Tell City Hall what you think. Beach Towers, major rezoning, public hearing Feb 5, 2013

(Updated) We encourage you to consider and express your views to City Hall about this project, which has implications for the West End, taxpayers, and the whole city. People continue to join the more than 13,000 people who have signed the WEN petition calling on City Hall to stop spot rezonings and to develop a comprehensive plan. Citizens want to see the big picture and want to make sure that the community’s long-term interests are adequately considered. Thanks to your support, we have succeeded in getting a community planning process, and it is now in mid-stream. But the huge spot rezonings have not stopped. The next major rezoning proposed for the West End is a huge precedent-setting infill project on a site that has heritage value. If approved, this application by  IBI/HB Architects and Devonshire Properties will have major impacts on the community. We urge you to read up, collect your thoughts, and communicate with your elected officials. Below is a summary of some key points we’ve put together. This web page will be updated.

Public hearing on Rezoning Application – 1600 Beach Avenue and 1651 Harwood Street
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 6 pm
Council Chamber, Third Floor, City Hall, 453 West 12th Avenue

Official details: http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1600beach/index.htm

Register to speakPublicHearing@vancouver.ca or 604-829-4238. You can also register in person  up to half an hour before the hearing. Or send your written comments by e-mail to mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca or by regular mail to Mayor Gregor Robertson, 453 W. 12nd Ave. Vancouver BC V5Y 1V4.

RESOURCES

1. Should the City Grant Increased Density to Create Expensive Market Rental Housing? We don’t think so.

The site at 1600 Beach Avenue is currently the second most densely developed block in the West End.  The housing proposed to be created through a significant increase in density will do little to address affordability challenges in the neighbourhood or in the City as it is likely to be some of the most expensive housing in the neighbourhood.  Further, one of the objectives of the City’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy mentioned in the Staff Report to Council is to create balanced housing stock and a variety of tenures.  The West End currently has 82% of its housing as rental.  It is questionable whether significant density increases are an appropriate tool to create more rental housing in a neighbourhood which already has the highest proportion of rental housing in the city.

To justify rezonings under the STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental) program, City staff continue to compare the costs of apartment rental with the costs of home ownership.  The Staff Report for 1600 Beach Avenue continues this inappropriate approach. But we can all understand that renting a car carries a different price than owning a car because they are different products.  The average income of a Vancouver renter is $34,000, which means funds available for an “affordable” rent (at 30% of income) is $850 per month.  The rents suggested by the developer at Beach Towers (and accepted by the City) are in the range of $1,125 to $2,720 per unit.

The “uniqueness” of this site, with its beachfront views means that it is ill-suited to an attempt to create “affordable market rental housing.”

The rents suggested by the developer are unlikely to be an accurate indication of the rents for the suites once constructed.  A 500-square-foot one-bedroom unit at Beach Towers currently rents for between $1200 and $1400 a month based on information at the Beach Towers website:  http://www.devonshire-inc.com/vancouver_beach_towers.html. It states:

 “Columbus House – 1600 Beach Ave, 1 Bedroom, 500 Sq. Ft. Rent ranging from $1200 – $1400”

Recent online listings for 500 square foot units have been approximately $1350.

If this project proceeds, it is NOT reasonable to expect that a 525-square-foot newly-constructed one bedroom units (25 square feet larger than the existing 1960s suites, and with the amenities of a dishwasher and in-suite laundry), will rent for $1390 a month at the likely time of occupancy in 2015. That would represent a rent only $40 per month more than the existing smaller suites.  City Staff in their report to City Council are using the developer’s apparently misleading estimates for rents to help justify this project.

2. Reduction in Public Views:

City policies put a priority on the preservation of public views.  The views down Harwood Street and through this site to English Bay are valued by all West End residents, tourists, and guests to the neighbourhood.  If this project is approved, it will diminish these existing views and reduce visual “permeability” of this site, because the proposal is to “in-fill” the open areas between the existing towers, in-fill the bases of the towers, and add a private recreation building at the corner of Harwood and Beach.  Although the Staff Report on Page 11 indicates that permeability is improved in the current revision of the application, the fact is that permeability will be drastically reduced if this project proceeds. Public views will be lost (or stolen).

As noted in the Statement of Significance (download PDF) prepared for the project:  “Space between towers and the raised apartment floors atop tall glazed lobbies contribute to the livability on site and allow views between the towers for inland neighbours” and as part of the “Cultural Landscape” section: “Arrangement of towers to take advantage of views beneath and between structures.”

