Westbank, Peterson and Henriquez continue to ignore West End residents with 1401 Comox proposal

The architect and developers for 1401 Comox continue to dismiss concerns of West End residents about their massive building proposed for 1401 Comox Street. Little has changed since their initial proposal ignited a controversy in the community almost two years ago. This newest proposal still requests a huge increase in density (from an FSR of 1.5 to 7.14) to accommodate development of a 22–storey market rental residential tower with 180 apartments and 6 townhouses at ground level.

So what has changed from the original proposal submitted to the City in March 22, 2010? Not much.

  • The total building height has been slightly reduced from 66 m (216.5 ft.) to 61 m (200 ft.) by eliminating the rooftop amenity space and deck.
  • The vehicle parking spaces have been reduced from 81 to 79 spaces (a parking ratio of 0.4 parking spaces per dwelling unit).
  • The top 15 floors of the tower have been somewhat altered in an attempt to reduce shadowing on the neighbouring Broughton Mini-Park.
  • The number of ground floor townhouses has been increased from 4 to 6.
  • After promising community groups space, the 3,500 square foot community facility (shared by “Qmunity” and Gordon Neighbourhood House) has been removed from the development.
  • There are larger setbacks on the west and east property lines because the community space building has been removed and the proposed tower has been shifted slightly to the west.

All said – they have not substantially moved from their original redevelopment proposal.

The details of the current application and the previous two versions of this proposal are here. You can fill out the online form to express your opinions about the development here.

Attend the Community Open House
Thursday, February 9, 2012
5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Coast Plaza Hotel, Nelson Room
1763 Comox Street

There are numerous issues that surround this proposal and questions that the City needs to address.

Public Input to Date

Unfortunately the developers Westbank and Peterson and the architect Henriquez have chosen to blatantly ignore public comments about this development that are summarized by the City Planning Department here.

Over 650 people have attended open houses about this re-development and over 1,000 comment sheets and letters have been submitted to the City. The majority of these submissions express concern with the proposal, objecting primarily to the size and bulk of the proposed building.

In addition to this input, over 12,000 people have signed a petition supporting current zoning provisions in the West End that permit a maximum outright building height of 18.3 meters (60 feet or 6 storeys) and requesting that these existing zoning provisions be maintained for future developments in the West End. Moreover the petition states that any general or site-specific land use and/or West End zoning changes include meaningful consultation with residents, protect existing neighbourhood livability, and respect/maintain the character of the neighbourhood.

But rather than consulting meaningfully with the community to determine an appropriate increase in density, Westbank, Peterson and Henriquiz continue to submit development proposals that are not supported and that exceed what the community sees as appropriate at this site. Do they believe they can just “wear out” the community?

A question for the City: Why are Westbank, Peterson and Henriquez not encouraged to respond to neighbourhood input and concerns in a meaningful way?

Density

How big is too big? The permitted floor area under the existing RM5 zoning is an FSR of 1.5 and a total of 25,938 square feet of floor area. The proposed building is almost five times this size and far too large for this site.

Have they actually reduced the density for the site in this proposal? Previously Westbank, Peterson and Henriquez requested 127,960 square feet of floor area. In this recent proposal, they requested 123,460 square feet of floor area – 4,500 less square feet of floor area. Where did they get the reduction? It came from eliminating the community space – this reduced the overall square feet by 3,500. It was a gain for the developers and architect with no benefit to the community.

Let’s look at a similar rental project to get an idea of an alternative approach to development. In 2004, the subsidized seniors rental project at 1175 Broughton Street (corner of Davie – Columbus Millennium Tower) was built with a density of 2.75 FSR, almost double the existing permitted density for the RM5 zone, but roughly one third of the proposed development for 1401 Comox Street. This building respects the existing development patterns in the neighbourhood, doesn’t over-whelm its neighbours and has worked well to improve housing choices in the West End.

A question for the City: Why haven’t lower density development options that respect neighbourhood character been explored for the 1401 Comox Street site?

Proposed Density Bonus

Consider the implications of this request. Under the existing RM5 zoning, the current permitted floor area is a total of 25,938 square feet of floor area. Westbank, Peterson and Henriquez want to increase it to 123,460 square feet – an increase of 97,522 square feet of floor area. The justification is to create and secure market rental housing.

A market rental project currently under construction at 1142 Granville Street requested (and received) a density bonus of 12,773 square feet of floor area in exchange for creating 106 market rental units. This density bonus amounts to 121 square feet for each rental unit in the building. Westbank and Peterson’s proposal is requesting a density bonus of 524 square feet for each rental unit.

