February 16, 2021

Stopping change (of any kind) in Grandview

It doesn’t matter whether proposals for new housing in Grandview are massive or tiny, there’s a desire or a way to stop them through protest and exhaustion.

Here are two examples that came in over the last few days – the first a circular delivered in the neighbourhood last week:

At the other extreme, this report from Frances Bula in the Globe: Vancouver city hall backlog delays crucial developments:

Frances Friese stands in her dug up backyard where a laneway house for her parents was going to be built in Vancouver on Feb. 12, 2021.

For Ms. Friese, the city’s policies resulted in her spending $75,000 and two-plus years on plans and permits to build an infill house for her parents in her backyard. Then she was told in late 2019 that the house she had designed wouldn’t be legally possible.

She had only gone ahead with the idea (she’d originally planned just a basement suite) because she’d received a notification from the city encouraging owners in Grandview-Woodlands to take advantage of the new zoning allowing for infills.

That was followed by many meetings with planners and other city staff who encouraged or required her to spend money on plans, an engineer to certify that she had no utility pole in her yard, and a lawyer to negotiate an easement provision with her neighbour.

In the end, she was informed, after fulfilling all the conditions in her nine-page, prior-to-final-approval letter except for one, that the fire department had decided her side-yard access was too narrow. She would have to pay for a sprinkler system for both her house and her neighbour’s to get permission to build. She tried to challenge it but, in the meantime, her existing “prior-to” approval expired.

At that point, she gave up. (A recent ruling from the provincial Ombudsman said the office would not investigate her case because there had been no “administrative unfairness.”)

“It’s been such a nasty experience with such huge consequences. There’s human repercussions to this,” said the 52-year-old Ms. Friese, whose parents ended up moving far from her to Vancouver Island after the failure of the infill plan.


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  1. I have little sympathy for people like Mrs. Friese who complain about having to follow the rules. Fire Dept regs don’t exist to “harass”. They may be inconvenient and no doubt frustrating but they exist to keep people from horribly dying in fires.

  2. GW Are Plan of 2016 was bad. All neighborhoods in Vancouver need an Official Community Plan that all municipalities in BC have except the City of Vancouver. The residents of GW would not succeed in changing this project with this city council.

  3. wow !
    and when the rules are confusing – (one needs a lawyer to assist with interpreting the zoning specific language) , inconsistent, and applied arbitrarily at the whim of one person among the the myriad planners, plan checkers, landscape people, building code, and engineering people (they’re pretty fair) each and every project has to satisfy – that’s just the way it has to be?

    It seems likely to me Ms Friese was led to believe that the city would approve her side yard access early on in the process by someone – at the ‘desk’- and then denied at the last minute – 2 years down the road.

  4. While all of us may obey the regulations, it seems clear that Ms. Friese was led down the garden path.” Our bureaucracies need to do better.

  5. Maybe if the city downsized its communications department (which ballooned during the Vision years) they could get hire more bodies in the planning and permit departments.

  6. Three big red flags raised by this story: the photo, the ombudsman, the costs.

    The photo appears to indicate nonconforming side yard setbacks on the subject property. A consultant familiar with this type of project should have known before even writing a proposal for services that this issue could kill the project from a cost perspective. This is the first issue to solve, not the last.

    The ombudsman finds no administrative unfairness. Final decision. This suggests a lack of due diligence on the applicant side.

    The expenditure of $75, 000 to get to the point of ‘go’ or ‘no go’ seems excessive by any standard considering that construction cost taken at $200 sq. ft. x 500 sq. ft. = $100,000.

    This story might be good material for a ‘CBC Marketplace’ investigation.

  7. geesh – you guys are harsh!
    – from the photo it looks like at least one existing side yard is >3′ -look at ladder – perfectly acceptable in most RS zones (min 10% of site width – wide enough for firefighter access).
    -ombudsman – no comment
    – cost – $ 200/ft might have worked 20 years ago, but today a laneway starts at $300 plus and sincerely doubt that most are completed at 400/ft2. (due to small size and complexity)
    75K in pre-build costs for 2+ years of work by the designer/architects, plus all the additional reports and time by engineers (traffic, geotechnical, archaeological and on and on) , lawyers, surveyors, arborists, and other professionals required by all the junior staff in all those city departments is a bargain. And that’s not including the city fees and deposits required!

    1. Yes, it’s steep, but not without reason. But in the end all she had to do was install a sprinkler system. I say, “all she had to do” like it’s simple and cheap. Of course it’s not but that’s immaterial.

      Perhaps for the sake of guiding applicants through the process, the city should differentiate between individual property owners like Mrs. Friese and larger developers who have armies of consultants and architects. It sounds like she was led down a path that a more savvy and deep-pocketed (or experienced) developer would have avoided.

  8. I find the juxtaposition of these two stories interesting. The first involves an entire community being ignored by city hall—unconscionable. The second involves an individual homeowner/ taxpayer being abused by city hall—unconscionable. The obvious conclusion is that the current city hall abuses citizens at any and all levels.

    As the originator of the laneway house concept during the first 2007 ECOdensity workshop, I was pleased at its take up and contemplated building a laneway house behind my own home. Ten years ago the various fees associated were at least $30k, have risen steeply since—city hall never saw LH as affordable, just another fee cash cow. I abandoned my plans because, fortunately I guess, I was told early on that I would need to sprinkler my character home even though there was lots of spatial separation between the house and planned laneway house (that’s the technical term for the distance between buildings, which allows for calculations about fire risk). I believe there is a sub plot involving the fire dept. looking for any excuse to force every building in the city to be sprinklered, regardless.

  9. Well, OK then, it’s back to mud huts, aka cob homes. They are non-combustible. They don’t cost anything. Why would you even need a building permit for a mud project in the backyard anyway? Well maybe a plumbing permit, an electrical permit, what could the objection be? Not sustainable? Not green enough?

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