Public input is sought on a development application, with the “virtual open house” online ending Nov. 15, 2020 (Sun), and the official deadline for public input via the website being Nov. 16 (Mon). [*But see note below.]
This application would mean demolition/eviction of an existing 16-unit rental building and an existing 43-unit strata condo building. It would result in two 3-storey buildings with a straight one-to-one replacement of the 16 rental units (so no increase in rental units, and no constraints on rental prices), plus an 18 storey tower with 109 strata condo units. The proposed condo tower does not really comply with the current zoning and design guidelines for the West End.
Our post is just two days before the deadline for input, but this may still be a good opportunity for West Enders to look not only at this specific proposal, but also at how the City of Vancouver is (1) communicating with West End residents and (2) implementing the West End Community Plan. Whatever you think about this particular project, it shows how the the WECP, adopted in 2013 under Vision Vancouver, now allows the city to largely circumvent public input and has moved development decisions far away from public scrutiny and direct monitoring and accountability by our elected officials on City Council. All considered, has the WECP enabled good developments that benefit the community? And on top of that, the City is currently engaged in Vancouver Plan, a citywide planning process. Since the planning department is at the center of all this, what are the implications if the West End experience is extended to the entire city once the Vancouver Plan is eventually adopted?
Here is the official project info (including rational, maps, renderings, and a 3D video), plus the form for public input, on the City of Vancouver’s virtual open house page:
DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION – 1116 Pendrell St (DP-2020-00054)
- The site is currently home to a market rental building with 16 units and a strata residential building with 43 units. Both would be demolished to make way for the new project.
- Skyllen Pacific Real Estate Ltd. has applied to the City to build two 3-storey buildings (16 units total, market rentals) and one 18-storey strata condo building (109 units).
- Height of condo tower 53.3 m (175 feet)
- The net FSR is 3.025 for all three buildings on the combined site, which includes 2.75 FSR plus 0.275 FSR as a 10% heritage transfer bonus from an undisclosed site. The FSR of the tower if counted alone is not stated.
- Four levels of underground parking with vehicular access from lane.
- The official site says that “under the site’s existing RM-5B zoning, the application is “conditional” so it may be permitted. However, it requires the decision of the Development Permit Board.” (Click here if you care to read the fine print of RM-5B zoning.)
- Visit vancouver.ca/dp-board to learn more about the new “virtual” Development Permit Board process and participation options.
- Contact Payam Fouladianpour, Project Facilitator, regarding this specific application:
604.873.7663 or payam.fouladianpour @vancouver.ca
- Contact Mayor and Council if you have concerns about the implementation of the West End Community Plan: Click here.
- Contact Council and/or the four-member internal Development Permit Board if you have concerns about the consultation process for this application: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Note: The official deadline for public input via the website is Nov. 16 (Mon), but nothing can stop concerned residents from contacting Mayor and Council, members of the Development Permit Board, and the project facilitator any time right up to and including the DPB decision date three months later, on Feb. 8, 2021 (Mon). Below is a summary of the application, plus a bit of commentary.
- Skyllen Pacific Real Estate Ltd. (https://www.skyllenpacific.com/) is the applicant. No information is publicly available on the web regarding this company, its owners, or executives.
- The architect is W. T. Leung Architects Inc. (http://wtleungarch.com/about/).
- According to Changing City Book, Skyllen Pacific bought the existing 16 unit rental building and 43 unit strata building in 2018 for $57 million.
- West Enders need to consider the pros and cons for the community. Is this a good proposal for the West End? Does it justify or has it earned the exception to the WECP and design guidelines?
- The development would result in demolition of both buildings.
- Renters in the existing 16 rental units would be evicted, and the new development would replace the 16 units. It will not increase the number of rentals. The application provides no information about current rental rates, but it is highly predictable that rents in the new building will start at the top price on market.
- The branding and appeal of the project takes advantage of the local community context, including Nelson Park and historic Mole Hill housing development.
- The proposed height of 175 feet appears to be in violation of the West End Community Plan section 7.2 which says “Maintain a primarily six storey height limit” (which would typically be about 60 feet). https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/west-end-community-plan.aspx
- The applicant justifies the requested height of 175 feet by emphasizing the theme of “tower in a park” to enable the tower to be taller and thinner. However it is not really clear how the application “earns” the extra 115 in height. On what criteria can the City’s director of planning permit this? Not known.
- West Enders have been frustrated with the City permitting exceptions to height guidelines stated in the West End Plan. For example, other towers in the inner section of the West End have been approved at 1150 Barclay St. and 2030 Barclay St. (10 and 11 storeys, respectively).
- It seems obvious that Vancouver’s chief planner and planning department have already accepted this application in principle, simply by accepting the application for processing, and then allowing it to come this far.
- Plus, it is moving very quickly. The application was received Oct 5, the Virtual open house runs Nov 9 to 15, the deadline for public input is Nov 16, and final DPB decision scheduled for Feb 8, 2020. No doubt a significant level detailed discussions already occurred between the applicant and top planning staff prior to Oct 5, probably with Vancouver’s chief planner Gil Kelley giving the green light to go ahead. As mentioned, the way Vision Vancouver set up the West End Plan in 2013, this all proceeds completely away from the scrutiny of our City Council.
