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.”