Form Follows…Maybe (CC#97: Half of rezoning applications since the Vancouver election are proposed with no “pretty pictures.” Many have already been approved.) by Brian Palmquist

(City Conversation #97 was first published 20-Jan-2023)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)

We would like to emphasize the significance of the findings Brian reports in this post. Please read carefully. These are major revelations and merit major public attention and public debate.

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January 20th 2022—Updating my Homes for Whom database has revealed some disturbing trends that go against public consultation during rezonings. 

Above: 5 of 9 spot rezonings on the first page of the city’s Shape Your City rezoning site are generic boxes. City staff say “The specific form of development (building design) will be reviewed through a future Development Permit process.”

As mentioned in City Conversation #96, it has become increasingly difficult since the [October] 2022 civic election to find and aggregate development data. It’s there, but Hiding in Plain Sight, meaning very difficult to analyze.

Despite these challenges, in the past few days I killed the brain cells necessary to update the Homes for Whom database, which now includes 424 spot rezoning projects since 2018. Here’s some of what I found:

  • There are now 51 of these generic spot rezonings without illustrations, starting with a trickle in February of 2021, growing to a torrent starting in May 2022. That’s 51 of 424, or 12% since the previous Council started in 2018.
  • 23 of those 51 (45%) have already been approved by Council.
  • Only one of those 23 has proceeded to the next stage, a Development Permit. Notwithstanding the city’s standard wording at rezoning, “The specific form of development (building design) will be reviewed through a future Development Permit process,” that one Development Permit still has no drawings visible to the public.
  • Since the election, 11 of 21 (52%) of spot rezoning applications have been illustrated as these charmless boxes.

I also had a look at the distribution of these formless rezonings. In alphabetical order by neighbourhood:

  • 1 in Arbutus Ridge
  • 5 in Dunbar-Southlands
  • 4 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
  • 1 in Kerrisdale
  • 2 in Marpole
  • 1 in Mount Peasant
  • 13 in Oakridge
  • 7 in RPSC Riley Park
  • 3 in Shaughnessy
  • 13 in RPSC South Cambie
  • 1 in West Point Grey

That’s 11 of Vancouver’s 22 neighbourhoods, fully 50%. For the rest of you, I guess, coming soon!

What can we draw from this data dive:

  • Although these formless proposals have been around for almost two years, only one has proceeded to a Development Permit and none has received a building permit. These were contemplated as a way to expedite permitting for the construction of affordable housing in the city—so far, no result. It feels like they are simply designed to inflate land values for the profit of property flippers.
  • Anecdotally, I have been approached by many citizens who don’t understand that these formless images are not real, further that their concerns continue to apparently be ignored by city staff.

You may have heard that the provincial government has passed legislation allowing, in fact encouraging municipalities to do away with public hearings for projects whose rezoning complies with the community’s Official Community Plan (OCP). Delta has already formally axed them, just before Christmas so few would notice—others are likely to follow.

Vancouver does not specifically have an OCP, but all signals suggest the Vancouver Plan, which the current Council supports, will become our OCP. Spot rezonings have already begun to note that they are compliant with the Vancouver Plan. The signals are clear.

One of my several nightmare scenarios has city staff identifying that these formless proposals comply with the Vancouver Plan, hence the OCP, hence no public hearing is required. It’s not hard to connect those dots.


I struggled for a long time to figure out how to automatically update interested parties about these new and amended applications. If you want to be advised of new and amended rezoning and development applications in your neighbourhood, here’s the process. Note that your email address will sometimes be visible to others, but nothing else:

  1. Send your name and email address to me at bpalmquist@shaw.ca Note that when I send out neighbourhood updates, everybody on my list will see all those email addresses—nothing I can do about that with the Smartsheet technology. Let me know if anyone hassles you and they will be gone. Also, in the interests of civil discourse, I reserve the right to block anyone from access.
  2. Tell me your neighbourhood and subject interests such as the Broadway Plan, the Jericho Lands, etc. I will send you a listing of all of the projects I have tracked in your neighbourhood since 2018, including the URLs I have for Shape Your City websites, referral reports, media articles, etc. thereafter I will send you updates as projects are added, amended or progress. If you are a real data geek and want to be advised of all projects, tell me and prepare for the onslaught! Remember, there are 400+ already!
  3. 3. Send me photos of any new or amended rezoning and DA signs you come across—that’s all I need to add them to the Homes for Whom (HFW) database. You will receive a confirmation with all the data I can find from city sites, and if you wish you will be added to the list of folks to be advised of amendments and progress in that neighbourhood.
  4. Let me know when a project starts construction, preferably with a photo of the site, its address and its signage. The Building Permits (BP) database is completely separate from the Rezoning/DA database—that’s right, the two are not integrated! I mined hundreds of BP projects on that site in order to be able to say it takes an average of 2 years from a completed rezoning to the 1st building permit. 
  5. Send me links to articles about upcoming development in Vancouver—these are often the first announcements of something “coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.” Let me know if you want to be updated on progress on those named projects.
  6. Tell me where I’ve messed up. I’ve captured data so far for 400+ rezoning projects in Vancouver, starting with the 2018-22 Council term. Because city staff don’t tell us what’s amended, delayed or approved, I am sure I will be behind or in error on some projects. Apologies.
  7. Tell me where I can do better. The HFW database is a work in progress. I may be able to improve it based on your thoughts. I will let you know if I can incorporate your suggestions.

The late great architect Mies Van her Rohe coined this phrase to explain his minimalist, modern approach to architecture: “Form follows function.” I now worry that no form will follow at all, at least not before it’s too late.


Today’s questions: Do you think formless rezonings are a good idea? Why or Why not? Also,

Do you want to be advised of new rezoning and DA applications in your neighbourhood? If so, send your name, email address and neighbourhood to me at bpalmquist@shaw.ca 

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