(Epilogue 2-Feb-2016. City Council voted on this application today. It only has cosmetic changes since the neighbourhood first heard about it in 2014. In essence, it looks like it was a “done deal” since Day 1, although the community was well organized, articulate, well researched, and unified against this project. Vote results below. )
This story is a poignant case study in how things work at Vancouver City Hall today. Patterns in this rezoning are typical in many projects approved by City Council every year and reinforce our portrayal of the Vancouver civic system today.
The fifth item on the Public Hearing agenda for January 19, 2016 is a proposed 12-storey tower at 1755 West 14th Avenue, near the intersection of Burrard and West 14th. [Update: the public hearing will reconvene on Thursday, January 21 at 6 pm, to hear from members of the public, starting with speaker #5.] Below is a summary of our key observations, basic project statistics, analysis of who wrote Council in support, plus the text of the residents’ petition and detailed critique of the application.
The industry that feeds on rezoning and development approvals obviously wants Council to approve the rezoning. In contrast, the highly engaged neighbourhood caring and concerned about its own livability is strongly opposed to the proposal, wants our elected officials to reject this application outright, and for the City to tell the applicant to go back to square one on the drawing board.
- A large developer and donor to the ruling civic party is enjoying an accelerated rezoning/development process, plus generous relaxations and incentives through a policy (STIR) that was adopted in 2009 with no public input (revised in 2013 as Rental 100). The policy was originally billed as creating affordable rental housing, but completed projects are renting at the highest rates the market will bear, and in some cases being illegally rented out for short term rentals via AirBNB. The City apparently has NO system in place for monitoring of the rent levels in each building approved under this program or impacts on host neighbourhoods, and is not monitoring or enforcing rules once a project is built.
- Critics say the project violates good urban design principles that in the past earned Vancouver renown as a livable city.
- The project has attracted strong opposition from the neighbourhood that will be most affected. Locals are facing the threat of negative impacts on their enjoyment of their own homes. A petition signed by 147 individuals has been submitted, with a detailed analysis worth reading, and many additional comments.
- Despite it being a very engaged neighbourhood with active participation in the official consultation process on this application over several months, the project appears to be virtually unchanged in two years (in terms of the issues that concern the community) since the moment it was first made public, despite what they say was 95% opposition to the project. After the first round if input (opposition), the City fell silent, until suddenly the project came back with a new owner and only slight tweaks to the plan. In other words, it looks a bit like it was essentially a “done deal” even before the community learned about it.
- Now, as the project goes to Public Hearing on January 19, 2016, most of the letters of support appear to have been written by individuals who are somehow associated with the real estate or development industry. (How does that happen? Accidental? Or coordinated “favours”?)
- Application to rezone the site at 1755 West 14th Avenue from RM-3 (Multiple Dwelling) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District
- Being considered under the Secured Market Rental Housing (Rental 100) Program, providing 100% market-rental units
- Retention of an existing 13-storey, market-rental building
- Addition of a 36.4 m (119.3 ft.) high 12-storey apartment building, with 116 new market-rental units in the new building, a proposed total Floor Space Ratio of 3.45, additional floor area of 7,680 m² (82,663 sq. ft.), 149 parking spaces and 2 loading spaces.
- Architect: Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership.
- Owner: City documents are obscure for anyone trying to figure out who is behind a project, but it seems Sun Life owns the property (at least, the existing tower).
- Developer: Bentall Kennedy, which “serves the interests of over 550 institutional investors.” Bentall Kennedy is also a major political donor in civic elections, having paid for tables at the Vision Vancouver fundraising galas for the 2011 and 2014 elections, plus other monetary donations.
- Complete rezoning information:
LETTERS OF SUPPORT (DEVELOPMENT INDUSTRY)
In one corner of the ring, a quick review of the 17 letters of support side posted online as of the day before the Public Hearing shows almost all have development industry connections: A realtor with a major real estate firm, a lawyer with the real property & planning group of a major local law firm, an employee at another major realtor, a CEO of a capital management firm, head of another capital management company, an architectural supplier, the applicant’s building manager (employee), an electrical project manager, a BC Housing official (who was former Deputy Director of Real Estate Services for the City of Vancouver), the executive vice president of “Canada’s fastest growing commercial real estate firm,” the vice president of industrial sales & leasing of yet another major real estate firm, the president of a private investment holdings company, a former corporate secretary of favoured developer Concord Pacific, and “Vancouver’s leading realtor.”
