“Darling House” (1090 Nicola) a quality approach to development in West End

[Note to readers: This current development application highlights an approach to development in the West End worth studying further, and contrasts dramatically with rezoning projects currently being proposed. ]

DARLING HOUSE – 1090 Nicola Street – Development Application at the “Darling House”

The house at 1090 Nicola Street, known as the Darling Residence was built in 1905 at a time when the West End was being developed with large homes. The house has been noted as being of heritage value for its  craftsman-style architectural details and materials, such as cedar shingle siding.  It was occupied by members of the Darling family until 2003 and while an addition was added to the north-east corner of the house in 1947, much of the original exterior and interior of the building remain intact.

Last Fall, the property (an 8,646 square foot lot) sold for $2.2 million, or $254 per square foot of land value.  With existing zoning of RM5, the maximum development potential on the lot is 12,970 square feet, working out to a price of $170 per square foot of “buildable” floor area.  As a comparison, the property at 1401 Comox Street (St. John’s Church), only one block away, is 17,200 square feet and was sold in 2009 for $4.25 million, a sale price of $247 per square foot – less than the Darling House site.  Also with RM5 zoning, that site has a development potential under its existing zoning of 25,800 square feet, or $165 per “buildable” square foot.  The developer of the site at 1401 Comox Street has applied to rezone the property to allow construction of almost 128,000 square feet of floor area, resulting in a price paid for the land of just over $33 per “buildable” square foot – a remarkably low land cost by Vancouver development industry standards.

The development application submitted by Ann Murphy, AK Murphy Architect Ltd. for the Darling House at 1090 Nicola Street proposes to add 8 new townhouse units to the site and create 5 dwelling units in the existing heritage house.  Overall development density at the site is proposed at a floorspace ratio (FSR) of 1.49  (floorspace ratio is a measure of development density – a 10,000 square foot parcel with 10,000 square feet of building on it has an FSR of 1.0).  The heritage house would be relocated to the south-west corner of the property and rehabilitated with the new townhouse units constructed on the remainder of the site.  Underground parking would be provided for the dwelling units in the heritage house, as well as for the new townhouses.

Because permitted density or FSR on the site is not proposed to be changed, no rezoning or “Heritage Revitalization Agreement” is required to accommodate the development.  Some variances to the zoning bylaw regarding front and sideyard setbacks have been requested from the City, and in exchange, it is proposed that the heritage house receive the protection of heritage designation.

Overall, the project appears to be a quality approach to creating alternative housing options and to providing an “gentle increase in density” in the middle of the neighbourhood.  The developer of this project is to be commended for creating a sensitive development proposal that protects intact an important piece of West End heritage, and does so while complying with the density provisions of the existing RM5 zoning.

A question for the community to ask is why the Darling House can be moved, rehabilitated, and designated for heritage preservation under the existing zoning, but an 18 story tower is necessary to support heritage preservation at 1241 Harwood Street?  The Darling House project also includes relocating and restoring the house and providing underground parking, all within the existing zoning provisions.  In contrast, the Legge House project at 1241 Harwood Street is requesting a proposed FSR of 3.7 – an increase in FSR of at least 1.5 beyond the maximum discretionary permitted on the site: a “bonus” of approximately 26,000 square feet of floor area.

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