November 2, 2021

Will Allowing Six Storey Rental Outright with No Public Hearing Derail Neighbourhoods?

Even though the City of Vancouver says they are committed to an overall Vancouver Plan, that action is being eroded by reports going forward to this City Council. The latest one, which was to accept a developer driven massing proposal for the award winning False Creek South neighbourhood was rejected last week.

That proposal could have garnered the City coffers huge land rents in demolishing existing non-profit and co-operative housing units and plonking those people in new housing where the acoustical berm is on Sixth Avenue.  More upscale tenants would be found for the favoured former locations along the Creek.

City Council wisely sent the proposal off to be conducted in a participatory process through their planning department. This  actually would have been the way to do the report co-operatively with their Real Estate and Planning Departments in the first place. That action would have  saved the time of Council listening  and the energy talking for nearly 180 speakers at the public hearing.

But wait! It’s  another week and another “quick fix” proposal, again one that precludes the Vancouver Plan but is called a “quick start”. In C-2 zonings, which are on most commercial and arterial streets Council is considering NOT  allowing individual rezonings if six storey mixed use rental buildings are being built on the street or the surrounding streets.  You can read the Council documents here and here.

Allowing these units outright means that there is no public hearing.  While this may sound good if you are a developer or a renter looking for a unit, there is also a downside, as the former head planner for Metro Vancouver, Christina DeMarco points out in her submission to Council published here.

It also brings up the question: are we so desperate for rental housing that we will forgo community comment and context  to build rental units with no questions asked along and near arterial roads? With no consideration for servicing requirements, water, sewer connections, no planning for the bigger context?

It appears that we are.

The arbitrary lines drawn on the map to allow rentals  extend up to 400 meters from the shopping districts on the map into existing residential areas as Ms. DeMarco notes.

While Vancouver neighbourhoods that already have a plan will be exempt, those that do not will be subject to land assembly for these 6 storey units in C-2 areas, with no public hearing  input from residents. You can see those areas along the blue lines in the drawing above.  You can also expect for those properties owners to be pressured to sell, with  prices pushing rental unit costs higher. As Ms. DeMarco states

“The new buildings on arterials, in turn, will sadly cause negative consequences for their long-time neighbours/friends who are impacted by the loss of sunlight, loss of trees and green space created by the unimaginative 6-storey blocks occupying virtually the entire lot. Those currently living in the secondary suites and shared housing will not be able to afford the apartments in the new buildings, even at the below-market rental rates.”

She also notes that the FSR (floor space ratio) along these arterials is being increased from 0.6 lot coverage to 3 FSR.  “By comparison, arterial road housing programs adopted in other cities are often less than 2 times the current densities. More neighbourly, sustainable projects on arterials are banned under this proposal”. 

Ms. DeMarco is referring to the fact that parking structures below ground will now be required, instead of something like 6031 Dunbar Street which has 9 rental units on a single lot and has four parking spaces at grade. By making all redevelopment a minimum of 4 storeys that precludes anything other than box-like development.

 

 

There is also clear data showing that locations along arterials are not desirable for physical health and families, and the Vancouver Plan could identify other locations close to schools, parks and off arterials that can be made available.  The proposed approach  precludes future engagement on more prudent planning models for each area. It treats these areas with a broadbrush approach, of accepting six storey boxes without any community interaction if that is indeed the right form in the right place. Response from the UDI  (Urban Development Institute)  in the Council report also suggests the consideration of “flexibility” in bedrooms.

This report also asks Council to approve the new RR zoning district designation, which is for residential rental in the “traditional” residential areas off arterials.  Flanking streets off arterials can go to five storey heights. This form will go to four storeys high in identified residential areas  and will be limited to 3 lots or roughly 100 feet in width. A separate public hearing for the details of the residential rental zoning  will be held at a later time.

The details of the report show that the six storey height may be hard to achieve: the proposal is that in the new C-2 zoning five storeys can be built outright. The sixth storey is added if ten percent of units are below CMHC market rental or if the project  is completely residential.

If the project is mixed use (with commercial on the main) six stories is achievable only if twenty percent is below the market rents. The intent is for 4700 units over ten years, with the hope of 20 percent being built below market.

The city’s Development Cost Levies and Community Amenity Contributions which pay for things like servicing, parks and transportation are waived, with a report coming back to Council on the implications in the new year.

As Ms. DeMarco concludes “The staff report estimates that about 400 units a year would be built under this program. You can complete at least two neighbourhood plans in two years- there are ways to do these plans much quicker than in the past. The consequences of the 2-year time frame would be at the most 800 units not built.

But in exchange you would engage rather than enrage neighbourhoods, you would advance the principles you adopted in Vancouver Plan, and your citizens would help find solutions to add much more housing choice in a planned way.”

 

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Comments

  1. The legal principle is a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The same issue is arising in Victoria’s Missing Middle discussion. What’s the density trigger for rezoning/ public hearing? Double or triple surrounding density? To what extent will design guidelines or requirements be applied? These questions need to be discussed more openly.

  2. As ever, Christina DeMarco makes excellent, valid points in her presentation. Christina for mayor!
    Sandy James, on the other hand, will have us believe that folks may have a problem “accepting six story boxes without any community interaction”. I personally would love to accept a gift of a “story box”, having never seen one before; Sandy, please advise where one can acquire these.

  3. The current hearings are for part of the Secured Rental Policy which already passed council. It refers to the C-2 zones on arterial streets. Another part of the SRP is allowing up to 4-storey rental in “low-density transition areas” within 400 m of the arterial. That piece has yet to come to council. DeMarco is getting the two parts mixed up. I discuss both here: https://www.policynote.ca/secured-rental-policy/

    1. Post
      Author

      The current public hearing is also for the creation of the new RR (residential rental) zones that are needed to enact the four storey rental off arterial streets and in adjoining neighbourhood areas. Authorizing the regulation also names the specifics of the four storey rental for residential areas. That is being done at this hearing. So you are both right.

  4. Driving down streets like Renfrew, Rupert, and South Main/Dunbar, the arterial blocks have been left to waste. Houses have already been bought with the expected redevelopment, and thus minimal investment in maintenance has been done.

    Is saving one or two “cheap” rentals worth it instead of providing 4-8 rental units on the same property? Are the houses with the cheap rentals even going to be habitable in another 20 years with substandard maintenance?

    I don’t think saving old cheap rentals in single family homes is a valid reason for not allowing increased density.

    Not only that but it goes against the other point of poorer quality of life on arterials. These old buildings have little-to-no insulation, single pane windows, and nothing to protect against noise pollution from the roads. New buildings have 2 or 3 pane windows, and significant insulation for noise and temperature greatly improving quality of life in these locations.

    I will say, these arterials aren’t that busy. Most of them are completely dead at night. The busy sections of streets like Knight, Broadway, Granville, and 12th aren’t included. The arterials are also notably void of trees. Look and Renfrew, development will probably result in more trees.

    There is no chance of getting community plans completed in 2 years these days.

    Broadway Plan: 4 years before a draft will be presented to council. Grandview plan: 5 years, and still people complain about buildings that fit in the plan. Proposing that we not do anything for another 4+ years for community plans, which will probably end up with the same proposal as here with density on arterials isn’t a valid solution.

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