(Post-meeting update: Council passed all other items on the Public Hearing agenda on the spot. The 275 Kingsway rezoning was referred as Unfinished Business to the next Council meeting March 4, 2015, for discussion and debate. We have added more commentary at the bottom of this post.)
In the context of growing public concern about how municipalities are conducting public hearings for rezonings, we wish to direct the public spotlight to this particular rezoning, also mentioned our other post today (Public Hearing Tuesday, Feb 17th). The Public Hearing is tonight February 17 is for 275 Kingsway (333 East 11th Avenue). Bottom line: Is this project a good deal for the public and the neighbourhood?
- This is a major development with significant impacts on the neighbourhood, under Rental 100, which involves significant benefits for the developer while creating expensive rental units.
- Below is a list of design concerns and questions, for the record.
- Who is behind the rezoning request? The public has a right to know about the relationship between elected officials and their political donors. Though it takes some searching into the documents to discover, the developer here is Edgar Development Corp. (which appears to be a development/investment company — President Peter N Edgar, Vice President Henry Edgar), and consulting firm Brook Pooni a real estate marketer/lobbyist that often shows up on hot rezonings. Both companies purchased Tables #12 and #3, respectively, at the Vision Vancouver gala fundraiser during the 2014 civic election (see table list on our post “Did Vision omit campaign contributors from donors’ list?“). The architect is Acton Ostry Architects. Edgar Development Corp. is “focused on development and investment opportunities… has developed a portfolio valued in excess of $75 million, with an additional $225 million currently under development or in the entitlement process…” And its “goal is to deliver high quality, attractive assets that have healthy, sustainable yields.” That’s business. Its investors could come theoretically from anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, political donations from corporations are not illegal in British Columbia, but they do establish and demonstrate a very clear relationship of mutual interest. And here we have again, elected officials being asked to permit a very lucrative deal for private interests that have supported them in an election.
Anyone concerned about the rezoning, please write or speak to Council (see meeting agenda for instructions):
Full info on the application is here:
The rezoning is in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, which recently had its community plan adopted by City Council. A very high density tower like this one was never considered in the community plan. Here is some analysis of the proposal:
- The staff report completely overlooks the unprecedented density (8.66 FSR vs. the max 3 FSR allowed under current zoning)
- This site is not considered in the Mount Pleasant Community Plan for greater height and/or density. It’s a “Hippo in a bathtub” (complete disregard for existing zoning and planning guidelines).
- City staff are recommending is a $1.745 million giveaway (waiver of Development Cost Levies), and as negotiated by staff, the developer is not expected to pay a cent in Community Amenity Contributions. You might consider this “All take, no give.”
- The units are to be rentals, but not “affordable” rentals by the normal understanding of the word. The units will be very small, and the price per square foot very high. Projects like this will lead to further land speculation and establish a precedent.
- The proposed 202 units of expensive rental units may impact rents for other rental units in the community.
- The rental rates are not guaranteed. It was only through a court challenge by West End Neighbours that forced the City of Vancouver to declare the initial rents in Rental 100 projects. And they are expensive per square foot, and only for the first tenant. That is, they are not tied to unit, and can be increased with each new renter.
- Street parking will be seriously affect as only 102 parking spaces are being required. The experience in the West End at The Lauren (1401 Comox, address later changed to 1051 Broughton) as been tough. (This is a 22-storey, 7.14 FSR tower in the West End. It has only 89 parking spaces for 186 units built under STIR.) Neighbours report a serious shortage of parking on neighbouring streets and lanes. STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental) and Rental 100 projects permit developers to get by with significantly fewer underground parking spots. This saves the developer tens of thousands of dollars per spot in construction fees, but pushes the costs of parking shortages onto the neighbourhood.
- City Council never did consult with the public before establishing STIR and its successor, the Rental 100 policy.
- Many people will find that the the building has a poor urban design, as the tower height and massing will have significant negative impacts on surrounding buildings.
- Some people may be concerned that the public was given too little time in advance notification of the Public Hearing (one week not sufficient).