OPPOSITION FROM THE NEIGHBOURHOOD:
And in the other corner of the ring are local residents who have articulated numerous concerns in a petition and cover letter. For them the issues affect them personally and relate to their quality of life, enjoyment of their own homes, and livability of Vancouver. Here is the CityHallWatch summary of selected points they raise:
- Negative effects on the character, and livability of our street and neighbourhood
- “This site is one which does not lend itself to a high rise solution which can be sensitively integrated with the scale of semi detached homes, multifamily infill and low rise apartments on neighbouring streets.”
- Violation of a social contract between City Hall and the neighbourhood: A tower already on the site was permitted years ago on the condition of leaving open space. The “commitment and promises by the apartment building owner and a previous Council/staff will unethically be forgotten if the new tower is built.”
- The “proposal makes no effort or concession to acknowledge the scale, character and relationships to the two and three storey homes along the entire south side of the street and across Burrard Street to the west.”
- The proposal maximizes building height, and maximizes the tower footprint by minimizing setbacks to the existing tower and to homes across the street.
- Loss of mountain views, sunlight and privacy. Shadows on homes. Loss of privacy in back yards and living rooms. These could really affect their enjoyment of “home.”
- Negative parking and traffic impacts on the neighbourhood (refers to an expert study).
- “Developer provides no discernable benefits to the neighbourhood and in fact diminishes livability.”
Petition text: We, the following residents and citizens of the City of Vancouver, hereby STRONGLY OPPOSE the proposed Rezoning Application (revised) – 1755 West 14th Avenue.
Preamble with the petition (for the signers to read): As you may be aware, the owners of the property located at 1755 W. 14th Ave. have once again Initiated a proposal to build a 12 story high-density tower at the corner of 14th and Burrard. There was a previous application in January, 2014. Shortly after that, our neighbourhood mobilized to oppose this proposal, and upwards of 95% of the residents within 4 blocks, who were asked to sign a petition, did so. We submitted the petition to City Hall. We received no response at all until the new proposal came to light several weeks ago. The new proposer includes the same tower. In fact, the only thing significantly different about it is the removal of townhomes that had been proposed, towards the eastern end of the block. This allows the developer to say that the proposal is “lower density.” We are opposed to this proposed tower, It is inappropriate to this neighbourhood, which consists mainly of residences and low rise apartment buildings, Parking Is already at a premium, and traffic has been increasing dramatically on our streets.
12 January 2016
The Mayor and City Councillors
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Y 1V4
RE: Proposed Rezoning of 1755 West 14th Avenue
Mayor and Councillors:
We write as residents of the neighbourhood immediately surrounding the property at 1755 West 14th Avenue. We wish to express our concerns with, and opposition to, the proposed development, which will clearly have negative effects on the character, and livability of our street and neighbourhood. We have canvassed the immediate neighbourhood during the Fall 2015 and submit for your consideration the attached petition containing over 140 names. All individual comments are included by those who chose to elaborate their concerns and below is a summary of those raised in the petition and with various canvassers.
While we understand and support Council initiatives for infill densification an increased opportunities for rental accommodation within the existing City, this site is one which does not lend itself to a high rise solution which can be sensitively integrated with the scale of semi detached homes, multifamily infill and low rise apartments on neighbouring streets.
Specifically, the reasons for our opposition, which we have been expressed to City Planning Staff and at public meetings with developers and staff, are the following:
- Using Past Anomalies as Precedent – The Urban Renewal Movement of the 1960 and 70s throughout North American cities resulted in the demolition of many mature neighbourhoods, and replacement with high rise apartment structures which were considered to be the answer to improved living in cities.