- As mentioned, the consultation process seems to be expedited, and whether or not intentional, there seems to be an effort to avoid attracting public attention. As of today (Nov 14) the application is still absent from the City’s list of development applications (vancouver.ca/devapps). Is that an oversight or intentional? Is there a notice sign on site? (To be confirmed.) Local residents (including current tenants in the rental building) including owners and renters within a few blocks should have received a notice card in the mail (unconfirmed). As of November 14, the day before the virtual open house ends, there were only two questions and answers on the site. That is a sign that this application has been under the radar of the community.
- The way the system is set up, there is no physical presentation where community members can meet and talk directly to other residents and the planning staff.
- There has been no media coverage of the application, except in Daily Hive, which specializes in construction and development news it receives from developers.
- Local community groups, including West End Neighbours, have not been informed of this application.
- The West End Community Plan implementation team has not notified newsletter subscribers of the opportunity to provide input. No information on upcoming applications is provided on the WECP web page. There have been no updates from the City’s implementation team for many months.
- The virtual open house website says that “In response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we will be holding an extended online question and answer (Q&A) period in place of an in-person open house for this project,” from Nov 9 to 15. One might wonder, if 7 (seven) days is considered an “extended” period, how short is the “regular” consultation period.
- With the West End Community Plan adopted in 2013, this area was pre-zoned as RM-5B, which means that no Public Hearing would be required if an application fit into the zoning. It is not really clear how this application, which seems not to be consistent with RM-5B design guidelines, goes straight to the Development Permit Board.
- The DPB is an internal board consisting of just four senior staff at the City. The public may write and speak to the DPB, but due to COVID-19, meetings are only being held virtually.
- Based on all of the above, it seems public is being largely cut out of the process.
- This application is a good opportunity for the community to review how the West End Community Plan implementation is going.
- Current tenants who happen to be renting in the existing rental building and in the existing strata condo may be eligible for the protections and compensation under Vancouver’s Tenant Relocation Policy. Did they all receive the notice card and information on their opportunity to comment on the application?
- The application provides no information about tenant relocation, or about future rents for the 16 units, or about the likely prices of the strata condo units.
- The applicant is not seeking a development cost levy (DCL) waiver, so “the City has no mechanism to control the secured rental rates set by the applicant.” This means the rents will likely be set at the highest rate the market can bear.
- No information has been provided to the public regarding Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) for this project, or the amount of DCLs expected to be received.
- The application documents still lack a lot of information. For example, shadowing impacts on Nelson Park and the local community.
About Mole Hill
Mole Hill is the last surviving block of pre-World War One housing stock in Vancouver, the most significant example of Vancouver’s Victorian and Edwardian era domestic architecture. The block has thirty heritage-listed properties built between 1888 and 1908, providing a direct link to the earliest days of the City of Vancouver. Today, Mole Hill is governed by the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, and contains 170 social housing suites, three daycares, a group home and a host of community assets, set in a park-like environment. The Society has been recognized for achievements in heritage conservation, construction, landscaping and the provision of social housing.
Quote from the applicant’s design rationale:
The proposed building height of the tower above grade is approximately 53 m (175’) to the top of parapet. (The elevator penthouse and mechanical cooling towers extend above this height). This proposed 175’ height does not conform with the West End Design Guideline of 110’ building heights for tower separations in a block with existing buildings exceeding 110’ in height. A building form at 110’ in height would result in a much lower and wider building. Rather, this proposal is for a “tower in the park” in which a tall, slim tower frees up the ground plane for a generously landscaped site while allowing for site permeability as an extension to Mole Hill’s neighbourhood pedestrian paths and connections to Nelson Park to the North and Davie Street retail to the South. The building’s height also responds to the contextual progression from the proposed 450’ height zoned tower corridor on Burrard Street, stepping down to the neighbouring 200’ Presbyterian Church on Thurlow Street directly to the East of the site and then to the existing 110’ residential tower to the West at 1160 Pendrell. The proposed building maintains an 85’ tower separation to the West neighbour and 115’ separation to the East neighbour. The two proposed rental buildings which vary in height from 1 to 3 storeys are a response to the scale of the historic Mole Hill houses directly to the North along Pendrell Street.
From one staff response to a question on the virtual open house website: The proposed development is a consolidation of two sites, one containing an existing 16-unit rental building and the other containing a 43-unit strata building. The 16 purpose-built rental units are covered by the Rental Housing Official Development Plan (ODP), which requires the applicant to provide one-for-one replacement of existing secured rental units. In accordance with the ODP, the proposed project provides 16 secured market rental units, which will be secured for the greater of 60 years or the life of the building through a Housing Agreement… As the project is not seeking the DCL Waiver, the City has no mechanism to control the secured rental rates set by the applicant. However by not seeking the waiver, the City will collect DCLs for the rental portion of the development, which will provide funds into development of new City amenities such as social and non-profit housing, childcare and parks.
- Application received – October 05, 2020
- Accepting public comments – November 02 → November 16, 2020
- Virtual open house November 09 to 15, 2020 [This is described as an “extended online question and answer (Q&A) period”]
- Development Permit Board decision – February 08, 2021