Here are more questions that the public should ask City Council to consider and City staff to answer about this project:
- Will there be shadowing and loss of sunlight for adjacent buildings?
- Is the proposed building consistent with the character of Mount Pleasant?
- Will the large increase in density have negative impacts?
- Will there be loss of privacy for neighbours?
- What does the community gain as a result of the development proposal?
- How will existing community services like schools and libraries accommodate new residents from this and other similar developments?
- Will this development set a precedent for the area, so that developers expect and demand similar approvals in the future?
- Should public funds be used for the City to subsidize the creation of expensive market rental units?
- How affordable will the rental units really be in proposed building?
- What alternatives were possible and considered for this site? (E.g., build up to 6-storeys under C-3A zoning)
ADDITIONAL ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY, FOR THE RECORD
This material comes from a very frustrated citizen who has dedicated years and hundreds or thousands of hours to the Mount Pleasant Community Plan (MPCP) process. This was all in good faith in our municipal government, staff and elected officials. Expecting fair treatment. But after all this, she is convinced that there is no way for citizens to get a fair deal with the City’s Planning Department. “Rezoning applications should not be brought to Council when they stray so far from what the policies say and from what the community expects based on the community plan.”
A fundamental breakdown in trust is evident. “City staff said that only three sites would be rezoned above what is permitted in C-3A, so why is the City now considering this project? That is dishonest.”
City staff wrote this in a memo dated April 2012, arising from the Public Hearing for “The Rize,” another controversial rezoning in Mount Pleasant.
“The MPC Plan clearly states that additional density and height beyond what is permitted in the C-3A zone, is “for selected sites only. The staff went on to specify exactly three sites: “The Rize site, Kingsgate Mall and the IGA site at Main and 14th.”
This District Schedule on page 6 states that City Council: may permit an increase in this maximum floor space ratio to any figure up to and including 3.00.
For their rezonings, developers who went through the process to rezone those buildings paid the proper Development Cost Levies (DCLs) and are providing rental units.
Under the Rental 100 program, Edgar Development Corporation at the proposed 275 Kingsway project pays no DCL’s.
Why are taxpayers subsidizing private corporations to such an extreme extent to provide market-priced rental units?
The public needs a more extensive review of this entire program. Has there been a City study of all the condos and houses in Vancouver to see what is being used for rental? The City must do this survey. Does Vancouver really need more market rental (especially if Rental 100 is being used to throw all planning guidelines out the window)? We need affordable rental units for working people. More market rental units and affordable rents are not the same thing.
Refer to the documents on the Rental 100 policy, page 5:
Excerpt: Rezoning Applications for Secured Purpose-Built Market Rental Housing for projects where 100% of the residential floor space is rental:
- Proposed increases in density should respect the context of the area and meet the intent of applicable City policies and plans;
Now, refer to MAIN STREET C-3A GUIDELINES, which on page 3 state the height of new developments should match existing height and scale:
4. Guidelines Pertaining to the Regulations of the Zoning and Development By-law
New development should be built to a height that matches existing significant older buildings up to six storeys, 21.4 m in height. In as much as it is practical, new development should match existing character in terms of height, scale and storefront character.
The City’s January 2015 report on this project is relying on the Rental 100 policy, the C-3A District Schedule, and the Main Street C-3A Guidelines. Here are more policies the City is relying on for this project from their Jan 20, 2015 report to Council. Here is the link to the Council report.
COUNCIL AUTHORITY/PREVIOUS DECISIONS
Relevant Council policies for this site include:
- Rental 100: Secured Market Rental Housing Policy and Rental Incentive Guidelines (2012)
- Housing and Homelessness Strategy (2011)
- Vancouver Development Cost Levy By-law No.9755 (2008, last amended 2014)
- Mount Pleasant Community Plan (2010)
- Green Building Rezoning Policy (2010, last amended 2014)
- Vancouver Neighbourhood Energy Strategy (2012)
- High-Density Housing for Families with Children Guidelines (1992)
- Public Art Policy for Rezoned Developments (2014)
- Urban Agriculture for the Private Realm
- C-3A District Schedule and Main Street C-3A Guidelines.