Redevelopment of 1661 Davie Street (existing Safeway site): Does it fulfill Community Plan objectives? (DPB meeting rescheduled to July 25)

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG1(Update July 20: The DPB meeting that was set for May 16 has been cancelled. The next four meetings were also cancelled, but this application is now on the agenda for July 25, 2016.)

Intro: Below we provide links to official information about this major development application in Vancouver’s West End, and provide some analysis for residents to consider if they wish to send their own comments to the City. This is a powerful case study to compare and contrast what was promised by the West End Community Plan versus what is proposed to be built. Compare the guidelines of the West End Community Plan with the actual proposal, and you may find quite a difference. Below we also include info for you to provide your comments to the City. Besides what we listed here, if you have other points observations that deserve attention, please send us an e-mail (info@westendneighbours.com) and we could add them to the bottom of this post to share with others. It is important for residents to get their input to the City’s Development Permit Board.  You may also wish to share comments with City Council on the broader issue of change in the West End at mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca.

1. THE PROJECT

On Monday, May 16, 2016 after 3 pm, the City of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board is set to consider a large project on Davie Street (and Cardero) at the site of the existing “Safeway” (built approximately 20 years ago) and a BC Liquor store.  No rezoning or public hearing or rezoning is required as the site was already “pre-rezoned” for higher density at the time the West End Community Plan was adopted by City Council (Nov. 2013, and subsequent zoning changes completed in Jan. 2014).  Once the Development Permit Board (a group of four senior managers at the City of Vancouver) approves the project, the development can proceed directly to a building permit.

The proposed development – File number DE419982 – is for a mixed-use project consisting of:

  • a 3 storey retail base with three commercial units on the ground level, including a new liquor store;
  • a new grocery store on the upper ground & mezzanine level;
  • two residential towers (21 and 22 storeys) containing a total of 319 market rental apartments;
  • 3 levels of underground parking with 117 commercial spaces and 135 residential spaces.
  • The official applicant, Henriquez Partners Architects (CEO Gregory Henriquez), is working with developer Westbank Projects Corp. (CEO Ian Gillespie) , for client Safeway on this development, and the actual owner of this property is apparently Crombie REIT in a share-leaseback arrangement. Safeway was a subsidiary of the American Safeway Inc. but was sold in 2013 to Canada’s second-largest supermarket chain, Sobeys (a division of conglomerate Empire Company).

Official project information from City of Vancouver: http://development.vancouver.ca/1661davie/index.htm

Here is an image of the project provided by the applicant — looking north-east on Davie Street:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG1

 

In the West End Community Plan consultation process, the site was shown as being eligible for ONE tower, not two (the 3-D plan created by the City shows the single tower outlined in yellow on the inset image on the lower right).  The actual development as proposed includes two towers as shown in orange on the larger image to the left:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG2

The cumulative impacts of the towers proposed for Lower Davie Street – including those already constructed (“The Alexandra” at 1221 Bidwell), those recently approved at 1188 Bidwell Street (Mac’s Milk/Bosleys) and 1668 Davie Street (London Drugs parking lot), as well as those under consideration (1661 Davie Street) – will have a dramatic impact on the character of this part of the West End.  (These new towers plus other potential towers on Davie and Pendrell Streets are indicated in peach colour.)

A West End resident used a graphics program to create two images of Davie Street showing the impacts of the subject development and nearby development already approved  or constructed.  The images, shared with WEN, show the “existing” and “future” views west on Davie Street from the Cardero Street intersection.

How do you feel about the overall impacts of the developments on the experience of people at ground level?  Is this what you understood would be an outcome of the West End Community Plan?

EXISTING view west on Davie Street from the Cardero Street intersection:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG3

FUTURE view west on Davie Street from the Cardero Street intersection:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG4

2. HOW TO PROVIDE PUBLIC INPUT

This large development deserves consideration by the public. You are encouraged to review the project plans and share your comments with the City of Vancouver.

1661 Davie Street project information on the City’s website:
http://development.vancouver.ca/1661davie/index.htm

You can provide the City your written comments on the proposal right up until May 16th by emailing the Project Facilitator at:  wendy.lebreton@vancouver.ca.

Development Permit Board
Monday, May 16, 2016
Town Hall Meeting Room, City Hall
Meeting starts at 3 pm
(Public may write or speak to the DPB. You could write to the meeting coordinator asking for a slot to speak, and asking to convey your written comments to the DPB. lidia.mcleod@vancouver.ca)

More info on the DPB and how it operates:
http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/development-permit-board.aspx

You may also wish to call/write/meet Mayor and other members of City Council to share your observations on how the West End Community Plan is being implemented. Our elected officials are ultimately accountable for that, though they are officially not part of the decision-making process. Contact City Council: https://westendneighbours.wordpress.com/how-to/contact-mayor-and-council/

The public can attend and speak to the Development Permit Board.  Information on the May 16th meeting (click the “meetings” tab for agenda, which will probably appear just shortly before the meeting — sometimes just minutes before the meeting starts):
http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/development-permit-board.aspx

Please note: If you previously provided input to the City regarding the application (e.g., at the Open House in March) you may wish to revise and resend it to the DPB. WEN has learned from other cases that previous public input on any development application does NOT automatically get incorporated into each next step of the decision process — in this case, the Development Permit Board.

