Respect Existing Guidelines until there is an Official Development Plan
Approving developments with large increases in density should be based on community needs and objectives identified in an official development plan. Until such a plan exists for the West End, the existing zoning structure should be respected. Any new development needs to:
- Respect the character of the West End
- Protect livability of existing properties and their residents
Need for a Policy Framework
This development proposal defies 30 years of planning history in the West End. Most observers agree there is a need for an update to the West End Plan, but the lack of progress on the plan update should not be justification for damaging the neighbourhood with bad development.
The updated plan needs to be in place BEFORE approving additional rezoning proposals in the neighbourhood. There has been no review of existing community facilities and services in the West End – schools, community recreation facilities, and parks – and no determination of how to accommodate the needs of existing and new residents. Until this review takes place, developers should be advised to respect the existing planning provisions and zoning, or await the results of the broader planning process.
The potential for success of this and future redevelopment projects (STIR and otherwise) would increase substantially with a defensible policy framework that is based on meaningful community consultation. Without such a framework, the Planning Department and City Council can expect project after project to create frustration and anxiety in the community.
The Existing RM5 Development Guidelines
The Planning Department has advised community members that the RM5 development guidelines will be respected for new developments in the West End, and under the provisions of the STIR program “…rezonings should be consistent with general planning policy directions and good planning and design practice.” It is difficult to see how the 1401 Comox Street proposal respects these provisions of STIR, given its lack of compliance with the existing Council-adopted guidelines for development in the neighbourhood. A quick review of the existing RM5 development guidelines shows conflicts with statements such as:
- It is very important that siting of adjacent buildings is respected to maintain streetscape continuity.
- Buildings should be massed to minimize shadowing of the street and adjacent open spaces.
- New development should not decrease present levels of privacy enjoyed by adjacent residents.
- Windows and balconies should be oriented away from the windows of adjacent apartments, or screened to minimize overlook.
- For new buildings to fit in comfortably, a balance between higher and lower structures must be maintained …An increase in height may be considered when the livability of adjacent development is respected.
- The scale of a higher building along the street edge should not be overpowering.
- To minimize view blockage, a small floorplate should be used, creating a slender profile.
Traditionally the street edges of development are open grassed areas that are visual extensions of the public realm helping to create an attractive, generous streetscape. New development should maintain and offer this sense of open space along the street edge and visually extend the depth of views from the street.
The building’s lack of compliance with the RM5 guidelines will result in damage to the livability of the neighbourhood and the developer should be sent back to the drawing board to produce a building that reflects Council’s existing guiltiness for development in the West End.