In the next step toward a public hearing for the rezoning of 1401 Comox Street, the slightly-revised design for this project returns to the Urban Design Panel on February 22, 2012, at 5:15 pm (see agenda), in the Town Hall Meeting Room, 1st Floor at City Hall. A public Open House for this item was held on February 9, with a turnout of about 300 people. This proposal is for a 22-storey residential tower with 186 market-priced rental units on the site where a church stood for over a hundred years. The entire project is still being processed under the now-defunct Short-Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program, which WEN has pointed out to the City is legally flawed.
The UDP already supported the previous design, but the Mayor put the project on hold due to strong community opposition. Now it’s back. It still has a high proposed floor space ratio (FSR 7.14) and the maximum height has been reduced only slightly to 200 feet.
Learn more about the UDP here. Interestingly, the UDP unanimously rejected a similarly-size tower proposal at 1754 Pendrell in 2010 (see here) due to its proposed height, bulk, and lack of a match with the streetscape.
According to the City website, the Panel “gives impartial and professional advice to the Director of Planning, Development Permit Board or City Council on any proposal or policy affecting the community’s physical environment….The Panel is strictly an advisory body and makes recommendations only. It does not have the authority to approve or refuse projects or make policy decisions.”
But we know that the Panel’s decision is often used to justify staff recommendations.
The former Director of Planning was fired on January 30, leaving this post open, although the position itself is still charged with major powers of “discretion,” including recommending or supporting the major increase in outright zoned height on this particular site. In effect, while the post is vacant, the role is likely to be filled by a staff member working as “acting director of planning.”
Westbank Projects Corp., the lead name behind this project, is known to be a high-profile supporter of Vision Vancouver.
Considering all of the above, will the citizens of the West End get a fair deal? Remember that the public comment period on the application is still open until February 28 (online form here), and then citizens will have a chance to speak to City Council at the yet-to-be announced public hearing.