The meeting is open to the public. We encourage concerned citizens and neighbours to attend and observe the presentation and discussion, in preparation for likely Public Hearing.
The original application resulted in community outrage in 2008, a 400+ person town hall meeting, and promises by politicians not to let tower development “turn the West End into another Yaletown.” Then the project went dormant after the UDP unanimously rejected it in 2010, though it benefits by being “grandfathered” as “active” during the West End Community Plan process. Now in 2015, under a new owner (Westbank) and new architect (Gregory Henriquez), the proposed project is even denser and bulkier. It looks like a great deal for the proponent. But what are the benefits for the West End community?
Caption: Model of the proposed development, on display at Vancouver City Hall.
Below is some food for thought regarding density, affordable housing, parking, community amenity contributions, building frontages, building form — based on materials available for public comment in March. How have City staff and the proponents incorporated public input into the proposal?
Overall: In May of 2010 the Urban Design Panel reviewed a rezoning proposal at a lower density on this site. The conclusions of that review included:
“The Panel did not support the proposal noting that the density has a negative effect on the overall bulk, quality of amenities and open space and may be too large for the site. The Panel did not have a problem with the height but were concerned with the amount of density and bulk for such a small site which had changed considerably since the previous review. Most of the Panel members thought the original scheme was better. They felt the proposal broke form with other towers in the West End and thought there was little benefit to the community.“
With this revised application, the bulk of the tower has increased significantly. If the UDP previously rejected the proposal for having too much density and bulk for such a small site, how can it possibly support the revised proposal with more bulk and density? And, honestly speaking, what are the benefits of this tower proposal for the community? Stay tuned.
Density: The previous rezoning application proposed a density of 6.17 (floor space ratio, or FSR), while the current FSR proposed is 6.55. (The current zoning permits 2.55 FSR — the jump to 6.55 is what Westbank is now asking for.) The previous proposal included affordable housing to be deeded to the City of Vancouver, and the project is proceeding on the basis of being “grandfathered,” supposedly having been “active” during the West End Community Plan process (which ended with adoption of the Plan in November 2013). Citizens, the UDP, and City Council needs to why the City should consider any density above the previously proposed FSR of 6.17. It seems there is no compelling reason.
Affordable Housing: The previous proposal included the creation of 26 affordable-rate rental units to be owned by the City of Vancouver. The current proposal is entirely for market-rate rental units with no controls on rents. The elimination of these 26 units from the proposal could be considered a serious flaw in the revised proposal. Those 26 units would have been a much-needed and valuable asset. The creation of expensive luxury rental units does little to address housing affordability challenges in a neighbourhood where already over 80 per cent of housing is market rental.
Should the proposal be revised to have a minimum percentage of the rental units secured as truly affordable rental units — at rents tied to income levels in the West End? To do otherwise would be inconsistent with the nature of the previous rezoning application, noting that the current proposal is benefitting from being “grandfathered,” as mentioned above.
If the City negotiates to secure some rental units at below-market rates, this information should be made available to the public well in advance of any public hearing for this project.
Parking: It appears 82 parking stalls are proposed for the 171 residential units in the project. At the time of the West End Community Plan consultations, parking was identified as a key issue for the community, and was included as one of the objectives for resolution for the plan. This item was later deleted from the plan objectives with a commitment to addressing the issue at a future date. Has any resolution been reached on resolving parking challenges in the neighbourhood? Has any analysis been done regarding the need for parking arising from other recently-constructed projects that have reduced parking (e.g., 1221 Bidwell Street, and 1051 Broughton Street)? We are not aware of any. Before a Public Hearing, can the City give the public additional information on actual parking needs arising from the high end of market units being proposed in this application? Given the fact that existing on-street parking is “fully subscribed” it is not reasonable to expect that some residents of the proposed building will indeed park on the street. How are these issues being addressed.
Community Amenity Contribution: The City’s policies indicate that a CAC should be applicable where increased land values result from rezoning (i.e., “land lift”). In the past, the City has taken the position that rezonings for rental housing create no land lift, and accordingly no CAC is applicable. But information from the BC Assessment Authority for recent projects like The Lauren at 1051 Broughton Street (which happens to have been developed by the same Westbank developer, with Henriquez as architect) shows significant increases in land values arising from rezoning. In accordance with City of Vancouver policy, the community has a right to share in this increase in land value. The pro forma information reviewed by the City should include an accurate estimation of rental revenues. The “actual rents” being charged by Westbank at 1051 Broughton Street are much higher than the “proposed rents” in the Report to Council for public consideration at the time of the rezoning for that project.
Building Frontages: The Pendrell Street frontage has no doors on the street. If this is built, people on the street will probably feel that the podium element has little in the way of a positive relationship to the street. Moving west along the frontage, the public will experience an increasing sense of detachment, created by the artificial “plateau” created on the property.
The lane frontage might be even worse. The approach to frontage on the lane might be seen by observers as unattractive. In addition, the proposed design is inconsistent with the objectives of the recently-adopted West End Community Plan, which encourages walkability and a residential character on rear lanes. The previous proposal for this site had residential units facing the lane, helping to create a comfortable walking environment and “eyes on the street.” The currently proposed concrete wall — reaching 10 feet in height at its west end, and punctuated with vents, emergency exit doors, and garage gates — will do little to assist the residential character and pedestrian comfort on the rear lane.
Building Form: The previous proposal for this site included a low-rise podium element and a slim tower. The tower and podium format of previous proposal was more successful in responding to the neighbourhood context and the lower buildings to the north, east, south, and west. The current design approach maximizes views and rental revenues in the new building at the expense of the neighbourhood.
Revisions to the project design to re-instate a podium element could help to improve the pedestrian experiences on the rear lane and on Pendrell Street, “slim” the tower to reduce impacts on nearby residential units, and reduce shadowing on existing and future park areas to the south-west.