Open Houses on Blood Alley Square redesign, Aug 24 & 27 (Carrall / W. Cordova block)

Blood Alley Square
The City of Vancouver will be holding two open houses for input on the redesign of Blood Alley Square and Trounce Alley. This public space is located half a block from Water Street, between Abbott and Carrall Street in Gastown. Both of the Open House events will be held in the square at the following times:

Wednesday, August 24, 4 to 7pm
Saturday, August 27, 11am to 2pm

Further details on the proposed redesign and an online survey can be found on the City’s website.
Blood Alley Square

5 towers at Urban Design Panel today (Aug 24) 4 pm: 399 E 1st Avenue (Great Northern Way “Lot P”), and 1708 Ontario St

Four towers at 399 E 1st Avenue (Great Northern Way “Lot P”) and one 18-storey tower at 1708 Ontario Street (formerly 26 E 1st Avenue) are on the agenda for the Urban Design Panel today. For more details about the applications, see and search for the DE numbers indicated.

location of 399 E 1st Ave Great Northern Way Lot P

Agenda with details.

4:00 pm start, Town Hall Meeting Room, Vancouver City Hall
4:15 pm
Address: 399 E 1st Avenue (Great Northern Way “Lot P”)
DA: DE420195
Description: To develop four towers including: two live/work buildings, one hotel, and an office building, all with retail at grade that is connected by a public plaza over a common (5-level) underground parkade accessed from Thornton St. A storage warehouse is also located on level P5.
Zoning: CD-1 (402)
Application Status: Complete Development Application
Review: First
Architect: IBI Group (Jeffrey Mok)
Staff: Tim Potter

5:15 pm
Address: 1708 Ontario Street (formerly 26 E 1st Avenue)
DA: DE420164
Description: To construct an 18-storey residential building (140 dwelling units) over 5 levels of underground parking.
Zoning: CD-1 (464) Application Status: Complete Development Application
Review: Fifth (Second at DE for current design)
Architect: Bingham + Hill Architects (Doug Nelson)
Staff: Sailen Black
399 East 1st Avenue

CMHC cancels plans for Housing Outlook Conferences in 2016

CMHC marketing analysis centre_notice_header_en

E-mail header from CMHC MAC

Subscribers to newsletters from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation have received the following message today, August 24, 2016. We think it might also be of interest to people who follow housing topics but are not on the mailing list — particularly noting that the highly popular Housing Outlook Conferences will be deferred until some future date, and the opportunity to provide input into a National Housing Strategy. See below for details.

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Fault lines: Do lax seismic standards conceal underlying earthquake risk of Metro Vancouver tower fetish?

Tower under construction in Tokyo Aug 2016b small

Close-up view of girders used in tower construction, Tokyo.

An article entitled “Financial fault lines: The earthquake risk of Vancouver’s condo boom” (The Globe and Mail,  11-Aug-2016) referred to a fresh report (“Fault Lines: Earthquakes, Insurance, and Systemic Financial Risk,” by the C.D. Howe Institute). The emphasis of both items was on financial risk.

That is important, but we look beyond the financial risks to underlying issues in terms of policy, architectural standards, and life safety. This is another “elephant in the room” of Metro Vancouver’s construction boom and all the players in the game are implicated — but CityHallWatch believe the heaviest responsibility is on our mayors and councillors. They are ultimately the ones who approve rezoning and construction projects.

See further below for links and excerpts of the article, but here are some thoughts and observations by CityHallWatch.

  • Natural Resources Canada estimates a one-in-three chance that massive earthquake will hit the West Coast in the next 50 years.
  • The construction industry has been booming, enabled by city councils that have approved many towers in the past ten years, and continue to do so at a record-setting pace.
  • Our opinion is that the construction industry, professional associations, professionals (architects, planners, etc.) and governments (municipal, provincial, and federal) are failing to protect the financial system and public safety, by failing to have world-class seismic safety standards. Ignorance of the risks is no excuse. Blaming others  is no excuse. Each of those entities has a high level of responsibility.
  • In the Lower Mainland of B.C., our mayors and councillors have a moral obligation to pay more attention to the matter of seismic safety.
  • An expert quoted in The Globe and Mail hopes that “maybe 10 years from now, 20 years from now, our building code will have what it takes to guide designers so buildings not only save lives, but are actually usable after an earthquake.” The point being that building codes in Vancouver, in British Columbia, and in Canada are designed only to permit immediate evacuation after an earthquake. Towers are not intended to be usable after even a moderately-sized earthquake.
  • Irregular buildings are probably seismically more dangerous. City Council has been approving them, but are they aware of the risks?
  • Compare this with Japan. Even after the as a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011, only a small proportion of damage to structures resulted from the earthquake (most of the damage was caused by the tsunami). Even smaller structures a few storeys high are often built using steel girders — unlike the reinforced concrete permitted in B.C. for towers even sixty storeys high or more. See photos.
  • One could say that all structures in the Lower Mainland (including unusual new tower designs) are over-valued economically, by the failure to discount for the potential risk of catastrophic building failure in the event of a massive quake. An adjusted valuation for real estate purchases might include a discount for the likelihood that the building will be rendered unusable on a moment’s notice.
  • City planners should think long term with an awareness of seismic risk. Imagine the thousands of people living in new towers. After even a moderate earthquake, their buildings could be rendered useless, or living above the fifth floor might be impractical for long period of time for most people without elevators.
  • There has never been a peer-reviewed academic comparison of seismic standards for tower construction between the world’s best (probably in Japan) and Vancouver or British Columbia. One should be done immediately, and published.