3. Negative Impacts on a Listed Heritage Resource:

While Beach Towers is not currently listed in the City’s Heritage Register, it is identified as having potential as “Heritage A” (the highest level) in the City’s “Recent Landmarks Study” which documents more recent heritage assets in the city. The Statement of Significance regarding the site’s heritage value can be reviewed here:

http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1600beach/documents/statement.pdf

Infill of the tower bases would appear to be a particularly damaging component of this project. It is a change that would eradicate one of the distinctive hallmarks of this property.  To create more office space and bigger lobbies in existing residential towers is not a sufficient justification for this change to the site. “Views beneath and between the structure” are noted as an objective of the original arrangement of the project and to suggest as the Staff Report does that the project “respects the characteristics of the site” is disingenuous to the public.  The project will increase the value of real estate assets of a single landowner at the expense of the public realm and the heritage value of this property.

People may wish to tell City Council that if — as is noted as part of the conditions of the development permit — the infilling of the tower bases is to change, then consideration of the rezoning should be postponed until this aspect of the project has been resolved.

The Staff Report notes that the “proposed buildings…are comparable to those found throughout the local area.” This is difficult to comprehend, as there are almost no nine storey buildings with floors this large in the West End, let alone in this particular area. Again, the public needs to question the factual basis of this report to our elected officials, written by City employees who appear to be justifying the project, rather than providing an unbiased statement in the public interest.

Watch this video interview with the architect of Beach Towers, plus additional text on Beachtowers.ca. Beach Towers was designed by Vancouver’s foremost mid-century architect C.B.K. Van Norman and is considered by the project architect, Ojars Kalns, to be his finest achievement.

4. Parking:

The proposed parking significantly exceeds the City’s minimum requirements. Providing extra parking will increase construction costs and do little to help address affordability.  Why would the City be endorsing a proposal that exceeds their own minimum parking requirements?  This will do little to reduce the anticipated rents of these units.

5. Streetscape:

The Staff Report (Page 8) indicates that the project will improve the streetscape character along the site frontages.  In the case of the proposed building at Harwood at Cardero, many residents would suggest that a view of the ocean is preferable to a view of an expensive rental building. Again, it is difficult to agree with the conclusions of the Staff Report.

As the 1651 Harwood site, it is particularly surprising that the City is encouraging the creation of an additional driveway access across the sidewalk to accommodate the proposed development.  This driveway will be a detriment, not a benefit, to the streetscape and to pedestrian safety.  It is surprising that the City is not requiring parking access for this portion of the property from the rear lane, as they would require for almost any other development.  The justification for City’s position is not clear. Is this a reasonable trade-off for the creation of expensive luxury townhouse rentals?

6. Tower Separation:

At the time of the initial inquiry for the project, the Planning Department noted in clear terms that neither the property as currently developed, nor the proposed development meet the tower separation guidelines applicable to the West End.  The Staff Report, however, suggests (page 5 of 6 of the Urban Design Analysis) that even though the separation requirements are not met  “the proposed building will have minimal impact between the on-site existing and proposed residential units.” This statement ignores a principal objective of the tower separation guideline, which is to create a sense of openness in the neighbourhood, and protect access to light and sky for all residents of the neighbourhood — not only those residents in the existing buildings on site or the potential residents of the new building.

To review the Planning Department’s initial response to this proposal, read at the link below the memo  from the (since dismissed) Director of Planning, Brent Toderian:

http://www.francesbula.com/developer-world/beach-towers-a-no-go/

The public is left to wonder what has changed in the Planning Department’s approach to the review of the project. The public has a right to ask and receive clear answers.

7. Community Amenity Contribution (CAC):

The developer has elected not to request a waiver of the applicable DCL (Development Cost Levy), in contrast to the practice in every other STIR project considered by Council to date.  Given that the developer is proposing to pay $1.25 million in DCL’s, the public should question the impacts of this approach on the calculation of Community Amenity Contributions (CAC’s) that the City normally collects on rezoning applications.  (Note that no CAC’s have been collected on other STIR rezoning proposals.)  If a waiver of DCL’s were granted, it would be assumed that the developer’s project analysis would show increased profit, an increase in the value of the land, and a resulting increase in the applicable CAC.  As CAC’s are normally spent in the community in which they are collected (in this case, the West End) many West Enders might favour a reduction in DCL’s and an increase in CAC’s to allow amenities to be constructed within the West End, rather than infrastructure improvements elsewhere in the City .

The public might wish to question the rationale behind the approach to DCL’s and CAC’s for this project and whether the approach is contributing to a reduction in CAC’s for the West End.

We may add more info and questions before the hearing.

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