(Updated with references at bottom)
Consider this another mini-case study of how planning is currently being done in the City of Vancouver. It is by no means an exception these days.
Below is an open letter we received from the West Kitsilano Residents Association. The existing zoning in this area was the result of an extensive public consultation process over the course of years in the early 1990s, culminating in a mail-in referendum for 100% of residents. In contrast, in the final few months of the current regime in 2018, changes to zoning are buried in huge reports, come forward with no direct notification to affected residents, include important changes introduced by a last-minute motion by Mayor Robertson (not even fellow Councillors would have known it was coming), and could be quietly and quickly approved by City Council during the summer holiday season. Below is an analysis of the situation that could soon affect RT-7 and RT-8 zones within a matter of weeks. At present, no one knows exactly when this will go to a Public Hearing, there are guesses it could be as soon as late August after just one information meeting.
WKRA is raising concerns about a possible increase in demolitions, loss of existing affordable housing, loss of character homes and more. Stay tuned.
Excerpt: Many residents are open to the idea of reviewing the current RT-7 and RT-8 by-laws to determine if changes are needed, but we need an open process that gives residents a say in the kind of changes to be introduced and a deeper, more thoughtful analysis of the potential impacts of those changes. (West Kitsilano Residents Association)
“Residents react to stealthy zoning changes for their neighbourhood”
(Open letter from West Kitsilano Residents Association, July 14, 2018)
Have you heard of the City’s proposed changes to zoning regulations for Kitsilano and other areas? Would you like to be consulted before such changes are approved?
Over a period of several years in the 1990s, hundreds of Kitsilano residents took part in a neighbourhood zoning review and and worked with the city to create a new RT7 and RT8 zoning by-law that reflected the high value that residents placed on the character and heritage of their neighbourhood and that has governed development ever since.
This zoning was in response to the demolition of many character and heritage houses and their replacement with new duplexes that usually had fewer units and fewer people. The new zoning encouraged the reuse and recycling of character houses into multiple ground oriented units rather than their demolition and redevelopment.
Since their adoption, these by-laws turned the RT-7 and RT-8 zoned areas of Kitsilano (both West Kitsilano west of Larch and the Kitsilano Arbutus area east and west of Arbutus Street) into examples used by many urban commentators as to how density can be absorbed into a neighbourhood while retaining green space, character and heritage. The zoning has led to a variety of housing outcomes with some houses becoming strata conversions into 2 to 4 or 5 units per house and some on larger lots adding infill units. Others have various rental and ownership/rental combinations and many non-character sites have had new development. This RT-7 and RT-8 by-law dramatically slowed the loss of many affordable rental units. New development follows design guidelines in order to be compatible with the existing architecture.
On June 20, 2018, planners brought forward to council a motion to approve preparations to change this zoning to ”rebalance” retention with more opportunities for new development in a way similar to that of the RT5 zoning changes that were adopted by Council last January that allows strata infill and strata laneways on smaller lots, more demolition, and new development without design control. This preparation is now going on behind closed doors with NO communication to the neighbourhood despite letters from many residents calling for neighbourhood involvement in the planning process. Planners propose to prepare this rezoning and have it referred to public hearing BEFORE they notify residents. They suggest that one information meeting AFTER referral to public hearing will be the only public process. Referral to public hearing could occur as early as late August or September. We need to let City Council and the planners know we want our voices heard in any policy process with such important proposed changes.
This is one of the “QuickStart” actions for the “Making Room” housing programme and yet, for over 20 years, Kitsilano’s RT-7 and RT-8 neighbourhoods have been ‘making room’ for exactly the type of ‘missing middle’ housing that is in short supply in Vancouver.
In addition, council passed a motion calling for planners to prepare zoning as soon as possible to allow triplexes, quadriplexes, and small apartment buildings throughout all RT and RS zones in the city and to reduce parking and setback requirements to ensure these can be built.
What would this mean for Kitsilano?
• upzoning to allow any form of multi-unit development including quadriplexes and small apartment buildings throughout our character and heritage areas of Kitsilano as well as other areas of the city and the loss of many existing affordable rentals and many heritage and character houses.
• new development with no design controls
• reduction or elimination of parking requirements
• changes to setbacks
Many residents are open to the idea of reviewing the current RT-7 and RT-8 by-laws to determine if changes are needed, but we need an open process that gives residents a say in the kind of changes to be introduced and a deeper, more thoughtful analysis of the potential impacts of those changes. As just one example, there is a concern that incentives and increased opportunities for strata infill will be a powerful impetus for the redevelopment of our older affordable rental conversion dwellings.
We are continuing to advocate for an open public process and are alerting our neighbourhood to the stealthy and hurried rezoning process currently underway.
Board of Directors, West Kitsilano Residents Association
WKRA has been trying to reach personnel in the City’s planning department to obtain more information. No response at all as of July 16, 2018.
On June 20, 2018. motions passed by City Council included asking planners to change infill rules but — much more significant — to also potentially change RT-8 and RT-7 zoning to make it similar to RT-5 zoning. See “Housing Vancouver Update” (Item 4) at the June 20 Council meeting (includes documents and video links).
The current differences between RT-5 and current rules in RT-7 and RT-8 zones are significant, with laneway housing and more infill, more outright new construction, two-lot assemblies for new multiple dwellings, smaller front yards, changes to rules to qualify as character housing as well as allowing demolition of character buildings if they are not part of a “character streetscape,” and much higher densities for RT7.
For further research, have a look at RT-7 and RT-8 bylaws and, just as important, RT-7 and RT-8 Guidelines and compare with the RT-5 bylaw and guidelines. This link has a good summary.
Kitsilano’s RT7 and RT8 Character Zoning under Threat
On June 20, we were stunned and shocked by motions passed by city council with NO neighbourhood consultation.
These motions are part of a larger programme aimed at rezoning the entire city for more development.
The motions passed by council that directly apply to West Kitsilano were:
To direct staff to prepare and bring forward for referral to public hearing, amendments to the RT7 and RT8 zoning to update and expand housing choice in line with the RT5 District Schedule
To adopt amendments to RT7 and RT8 Guidelines to allow more lots in Kitsilano with an existing character house to qualify for rearyard infill
In addition, a last minute motion from Gregor Robertson was approved to direct staff to prepare to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadriplexes and multiplexes (ie small apartment buildings) in all lower density zones including our RT7 and RT8 zoning and to relax parking requirements and setbacks to ensure this can occur.
You can read the council report here
Making Room Housing Program
Note this quote from the report:
“Changes to RT7 and RT8 zones are needed to rebalance character retention objectives with the delivery of new housing opportuntities.”
This statement implies that character retention in RT7 and RT8 does not also allow for a range of housing opportunities. This is not so!
WKRA is still trying to get clarification from planners as to the details involved, but it is clear that the RT5 zoning allows significantly higher FSR’s, has fewer design guidelines, and many more infill and laneway housing opportunities.
A major outcome of these changes would be to the benefit of developers and could lead to much more strata titling, loss of green space, and loss of affordable rental.
Planners said that there will be NO neighbourhood information or notification until AFTER the changes are referred to public hearing.
On the other hand, many Vancouver citizens believe that neighbourhoods should be involved from the outset in any changes proposed for their neighbourhoods.
Once a staff report goes before a Council meeting and is referred to Public Hearing, it becomes increasingly difficult for affected communities to provide any meaningful public input.