6 FSR. What does it look like? A mini-briefing on visualizing density

Photos: 5.98 FSR (124 Dunlevy at Alexander)

What does “6 FSR” look like? City Councillor Christine Boyle’s rejected motion to Vancouver City Council in May 2021 called for the launch of a process for staff to consider zoning changes to allow for properties to have a maximum Floor Space Ratio of 6.0 and a height of up to 12-storeys to be built in most parts of Vancouver, while eliminating the requirement for public hearings. This could have seen changes for RM-3A and RM-4 zones this year, and Clr Boyle also target all RT, RM, and C zones (click to expand map with blue shading indicating how much of Vancouver this covers; and mainstream media don’t help — CBC’s Justin McElroy significantly understated the area coverage, and he and CBC ignored our requests to correct his article). The public and the majority on Council could see where this was going, which led to its rejection.

Map: RM, RT, RS, CM zoning districts in Vancouver as of 17-May-2021. Credit VanMap

While 12-storeys is fairly easy to visualize (typically but not always about 9-10 feet per floor), Floor Space Ratio, used as a measure of density (more details below), is a much more nebulous metric to the average citizen. We’ve included a few examples of buildings in Vancouver that have a density of between 5 and 6 FSR. This is the kind of density for housing that had been proposed as outright and thus not requiring a public hearing provided it met the City’s current definition of “social housing,” which could mean the entire building is dubbed “social housing” even if it is up to 70% market-priced rental. Numbers get thrown around, and professional planners and architects may intuitively grasp what they mean. But for the majority of residents, and perhaps even the majority of our elected officials, it could be more difficult to picture what is being proposed.

To illustrate the basics of density, we’ve created the following simple “massing” model using Unreal Engine (this app is a free download available here).

Floor Space Ratio is Vancouver’s measure of density. There is a more general planning term of coverage that is used to describe density. A very simple way to look at FSR is it’s a calculation of the total floor area of a building above grade (minus exclusions) and then divided by the area of the lot. The higher the FSR, the higher the density. Other municipalities may call this calculation a “Floor Area Ratio” or “Floor Space Index,” but the general principle is the same. In Vancouver there is some floor area that can be excluded from the calculations such as closet space and amenities (in other municipalities may be presented as a general “wastage” factor; it varies by locale). For the illustrations of FSR we’ve assumed an exclusion of about 16%.

Buildings are almost never constructed as straight extrusions from the property line. For an example of a 12-storey building with a Floor Space Ratio of 6.0, we’ve provided a couple of simple massing model illustrations. The 12-storey massing model has setbacks, a floor height of 2.75m (9 feet) and it has a site coverage of approximately 58%.

Above: 5.05 FSR (220 Princess at Powell)

Above left and right: 5.45 FSR (1st Ave and Main)

Above left and right: 5.09 FSR (Ontario and 2nd Avenue)

The following photo shows a property that has 3.0 FSR in comparison:

Above: 970 Union Street by comparison has a FSR of 3.0

Links
Epic Games Unreal Engine Download
124 Dunlevy at Alexander: https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/CD-1(709).pdf
CD-1(526): https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/CD-1(526).PDF
1st and Main: https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/cd-1(478).PDF
Ontario and 2nd Avenue 5.09 FSR: https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/CD-1(506).PDF
970 Union Street 3.0 FSR: https://cd1-bylaws.vancouver.ca/CD-1(505).PDF

One thought on “6 FSR. What does it look like? A mini-briefing on visualizing density

  1. This is a great primer on density and massing. Bravo. I especially like this line:

    “Numbers get thrown around, and professional planners and architects may intuitively grasp what they mean. But for the majority of residents, and perhaps even the majority of our elected officials, it could be more difficult to picture what is being proposed.”

    So true. Developers and their architects can “push” the building mass around within an “envelope”, and they often do this. The twelve storey tower portion of building is set close to the road and far from the lane, in order to maximize views and maximize distance from a neighbouring building.

    Then, due to neighbour objections or public input at a consultation, the tower is “pushed” to the other side of the site, or the top of the building is “modified” to reduce shading impacts. But it never gets any smaller! Often, the building gets even larger, but with more “articulation”.

    Then, after some more public or stakeholder input, the building is pushed some other way. Before long, all of the public is confused and frustrated, and only the developer and the architect know what is being proposed.

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