Arbutus Ridge Development 2118 West 15th

ALERT: Citizens from across Vancouver are encourage to support the community and scrutinize the Development Permit Board meeting at 3 pm, Monday, October 22, 2012.

Development Permit Board Meeting
Monday, October 22 at 3 pm
City Hall, 453 West 12th Avenue
1st Floor, Town Hall Meeting Room
to consider this development permit application:
2118 West 15th Avenue:
To develop this site with a five-story, mixed-use building containing commercial units on the ground floor with 52 residential units above, all over three levels of underground parking with vehicle access from the lane.

Below are excerpts from community members:

We hope that that the Board will not give conditional approval to the fifth storey, which would mean that the developer could come back with an application for a four-storey building that does not exceed the 45 ft. height permissible under C-2 Zoning. That would be better than the five storeys currently being proposed. It would not, however, necessarily deal with the other concerns we have of a City give-away of land to the benefit of the developer, the demolition of the bowling alley and the Ridge Theatre, and the severe traffic problems caused by pushing all traffic onto the narrow back lane and neighbourhood streets.

One egregious piece of new information revealed by planner Paul Cheng at the meeting is that staff are recommending that the City sell a 7 ft. wide strip of land along the front of the building to the developer so that he would have the necessary width to build the three levels of parking he is proposing. Essentially, this means that the City planners are complicit in assisting the developer to do exactly what he wants, and there is no word on what benefit the community would get from the sale of this land, just as there is no benefit to the community by giving the remaining City owned land over to the developer to make into a so-called plaza.

The most impressive part of the October 9 meeting was the outpouring of emotion and good common sense from the bowlers who came out in force to tell the City bureaucrats what the Varsity Ridge Bowling Centre means to them. The letter below sent to the Mayor and Councillors after the meeting by Geraldine Schwartz captures the full impact of this experience and I encourage you to read it in full.


