What’s at stake in Fairview (CC#78: our Broadway Plan models, called ‘just plain wrong,’ become ‘pretty much right’) by Brian Palmquist

(City Conversation #78 was first published 8-Sep-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatch, please visit this page.)

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September 8th 2022—4th in a series about what the recently approved Broadway & Vancouver Plans mean for each of the city’s 23 existing neighbourhoods. 1540 West 10th Avenue is a five minute walk from tomorrow evening’s Mayoral Candidate meeting.

 The Broadway Plan view up Fairview Slopes—2538 & 1477 are approved—1540 West 10th (outlined in red) was announced this week—image by Stephen Bohus, BLA

“Why is there a red rectangle around that building at the right of your model photo?” asked my son, “And why are you dredging up yesterday’s news about your modelling of the Broadway Plan?” He had been following my antics for some time. “I thought you’d moved on to the Vancouver Plan?”

“Yes and no,” I answered, “Sometimes reality overtakes conjecture.” He gave me his Huh? look. “When Stephen Bohus modelled this area as part of our concerns around the Broadway Plan, we built it from the words in the Broadway Plan. You’ll recall at the time that city staff, some journalists and many on social media said we were exaggerating or were just wrong.” He nodded, remembering the sometimes withering attacks on our work.

‘Earlier this week a development proposal was announced for 1540 West 10th Ave. It’s exactly the height and positioning of what we modelled some months ago. And at the time, city staff said our model was stark because we did not include the lower level podiums that they would be insisting on. So guess what this looks like?” I showed him an artists rendering:

 Preliminary conceptual artistic rendering of 1540 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver. (Office of Mcfarlane Biggar Architects & Designers/Reliance Properties)

He stared at the  model for a few more moments. “I recognize those buildings—this is only a block from where I live!” He was beginning to sound a bit alarmed. He rents a studio in an older, three storey walkup building that was recently sold.

Yes,” I answered, sympathy in my voice. “I did say you were moving into redevelopment crosshairs in that location.” I continued.

“To be fair, this specific proposal is on an existing parking lot.” He nodded agreement after a moment. “We tried to be realistic when we were modelling, so placed one of the many permitted high-rises flanking Granville Street on this parking lot. But notice there’s no podium—I actually have no issue with the rather spartan character of the building, but had to laugh when I saw it had no podium. I guess our modelling was more accurate than our critics suggested.”

He looked back at the modelling picture again. “What are the other two buildings with addresses attached to them?”

“They are two projects that were approved in advance of the Broadway Plan. 2538 Birch started life as a 16-storey high-rise, which the Fairview community was prepared to accept—then the proposal morphed into 28 storeys with no consultation, which created great community upset and distrust. It was nonetheless approved.”

“What’s its status now?” he asked.

“Well, the old Dennys was demolished pretty quickly after the spot rezoning was received. It’s been a vacant site for the past year, even though a Development Permit was issued in July 2021. No building construction permits have even been applied for.”

“So what’s up?” he persisted, so I answered. “I’m speculating somewhat, but have heard through the grapevine that the entire project is for sale.” He interrupted.

“But why would that be, after all the trouble and community upset you say the height increase caused?”

“Well,” I answered after a moment’s careful thought, “a 28-storey building is worth much more than a 16-storey building.” He interrupted again—“Isn’t that what you and others call land inflation.”

“Yes,” I answered, smiling that he had picked up the jargon. “Many folks have been arguing that every time a building is approved at a substantially greater height or density than what the pre-existing zoning allows, that just inflates the value of the land, hence the eventual sale or rental costs passed on to future owners or tenants.” He frowned, gave his head a shake and returned his gaze to the model photo.

“What about the project marked 1477?” he asked.

“That project was approved at 39 storeys just before the Broadway Plan was approved. The community was if anything even more upset than about 2538 Birch, because it was a true cart before the horse event, with city staff saying the 39 storeys was justified because it would be permitted by the Broadway Plan—except that Plan had not yet been approved.” He frowned. I continued.

“Furthermore, the project was already under construction, but only as a five storey building. There was some evidence that city staff had encouraged requesting a height extension for years before the eventual proposal.” He raised his eyebrows but I continued. “In any event, only Councillors Colleen Hardwick and Jean Swanson voted against the project. After the rezoning approval, the height was eventually increased to 40 storeys.” He interrupted yet again.

“How can the building height be increased after the rezoning is approved at a specific height?”

“It happens increasingly,” I responded. “Storeys have been added between rezoning and Development Permit, and even between Development and Building Permits. It’s occurred here in Fairview, also in Kits, along the Cambie Corridor and in the West End—but those are just the recent projects I’m aware of.”

He looked again at the 1540 West 10th rendering, which did not extend to the top of the building (although others do).

“So,” he looked worried now, “this might grow taller between now and actual construction?”

I smiled gently. “In the words of the villain in the TV series House of Cards, “You might well believe that, but I couldn’t possibly comment!””

The Time for Action will soon be too late

This Conversation is published before the September 9 (tomorrow) Mayoral Candidate meeting in the Fairview/South Granville area. Please let me know what pre-election activities are happening in your neighbourhood—I will try to order my neighbourhood-based analyses to have maximum impact.

 TEAM for a Livable Vancouver is the only political party pledged to set aside the Vancouver Plan and the related Broadway Plan. Vancouver’s civic election is October 15th of this year. Lots more damage can still be done to our city before that date—and it will continue, and worsen, unless you elect TEAM’s Colleen Hardwick as next Mayor and a majority (6 of 10) City Councillors—less than 6 and not much will change for the better. A majority TEAM Park Board (4 of 7) will ensure our open spaces are integrated with the city rather than ignoring or fighting it. If you are concerned that the City Conversations you’ve been reading are examples of what’s wrong with our city and want to bring back Vancouver’s livability, join TEAM and work with us to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.

And please let me know what other subjects you are passionate about so we can have that conversation before election day, October 15th.


Today’s question: Do you like what’s proposed for your neighbourhood? Why or why not? 

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