WEN asks City Council NOT to send 1401 Comox to public hearing, citing errors, omissions in staff report

May 14, 2012

Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Councillors, City of Vancouver

RE: WEN Letter to Mayor and Council – 1401 Comox Street [ Item P1 – May 15, 2012 ]

Dear Mayor and Council:

In the regular Council meeting of May 15, 2012, you will be reviewing a Policy Report regarding a concurrent rezoning and development permit application for 1401 Comox Street. We are writing to urge you not to refer this to a public hearing, and instead refer it back to staff to correct the errors, omissions, and misrepresentations of fact in the report. We introduce just a few of them below.

This application proposes an increase in density from the existing permitted 1.5 FSR (25,938 sq. ft. of floor space) to 7.19 FSR (123,490 sq. ft.) to construct 186 market rental units in a 22 storey tower.

The report offers justifications for the height and density of the tower, but fails to reference the intention of the RM zones adopted by Council in 1989, and instead bases many of its arguments on comparisons to what it implies is a potential 190 foot tower on the site under the existing RM-5 zoning. These comparisons are not reasonable, as a theoretical building at 1.5 FSR with 18 storeys and a floor plate of 1,862 sq. ft. (livable area of 1,510 square feet per floor) is not economically feasible. That development scenario should not be used as a point of comparison or benchmark to justify the current 22 storey proposal (with a floor plate of approximately 6,000 square feet).

The staff report fails to provide any justification for the massive increase in density and floor area, apart from the fact that market rental housing is proposed and that the applicant requested the additional density. No other projects under the now-expired Short Term Incentives for Rental housing (STIR) program, under which this application was made, have required this extreme density bonusing (over 5.6 FSR) to achieve market rental units.

The report lacks clarity and accuracy on many issues, including:

• the fact that the previously-offered 3,500 square foot community space has been removed from the proposal, and in fact, may negate comments by some members of the public (and members of those two groups who were expecting to benefit from the space) and supported the application on the basis of the proposed community space

• the failure to document the differences in support between residents of the West End (those most directly affected by the development) and those from outside the community

• the fact that 970 residents submitted comment cards and, although City staff confirmed that this input would be recorded as part of the input to the project, are not reflected in the report’s summary of public input

• lack of detail on the six proposed “SAFER” units and the fact that these units are limited to a five year period

• failure to substantiate the claim that “extensive” revisions have been made to the project in its three different versions; in fact, for example, tower height and proposed FSR have remained essentially unchanged

• the basis on which the proposed market rental units have been defined as “affordable” is legally questionable, based on WEN’s previously-expressed concerns regarding the City Manager’s authority to define the affordability of rental units

• the proposed rent levels which are at odds with other new rentals currently being leased in the West End.

Information, on public record, regarding a rezoning or development application going to a public hearing must be balanced, objective, and accurate. This staff report fails to meet these tests, and fails to justify the large density bonus sought by the applicant. Almost 13,000 people have signed a petition requesting that there be no rezonings in the West End without a comprehensive plan – a plan that can guide the future of the neighbourhood in a rational, predictable manner that will protect the quality of life and unique character which West End residents cherish.

West End Neighbours requests that the rezoning proposal NOT be referred to Public Hearing. Council’s duty under the Vancouver Charter is to protect the public interest above all. We hope that your decision on this matter will do so.

Sincerely,

Emanuel Pereira, President

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