Letter to Mayor and Council…

Kits-Arbutus Residents Association
c/o 2125 West 15th Avenue
Vancouver B.C.  V6K 2Y4
16th October, 2012
Mayor and Members of Vancouver City Council
The Development Permit Board
City Manager and Director of Planning
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver B.C.  V5Y 1V4
Dear Mayor and  Council Members, Members of the Development Permit Board, and City Manager and Director of Planning:
Re:  Proposed Development at 3100 Block Arbutus Street
       DE 414745 
       (“The Ridge Theatre Site”)
“DE414745 Must Be Revised to Create a Socially and Architecturally Appropriate Development”.
Our Strong Request
At the Development Permit Board Meeting of 9th October, 2012, the Board heard overwhelming response from the community, particularly from the bowling and developmentally challenged community, regarding how the local neighbourhood and indeed the City as a whole, would be culturally, recreationally and socially diminished with the Cressey proposal. The community appreciates very much that the Board decided to defer its decision on the Cressey application, until more information is gathered by staff on the neighbourhood context for the application.
However, the community found it most disconcerting that the City has apparently agreed to sell Cressey a block-long 7 foot wide strip of land along Arbutus Street, allowing the development proposal to maximize parking numbers and hence allow significantly more floor space and building height than is the norm along Arbutus in this neighbourhood.
We urge the Development Permit Board to reject this application, and send it back to staff for a review of the core uses proposed for the site, and for an investigation into options to incorporate City land holdings into the overall site development.  The goal would be to incorporate the Bowling Alley and the Ridge Theatre shell into a significant re-design of the subject development proposal. 
 Who We Are
KARA is a community forum for neighbours concerned about development issues in the area generally bounded by 4th Avenue to the north, 16th Avenue to the south, Burrard Street to the east and MacDonald Street to the west. KARA is currently involved in expressing community viewpoints on the development application filed by Cressey Developments for the property known as the Ridge Theatre site.
Our Mandate to Make Input
The C-2 zoning schedule stipulates that if the subject application involves a Conditional Use Approval, or relaxations associated with building height or setbacks, then the Director of Planning and the Development Permit Board [DP Board] shall take into account the submission of any advisory group, property owner or tenant, as well as all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council.
KARA  represents a large number of local property owners and tenants, and as expressed at the meeting of the Development Permit Board on 9th October, 2012, we have strong concerns about the subject application not being consistent with long-standing Council policies.
With the goal in mind of trying to make the subject proposal more responsive to the neighbourhood context and to City-wide social and recreational needs, we offer the following for the information and subsequent action of the DP Board.
1.   Make the City a True Partner in the Proposed Project
The City has agreed to sell a 7 foot strip of land along Arbutus to Cressey to make a 113 foot deep site into a 120 foot deep site. Doing so enables Cressey to plan for an efficient underground parking garage, that maximizes parking numbers. Higher parking numbers mean that it is now possible for the developer to propose floor space to the absolute maximum amount conditionally allowed, and to propose a fifth storey for the project. This makes the proposed project oversized and out of context with other commercial and mixed-use market developments that exist along Arbutus. (And the extra height is particularly out of context as a mixed-use market development on the Ridge site, which is the highest point of land on this part of the Arbutus corridor).
The proposed project also removes the long-standing uses of the Bowling Alley and the Theatre, which also have a valuable mid-century modern architectural character, and in the case of the Bowling Alley, serve the social and recreational needs of the City in a caring and unique way.
Since with the sale of the 7 foot strip the City is enabling the development to maximize its market potential, at the expense of the wider community, KARA strongly suggests that the City should net a bigger share of public benefits that might accrue from this development, than is presently contained in the Cressey proposal.  The City must become a true partner in the project, not just a market development enabler.
2.   Negotiate with Cressey to Amalgamate City Lands with Private Lands to Generate Greater Public Benefit
The City should look at development options that combine the un-needed block-long Arbutus ROW lands, with the Cressey holdings. Presently these potential “let-go” lands (shown as “park” in the Cressey scheme), are in the order of magnitude of approximately 10,000 sq.ft. in area. As the regional water main easement is located to the east of these lands, as much as about 7500 sq.ft. of the “let-go” ROW land is developable, and could be joined to the Cressey holdings.
The value of these lands as pre-zoned C-2 property is at least $4.5 million, and is probably more when the land over the easement is included in the potential buildable floor space created by existing zoning.
It is KARA’s strong suggestion that the City negotiate amalgamating these lands with Cressey’s to create a larger development site, and use the value of the City land holdings to negotiate  public benefits in the new larger development.
3.   Public Benefits for the Larger Development Site  –  Saving the Bowling Alley
      with a Revitalized Ridge Theatre Above.
KARA supports retaining the Ridge Theatre shell with the Bowling Alley below, and placing new development on the southerly half of the Cressey site, and on the Arbutus ROW, where it could create a higher, and more urban edge.
The footprint of the Bowling Alley is about 14,000 sq.ft., which is sufficient area for the development of a new 3-screen, more viable Ridge Theatre over. The revitalized theatre would serve as a new cultural center for the west side of the City, and the Bowling Alley would be retained to remain the vital social and recreational centre that it is today.
The monies needed to support this development and the land required would be generated by the pre-zoned City land holdings and the benefit the developer would get by being allowed to maximize its development potential on the larger southerly portion of the new larger site.
Incidentally, this scenario is precisely what was proposed by Vancouver City Planners working with the surrounding neighbourhood as part of the CityPlan Community Visioning for the ARKS neighbourhood in 2004. KARA strongly supports the substance of this previous work by Vancouver City Planning, and wonders why this work was not used to inform the City’s review of the Cressey application.
4.   Create a More Council Policy-Responsive Residential Component for the New  
      Larger Development
The new Residential Component would ideally provide a wider range of housing options, that would be more consistent with existing Council policy, than is the subject Cressey development application.
Consistent with existing Council initiatives, the new Residential Component should increase the number of units to be constructed, and provide for some smaller units, to enhance housing affordability.  As well, underground parking stall numbers should be greatly reduced to also enhance housing affordability.
5.   Create a More Neighbourhood-Responsive Commercial Component for the New Larger Development
The proposed 20,000 sq.ft. grocery store is out of scale in the neighbourhood context, and duplicates and threatens existing grocery businesses in our neighbourhood. To enhance the character of the burgeoning Arbutus “high street”, the new larger development should feature many smaller retail storefronts, not just one major tenant.
6.   Create a Transit-Oriented New Development