A question for the City: Why is it considering such a massive increase in floor area for 1401 Comox when an economically-viable rental housing project at 1142 Granville Street is proceeding with only a modest increase in floor area?

Lack of Community Amenities

Normally the City of Vancouver requires rezoning applications to include funding for improving the community facilities in the surrounding area. These are called “community amenity contributions” and may include daycares, library improvements, or recreation facilities. Westbank and Peterson are not providing a community amenity contribution at 1401 Comox Street.

A question for the City: Is the City consistently applying its approach to community amenity contributions to the development at 1401 Comox Street given the dramatic increase in land value the developer is expected to accrue from the construction of a 186 unit rental building?

Streetscape

The “streetscape analysis” of the project is available here.

Question for the City: Why is there no streetscape analysis that accurately shows relationships of the proposed building to existing neighbouring buildings?

Question for the City: Why are the renderings of the proposed building “chopped off” in each of the streetscape images, making it even more difficult to understand how the proposed building will relate to neighbours?

The developer has suggested that the surrounding buildings are as tall or taller than the proposed structure. But review the map of existing building heights here and come to your own conclusion about the heights of neighbouring buildings.

For an even closer examination of building heights, review the storey heights of the immediately neighbouring buildings in the map below:

Clearly, the vast majority of the nearby buildings meet the basic outright six-storey height limit of the existing RM5 zoning for area.

Shadows

The shadow analysis of the project is available here.

The proposal notes that changing the shape of a section of the tower makes improvements to the amount of shadow on the Broughton mini-park and other nearby properties, but the large size of the building means that large shadows are unavoidable.  A development under the existing zoning would have only marginal shadowing impact on the park and on neighbours.

Question for the City: Why is the City considering any increased shadowing on the mini-park during the after-school hours of 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm?

SAFER Units

The last two versions of the development proposal have included six units of subsidized housing for seniors for 5 years. These units are proposed under the “Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters” (SAFER) program which helps make rents affordable for BC seniors with low to moderate incomes. SAFER provides monthly cash payments to subsidize rents for eligible BC residents who are age 60 or over and who pay rent for their homes.

Any apartment unit can be a SAFER unit, but the benefit to the renter “tops out” for a single person at a rent $700 per month. For example, if a studio apartment in the West End rents for $1,000 per month, the developer would be offering a $300 per month subsidy for these six units for a period of 5 years. The renter would pay $700 a month and with a $288 monthly subsidy from the Provincial government, their “out of pocket” rent would be $412. Once the developer’s subsidy ends after this five-year period, the senior’s “out of pocket” rent would increase to $712 per month. Presumably if they could not afford this increase in rent, they would need to move. The total costs to the developer over this five-year period would be approximately $110,000.

Affordability

In a recent interview reported in the Vancouver Courier, Mayor Robertson notes that “STIR, which offered developers incentives to keep costs down and annoyed West End residents who objected to what they saw as spot zoning, “has not produced drastically lower rents.”

Question for the City: Is the proposed building really helping to solve the City of Vancouver’s housing affordability challenges? Why is the City still considering approving a project that does not meet the standards of affordability?

Development Statistics

The developer is proposing 11.3% of the floor area as balconies, when the City allows only 8% to be excluded from the FSR calculations.

Question for the City: Will the 4,000 square feet of balcony area be reduced or is the developer in fact proposing a building in excess of 7.14 FSR?

Design Panel Review

The City’s Urban Design Panel reviewed the last version of the development proposal for this site on March 24, 2010. Minutes of that meeting are available here.

The Urban Design Panel reviewed the original version of the project on November 18, 2009.  Minutes of that meeting are available here.

At the time a comment from the Panel’s discussion was that “They supported the density and tower form, however, they saw the proposal as a massive building on a small site.

Question for the City: Given that the Urban Design Panel reviewed the last two versions of this project and since the current proposal is a different building design, will the Urban Design Panel review the new proposal?

West End Development Guidelines

The City has indicated that it will apply the existing West End Development Guidelines to the development proposed for 1401 Comox Street. The guidelines are available here.

The guidelines were carefully researched and thoughtfully written with the intent of reflecting the uniqueness of the West End – characteristics such as broad setbacks, landscaped yards, protecting privacy, and reducing shadowing.

Question for the City: Does the proposed development meet the objective of protecting West End character? Is a massive glass tower an appropriate building form for the West End?

Attend the Community Open House and make your views known – it counts!

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