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3. MORE ANALYSIS, AND COMPARISON WITH WEST END COMMUNITY PLAN

In reviewing the project plans and formatting comments, you may wish to consider the following topics and points of reference:

3.1. Site Layout

The existing “mid-block” pedestrian connection between Davie Street and the rear lane is proposed to be removed.  The existing lane access allows pedestrians greater use of the lane and also helps to organize vehicle access to the existing underground parking area. But the loss of this connection and space would appear to be a negative outcome of the project. One of the future parking garage entrances is proposed to be directly facing Davie Street. But that sidewalk is a busy pedestrian route. Care should be taken in how this entrance is designed, as it is important to preserve pedestrian/sidewalk comfort and safety on the Davie Street sidewalk.

3.2. Size of Floorplates

One of the issues discussed in the West End Community Plan process was that of smaller floorplate buildings. The idea was to give preference to the design of “slim” towers to reflect the history of high-rise development in the West End and to reduce shadowing and view impacts.  The West End Plan indicates that for the subject site the maximum tower floor plate is limited to 511 sq. m.   The applicant is proposing to exceed the recommended tower floorplate size on the lower levels of the tower buildings with floorplates ranging from 600 to 949 sq. m.  Given that no rezoning or public hearing is required for this project, shouldn’t the buildings proposed reflect the guideline provisions of the West End Plan and shouldn’t the tower floorplates also comply with the guideline?

3.3. Streetscape and Building Finishes

The West End Community Plan indicates that:

Building materials should include a variety of materials, rather than consist primarily of glass façade, and reflect the architectural character of surrounding buildings. This is particularly important for the lower floors.”

And encourages:

“…mixed-use development with continuous active commercial frontages in this area.”

Further, the Plan includes a specific policy that commercial streets should be enhanced as public spaces:

Policies
Improve the commercial streets as public spaces
10.2.1 Enhance public spaces along the commercial streets (Robson, Denman, and Davie Streets, and Alberni Retail District) to improve walkability and vibrancy, create gathering spaces, and support commerce. 

Now, look at the developer’s colour rendered image of the Davie Street streetscape is shown below:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG6Contrary to the objectives of the West End Community Plan the project proposes two towers perched on a monolithic glass podium which ignores the rhythm of individual storefronts on Davie Street.  What do you think? Should the podium of the project be re-examined and redesigned to better reflect this important location on Davie Street? Should the City require the applicant to make a greater effort to create a comfortable and attractive pedestrian-oriented shopping street in accordance with the objectives of the West End Community Plan?

3.4. Lane Frontage

The design of the north elevation of the podium appears completely at odds with the community plan objectives for “activation” of lanes as public spaces and the provisions of Section 10.4 of the Community Plan.

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG7

So now, how have the applicants interpreted those guidelines? The proposal offers unrelieved walls built right to the property line and punctuated only with ventilation grilles, loading facilities, and parking access. Do you think that any of those features could been seen as assisting the residential character, activation, or pedestrian comfort on the rear lane?

The hostile expanse of concrete as shown in the image below does little to accommodate the community plan suggestion that the site to the north (across the lane) might benefit from residential laneway infill development:

FIG 8

 

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG8

If anything ever gets built along the lane from this Safeway development, imagine the view and shade impacts the residents will be faced with.

At the west end of the site along the lane this blank concrete wall extends to 14.8 metres  or 48.5 feet in height. That’s almost five storeys high. Note that the rectangular elements marked “20” are not windows. They are indicted as “painted metal louvres”.

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG9

Consider all of the above. Do you think the resulting lane elevation will be “pedestrian friendly.”  Do you think efforts should be made to change this element of the project to achieve the objectives of the West End Community Plan?

3.5. Shadowing

The development will shadow the Lord Roberts Elementary School playground during the busy after-school hours. The field is jointly managed by the Vancouver Parks Board and Vancouver School Board, and heavily used year-round in this densely-populated urban community. The playground is an important public space in the West End. Do you think that sunlight on the public space should be preserved? Is the incremental increase in shadowing from this proposal acceptable to the community?

The blue areas on the map below show the additional shadow arising from the proposed building at 3 pm on a December afternoon:

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG10

Many believe efforts should be made to adjust the “massing” of the towers to reduce or eliminate the incremental shadow impacts on Lord Roberts School playground.