Tower under construction in Tokyo Aug 2016a small

Above photo – Under construction in Tokyo, Japan: Steel girders are used in anything over several storeys high, in contrast to B.C., which uses reinforced concrete.

earthquake seismic graph

References and excerpts of article Continue reading

Pacific Centre Rotunda replacement proposed, new retail building – Public input until Aug 28

pacific centre rotunda

(Update – This is an updated version of our original August 9 post. We have added links and excerpts to subsequent media coverage.) A proposal to replace the rotunda entrance to the Pacific Centre and the open space at the northeast corner of West Georgia and Howe Street with a 63′ tall (19.3m) retail building has been submitted to the City of Vancouver.

This is a significant issue, in the sense of the importance of public spaces and their value to society. Vancouver’s public spaces are being eroded. Public input is due by August 28.

The proposed building would contain an additional 31,603 square feet (2,936 m2) of retail space. The design submitted by Perkins + Will Architects contains high floors for the “3-storey” building that has a height of 63.36 feet (or a typical 6-storey height for residential; note that the City does not penalize large floor heights in FSR calculations). Property owner Cadillac Fairview would entirely remove the rotunda structure and provide another entrance to the mall directly off West Georgia Street.

This development application is considered to be “conditional” and approval or rejection will be up to the discretion of the Director of Planning. Comments related to the proposed redevelopment are due by August 28, 2016. Further information on the scheme is on the City’s development applications website. The Director of Planning post is currently filled by Jane Pickering, but Gil Kelley will fill this post starting on September 15, 2016.

Cadillac Fairview recently made another controversial proposal with the development beside Waterfront Station at 555 Cordova (an origami tower dubbed the ‘icepick building’ by detractors, currently on hold). Now the firm is looking at taking away space that functions as a public plaza and an iconic rotunda entrance to the Pacific Centre to build 3-storeys of retail. Is there any balance to public and private interests in planning in Vancouver? Does the space-making role of the plaza and rotunda have sufficient merit to City planners and policy makers? Why has this been largely off the media radar? Why are groups that supposedly advocate for public spaces (e.g., Vancouver Public Space Network, and Spacing Vancouver) not actively trying to raise awareness and protect the public space affected by this proposal? Stay tuned. See further below for recent media coverage.

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Housing supply clarified

Comment: Very few experts have the independence and courage to speak up and challenge the industry-dominated discussions about solutions to affordability crisis. Elizabeth Murphy is one.

Some excerpts… The city is also approving a record number of new development permits. According to a recent city information bulletin, they are building way more than outlined in the Regional Growth Strategy and are leading the region on permit approvals. The city says, “this data demonstrates that new housing supply is at record levels and exemplifies the fact that we are approving significant new housing stock”.

Clearly, we do not have to create more zoning supply in Vancouver to meet regional growth. There may be other reasons to adjust zoning, but there is no rush. It must be done very carefully since upzoning causes speculation that drives land inflation. This has the unintended consequence of making housing even less affordable.

Increasing zoning supply generally won’t reduce prices for the end product either.

… Simplistic supply and demand economics to create affordability may work in a closed economy, but not with the global capital currently flowing into the Lower Mainland, and the City of Vancouver in particular. As long as real estate is disconnected from the local economy, it doesn’t matter how much new stock we build, it will be beyond what most local residents can afford.

The 15 per cent property transfer tax surcharge for foreign buyers may not be the windfall of revenue expected. There are many ways to get around this tax.

… So increasing housing supply and tying it to transit funding are not the solutions to affordability. But there are real solutions, although complex. These will be for a future discussion.

Affordable housing myths and facts

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, August 19, 2016

The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” Photo Stephen Bohus BLA / PNG

The province is expected to make pre-election announcements starting in September featuring housing affordability fixes. Unfortunately, it looks like the policies they are considering may be ineffective yet problematic. To find the right solutions, they need to be using accurate assumptions rather than myth.

The B.C. Liberals frequently suggest increasing housing supply as the solution to the housing affordability crisis. In the City of Vancouver, there is already ample zoned capacity. The city’s consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply…

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Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan (Opinion – Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun)

This opinion was published in the Vancouver Sun on August 8, 2016. Excerpts are provided below. See the link for the full text. Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing.

Read about the process for City Council to adopt this plan, and how a community plan adopted in the West End has had perverse consequences, and something begins to seem stinky with city’s planning processes.


2016-land-use-map Grandview-Woodland

Grandview Woodland community plan

Affordability jeopardized in new Grandview plan


Vancouver just approved a new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, in the neighbourhood known as the Commercial Drive area. The plan jeopardizes affordability by putting existing affordable rentals, heritage and character at risk in spite of community opposition.

There are references in the plan to retaining existing rentals and protecting heritage, but the adopted policies do just the opposite. Incentives for redevelopment increase land speculation, leading to land, unit and rent inflation with loss of community character.

At the start of the planning process, the planners opened their presentations stating that Grandview needed to increase density to meet projected growth under the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) since 160,000 people were coming to Vancouver.

This was later found not to be the case when the RGS was changed to reflect the 2011 census for a 148,000 population increase from 2011 to 2041. Further, the city’s consultant report from June 2014 confirmed, “The city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.” …. Continue reading