The existing Cressy proposal is automobile-oriented, with a parking numbers maximized. This is counter to Council policy for our growing more pedestrian-oriented City. The new development should emphasize transit, and walking and biking access. This is particularly appropriate as one day the Arbutus Rail ROW will function as an expanded transit corridor.
For the above reasons, KARA has rallied the community to oppose DE414745 as presented. We believe the application has to be significantly re-worked in order for it to make a positive long-term contribution to our neighbourhood.
KARA urges the Development Permit Board to vote for Refusal of the application as submitted, and requests that the core design principles for the development be reconsidered and reworked, and that the City negotiate to amalgamate its land holdings with those of Cressey, so that a new larger development may make a meaningful contribution to enhancing the cultural, social and business life of our community.
We urge the Development Permit Board to make the appropriate decision and so help create a more appropriate form of development, and sense of fit in the neighbourhood, for Cressey’s Ridge Development in Kitsilano, including saving and revitalizing the existing Varsity Ridge Bowling and Ridge Theatre uses and structures. With such a development scenario, the Kits-Arbutus Residents Association would make its resources readily available to assist all parties to advance the planning and approvals process in a timely manner.
 Thank you for considering our proposal.
Yours truly,
Desmond Berghofer
for The Kitsilano – Arbutus Residents Association [KARA]
Dear Mayor and Councillors and Members of the Development Permit Board:
Do not break the Social Contract between the elected officials of the City of Vancouver, including the City planners who represent you, and the citizens of Vancouver who elected you.
The substance of this letter refers to DE414745, “The Ridge Theatre Site.”
It is incumbent on politicians and those in the bureaucracy who make decisions on behalf of the citizens to follow your own rules in serving us, and to keep the social contract between elected officials, including those who represent you, and the citizens who elect you to office.
The Code of Conduct of the City of Vancouver states: “Council officials, staff, and advisory body members are expected to make decisions that benefit the community. . .”
The C-2 zoning schedule stipulates that if the the subject application involves a Conditional Use Approval, or relaxations associated with building height or setbacks, then the Director of Planning and the Development Permit Board shall take into account the submission of any advisory group, property owner or tenant, as well as all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council.
The standing room only, massively attended meeting of the October 9 Development Permit Board made clear that the community residents association and scores of owners and residents strongly object to the approval of DE414745 for the following overarching reasons.
The City planners working with Cressey Developments, entirely without community input, supported the creation of a completed proposal that is diametrically opposed to community interests.
  • It does not give consideration to the preservation of priceless community people-oriented amenities like the Varsity Ridge Bowling Centre for undetermined “economic reasons” with no details provided.
  • It creates the potential for serious and damaging traffic chaos, especially in winter conditions, by taking away all available street level parking currently provided on City land while providing for a massive three levels of underground parking with exclusive ingress and egress from the narrow lane at the back, forcing drivers to enter Arbutus Street from the steep slope on 15th Avenue or face the calming circles on 15th Avenue and Yew Street, thus creating potential traffic jams throughout the neighbourhood where children and elderly pedestrians can currently walk in safety. While this issue was raised on October 9 by several speakers, it was dismissed in the following discussion by the Board and not considered in any serious way at the October 9 meeting. Relying on after-the-fact traffic management techniques will merely cement into place a problem that could have been avoided in the first place.
In order to proceed with construction Cressey Developments is asking for the following discretionary relaxations and consideration from the City:
  • A fifth storey making it the highest building on Arbutus Street, amplified by its position on the high point of the ridge, well beyond the height of other buildings on Arbutus Street, in order to sell an extra 20,000 square feet of view space.
  • Relaxation of easements 60 years old on 15th and 16th Avenues to increase building space for further profit.
  • Excessive parking of almost 2 cars for each of 52 units requiring the acquisition of a 7 foot strip of City land in front of the proposed development.
These discretionary concessions and sale of City assets with no benefit to the community are strongly opposed by the community.
The cost of providing the excessive parking for the proposed 52 suites will place the price of the suites well outside what is affordable to many city residents, thus contradicting Council’s aim to create affordable housing in Vancouver. The excessive parking in well-served public transportation corridors on Arbutus Street and 16th Avenue is directly against City policy of reducing parking allotments where public transit is easily available.
Given all of the above, one cannot conceive how City officials, advisory board members, or politicians can legitimately claim that Cressey Developments has earned the right to these discretionary relaxations.
When City staff produce the actual dimensions of all existing C-2 developments on the Arbutus corridor, they will show what any member of the public with eyes to see already knows, that this proposed building will substantially exceed the height and mass of all others. The proposal should be rejected on the basis of that alone. When the adverse impacts of the development on the community, including the loss of existing social and cultural amenities, are also considered, the case against granting the developer discretionary approval is overwhelming. No amount of technical design conditions to improve “neighbourliness”, however that word is defined, can compensate for the excesses of the proposal and the lack of benefits to the community.
Mr. Mayor, Councillors, Members of the Development Permit Board, the issues raised in this letter are now a matter of public record all over the City. They have been well covered in the press, on television, on the cityhallwatch website, on Frances Bula’s blog, by distribution of electronic communications, and by personal witness of hundreds of citizens.
The issues are known, so are the rules for considering them, as stated above. No one, except the City planners and the developer, has stood up to defend the value of this proposal. Right action is clear. Reject DE414745 and send the proposal back to the drawing board for reconsideration in which the various assets of the City can be combined with the right of the developer for reasonable return. Substantial creative possibilities are waiting for a real hearing that can result in a landmark Arbutus-centred building that incorporates space for public amenities funded by the developer in exchange for City assets.
We ask for leadership, ethical leadership, to allow passage for an inspirational opportunity to embrace rather than fight the community of Kitsilano and the citizens of Vancouver. We ask the Development Permit Board to reject the proposal and for the City not to gift taxpayer-funded City property without a decent return for the neighbourhood in which the development sits.
Instead we ask City planners to work with the developer and the community residents in partnership to achieve a landmark outcome for the Arbutus ridge property as gateway to the Arbutus corridor and as a lighthouse development for a 21st century city.
Geraldine Schwartz PhD
Member of the Steering Committee
Kitsilano Arbutus Residents Association

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