the approval of the West End Community Plan in 2013 – a proposal for a rear parking lot at Cardero and Comox, as reported in PriceTags in 2014.  The comments detail the complaints.

Nonetheless, it is now under construction:


The other, a half block away, at 1685 Nelson, is considerably different in scale – actually an extension of to a heritage-quality house – but also meeting resistance.

The concerns?  Here are some by way of Glenda Bartosh:

Right now on Bidwell, we have three heritage beauties all in a row;  but if this goes through, the backside of 1685, which is visible from Bidwell will be at least 75% new infill, according to the proposal, and totally interrupt the existing streetscape.

The heritage windows in the original house will be replaced with new vinyl ones that retain the leaded glass decorative elements (seriously?).

A stucco finish and “high quality aluminium” windows are destined for the addition, along with an underground garage — complete with a garage door  facing Nelson Street that looks like it belongs in Surrey or Coquitlam — to replace an existing, new,  perfectly livable suite so that an electric vehicle can be plugged in.

Amenities like a hot tub and water wall are proposed for the roof;  plus condos in excess of 2,000 sq. ft. — totally atypical for the West End.

And, no, the property is not on the heritage registry, although we are asking city hall to do so. Many owners think by registering such a house it would be harder to sell and therefore lose value. My research shows just the opposite — a 7-8% increase in value. 

So far the Heritage Commission has not even seen the application, when at least one of city hall’s own staffers thinks it should. And while staff says that the West End Community Plan sufficiently deals with 90% of infill and redevelopment on heritage sites like this one, it also acknowledges 10% will fall through the cracks. Id say this site is part of the 10%  — a fallen one. And that we can do better. 

Whether large or small scale, infill has its problems.  As a solution to the housing crisis, it’s not likely to deliver an amount of affordable housing sufficient to justify the extra time it takes to process and respond to community concerns.

Indeed, these examples are on-the-ground illustrations of Mayor Kennedy’s observation noted in the post below:

How do we provide new non-market housing options (shelterless to living wage) without touching the older stock that already provides a lot of the affordable housing.  In other words, when you have to tear something down in a built-out city (or change the scale of existing neighbourhoods with increased density), you will not be well received.

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    1. Affordability i.e. new rentals and new condos trumps character homes.

      Yes it is a shame that we lose some of these homes. However, there are many of them throughout Vancouver and as such, some need to be demolished or moved, esp in dense areas such as west end.

      We can’t have cute low rise buildings or SF homes, affordable rentals and more new homes/condos, all at the same time. We have to chose priorities. Building rentals has been neglected for far too long in Vancouver, for about 30+ years. It’s catch up time.

  1. Well thanks, Glenda Bartosh, for describing these as “three heritage beauties all in a row”. I designed the one on the left in 2001.

    It’s a little difficult to make out from the one elevation provided here but I assume that the house on the right will be moved forward on its lot – closer to Nelson as the photo shows its side elevation. Currently that house crowds up tight with no back yard and pushes its flank forward of its neighbours. Moving it forward might actually improve the streetscape if space for planting is created between. What is critical is how much the infill is set back from the front facades of the other two houses so that it doesn’t dominate. Half the depth of those houses would be enough.

    Hard for me to make a judgement on the architectural merits of the infill itself but on first glance I’d say it could be better. But if the city is going to demand on-site parking I don’t see a better place to put the entrance.

    1. Hi Ron. Good input. And good to know who designed the home of Stan, Velvet and their mom. I know it was a new-build but I’ve always admired it, especially the attention to authentic detail. If you go online here: you can see all the plans for 1685. I’d say 90% of the north facade of 1685 will be obscured by the addition with little room for planting it out. And yes, it will be moved south. As for the proposed under-house parking, I have a photo of the house from 1913 [email me, if you like, at and I’ll send it]. It shows the garage the owners of the day built directly east of the house. I believe this solution was proposed [a garage to the east] as the under-house garage not only displaces the existing suite; it will also mean a new driveway located closer to the Nelson/Bidwell intersection[safety issues], new curb cuts, etc. Adding a garage and keeping a suite in the lower [sub-basement] level, as is currently the case, would also mean the addition to the existing house would not be as massive as they had to compensate for the lost suite by adding it to the proposed new building.

  2. Any additional density on expensive land will be, well, expensive.

    It’s an illusion we can build affordable housing on expensive land.

    Yes, 3-4 $1.5M to $2M townhouses are better than one SF home on the same SF home / lot worth $4M but it will still be expensive and not affordable.

    Affordable rentals need a wide variety of “subsidies” to be truly affordable such as
    – cheap or free construction financing, say up to 90% of cost
    – land grants / land subsidies
    – far far faster approval cycles
    -far FAR less, or no CACs or DCCs
    – less onerous building code such as less parking per sq ft or per BR

    Another option, which exists here in the building I live at UBC (and several others) where I live is to force rentals into each new condo building over 5 units, say 1/3 of units. So if a 90 unit building is built, 30 must be rentals, and perhaps 50% of those at 50% of market rents, income tested.

    Since it is hard to sell rental only condos they will be legally attached to another condo, like here at UBC. So that means out of 90 units 30 will be single unit owner-occupied condos and 30 will have a rental suite attached, ie one legal condo but two physical units. The condo owner then rents it out, get extra income to cover mortgage or condo fees and higher purchase price. That can be done via a licensed property manager or by him/herself.

    So a $1.2M 1000 sq ft condo with a 600 sq ft attached rental unit might be $1.6M ie $400,000 extra, but that unit can then be rented for say $1500/month to offset that higher purchase price.

    It behooves me as utterly unacceptable that we do not force more rentals. It works well at UBC (and I believe SFU) so why not in high demand Vancouver ? Where is this debate at city council ?

    1. Did you read my link?? They built 113 units of 375 a month social housing on 68 million dollar land with no tax payer subsidies all because they allowed a tall building.