3.6. Public Realm

Figure 10.1  of the West End Community Plan indicates an objective to create a public realm improvement at the north-west corner of Davie and Cardero Streets.

 

DE419982 at 1661 Davie, FIG11So how is that expressed in this proposal? There appears to be no effort in the project design to provide for a high quality, publicly-accessible and usable space here, at the north-west corner of Davie and Cardero Streets. Do you think the City and applicant should make greater efforts to implement this objective of the community plan?

3.7. Parking

135 parking stalls are proposed for the 319 market residential units.  This means that 184 of the proposed apartment units will have no access to parking on-site. If the occupants of these units use cars they will need to park them on the street.  The high rents in these proposed new buildings create the likelihood for a resident population with relatively higher rates of car ownership. Therefore, parking demand should be examined carefully to avoid creating additional parking problems in the neighbourhood.

3.8. Construction Management

The 3-D image at the start of this article shows potentially seven towers in the 20-plus storey range being constructed over the next many months, with the development potential created by the adoption of the West End Community Plan. Will the City, developers and contractors manage all the demolition and construction activities carefully and in an integrated way to minimize impacts on the thousands of nearby residences, visitors, and passers-by? Prior to demolition and construction activity taking place at this site, would you like the City to improve its regulations and procedures regarding management of construction impacts and communication with affected residents and businesses?

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4. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

4.1 Chronology

  • 2013 (Nov) – West End Community Plan adopted by City Council after a Public Hearing.
  • 2014 (Jan) – City Council adopts bylaw that “pre-zones” huge sections of the West End to comply with new WECP. (This means that no public hearing will be required for the 1661 Davie (Safeway) site.
  • 2016 (Jan 28) – First notice from City about this project, when the City’s “Development Applications” website carries project information.
  • 2016 (Jan 29) – A month after first public notice, the City holds a “community open house” to show the designs.
  • 2016 (Mar 9) – Just over a month after the application becomes official, the Urban Design Panel unanimously “supports” the application (5 support votes versus zero non-support). Total members 13. Interestingly, only 5 of 8 members who were present voted, so 3 abstained evidently, while 5 members were absent. So in effect, only 5 of 13 members, or 38%, officially supported the project.
  • 2016 (Mar 29) – Two months after first public notice, the deadline for public comments to get into the City staff’s written review of this project for the Development Permit Board. However, the City says that “comments will be considered up until the date of decision.”
  • 2016 (May 16) – Less than four months after first public notice, the 4-person internal Development Permit Board is slated to make its final decision to approve the project. The meeting starts at 3 pm, but the actual start time for this project will not be known publicly until shortly before the meeting.

The above chronology shows how the West End Community Plan has accelerated the approval process for major tower developments, reduced opportunities for public input, and created a buffer between residents and elected officials. The Urban Design Panel does not deal with the public, and the four-person Development Permit Board is just an internal body. Minutes of the Urban Design Panel meeting are not yet available (as of May 1), just a couple weeks before the final decision of the Development Permit Board, and if past practice is a guide, the public will not know what the final staff report to the DPB says shortly (hours or minutes) before the actual meeting. In effect, this major development goes from first public notice to final approval in less than four months, despite having many elements that are in contradiction with the West End Community Plan – the key document presented to the public as a way to guide growth and change in the neighbourhood.

4.2 ROLE AND DECISION OF THE URBAN DESIGN PANEL

The Urban Design Panel (UDP) unanimously supported the project application during a daytime meeting on March 9, 2016. (As of May 1, 2016, the minutes of meeting were not yet available to the public.) Those minutes are important for any member of the public to review in order to evaluate whether or not the expert panel adequately considered urban design issues. Eventually, the minutes will appear here:
http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/committees/minutes-urban-design-panel-20160309.pdf

WEN has an audio recording of the UDP meeting. Please contact WEN if you would like to review the audio.

4.3. CORPORATE OWNERSHIP OF THE SITE

As far as we know, Empire Company Limited (www.empireco.ca, Toronto Stock Exchange EMP.A) owns Sobeys (www.sobeyscorporate.com), which owns Safeway in western Canada. Headquartered in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Empire was founded in 1963 and is a Canadian conglomerate involved mostly in food retail and corporate investments. Empire Company also owns the Sobeys supermarket chain. As far as we can tell, Crombie REIT owns the 1661 Davie Street site and Sobeys would have a leaseback arrangement. www.crombiereit.ca. Crombie REIT appears to be a Canadian “unincorporated open ended publicly traded real estate investment trust” which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange and also happens to be based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. Its executive includes several members of the Sobeys family. http://www.snl.com/irweblinkx/od.aspx?iid=4143678

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