The existing 12 story apartment on West 14th was one of those anomalies where an entire block of single family homes were demolished to make way for a 12 story apartment building. The result is individual homes on one side of the entire block and a large high rise on the other half of the block. The apartment building came with the proviso that approximately half of the block would remain as outdoor amenity space to compensate for the massiveness of the structure. This commitment and promises by the apartment building owner and a previous Council/staff will unethically be forgotten once the new tower is built resulting in a wall of buildings.
- Character and Context – Vancouver has developed a reputation for excellence in urban design which other cities seek to emulate. This has always meant that neighbourliness, and concern for contextual relationships which protect essential character of neighbourhoods and streets, is of paramount importance. This proposal makes no effort or concession to acknowledge the scale, character and relationships to the two and three storey homes along the entire south side of the street and across Burrard Street to the west.
- Maximization and Minimization Attitude – This proposal maximizes building height, maximizes the tower footprint by minimizing livability and privacy setbacks to the existing tower and to homes across the street along West 14th Avenue, across Burrard Street and the 3 storey apartment buildings on West 13th Avenue. The form of development makes no attempt to introduce a lower form of building along the street which would at least show some respect for the scale of the built form of the street by transitioning into the existing predominant form of development.
- Loss of Mountain Views, Sunlight and Privacy – For a great number of residents on West 14thAvenue particularly on the west half of the 1700 block, there will be loss of mountain skyline views.
For properties along the south side of West 13th Avenue there will be shadowing impacts on rear yard open spaces. For the homes across the street from the tower site on both West 14th Avenue and Burrard Street, there will be major impact in terms of overview and loss of privacy into primary living room spaces which these homes currently enjoy. The proposal would darken the street considerably.
- On Street and Laneway Parking Impacts – The street and laneway adjacent to the proposed site already experience congested parking conditions in the laneway and on the street. It is absolutely unthinkable that a 12 storey. 113 unit apartment building can be built without providing any on-site parking spaces.
This will only exacerbate an already tight on-street condition for area residents. Many of the present residents in the tower at 1755 West 14th Avenue park on the surrounding streets and laneways.
The Parking Study by Bunt Engineering identified that the number of cars registered with ICBC associated with this address averaged out at 1 car per unit. The belief that new renters will not have vehicles is not supported by the existing conditions of this building. If there are many residents presently who do not choose to pay for underground parking, it is more logical to believe new residents will also make that decision and add to the parking woes on the street.
- Past Promises Forgotten and Broken – Residents who lived on the street at the time of the 1970s rezoning were then assured by the developer that the landscaped garden spaces on either side of the existing tower would be placed there for the visual enjoyment of all residents (renters and owners). This was a factor that convinced those residents to accept the densification proposition at the time. These very same gardens are now to become the site for new higher density structures and are regarded as superfluous vacant undeveloped sites. In fact they are an integral part of the street, neighbourhood and ‘the greening’ of Vancouver.
- Rental Housing Incentive Program Site Criteria – One of the criteria of this program identifies vacant sites as being appropriate candidate sites for densification. This site is not a vacant site but an integral part of the setting of an existing building which makes that building acceptable to the residents of the street and reduces its impact on the street.
The developer provides no discernable benefits to the neighbourhood and in fact diminishes the livability. In contrast the benefits to the developer are enormous given that:
- There are no land costs associated with the project, a cost savings in the $6,000,000 range.
- There are no new parking requirements associated with 113 units which at a minimum of $30,000 to construct one space works out to a savings in over $3,000,000.
For all of the above reasons those signing the petition are in strong opposition to this proposed rezoning and respectfully request:
- That Council REFUSE this particular rezoning.
- That Council REQUIRE City Staff and the developers to work more genuinely toward a more sensitive built form that minimizes the identified impacts and shows respect for the existing street scale, character, livability and built form, and residents’ present enjoyment of privacy, views and sunlight.
This is an appeal for respectful infill densification, the hallmark of Vancouver’s reputation as a truly livable city.
Neighbourhood Residents as per Attached Petition
Cc: Michael Naylor, Rezoning Planner, and Kent Munro, Assistant Planning Director, City of Vancouver