Port expansion and increases in rail traffic. Are improvements needed at Renfrew, Rupert and Boundary Road railroad crossings?

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There’s been a substantial increase in rail traffic over the last few years on the CN tracks that pass through the Grandview Cut. We’ve included several photos of this route in the slideshow above.

The increases in freight rail traffic have consequently led to bottlenecks at the street crossings that are at grade. This impacts not only Prior Street, but also the Renfrew, Slocan, Rupert and Boundary Road crossings. While City Hall approved an underpass for Prior Street back in October of 2019, there’s been on no visible work on this undertaking. As for the major arterial streets of Renfrew, Rupert and Boundary, there’s been no progress on underpasses and overpasses. There would of course be technical challenges to overcome at these locations, such as groundwater from nearby Still Creek at Rupert and the limitations created by the elevated Skytrain tracks (with respect to some overpass options). There’s a section of another railway line that’s buried underground in Vancouver Heights before Second Narrows. This illustrates that it’s also possible to run longer stretches of a railway underground. There’s of course the open question whether any funding would be allocated to address the increases in freight traffic going through the railway crossings at Renfrew, Rupert and Boundary Road. Are there any long-term plans by the City? Or do transportation planners consider this to be a non-issue?

Links
Union, Venables Street Railway Crossings. Delays and more delays (CityHallWatch, Aug 2, 2020)
Protest on Prior: Residents demand traffic calming as staff report goes to City Council (CityHallWatch, Oct 1, 2019)

‘Build A Tiny House’ tagline on for sale sign: A look at the zoning provisions

“Build a tiny house” is the tagline on a for-sale sign in Grandview-Woodland. This property is near Victoria Drive and is zoned as RT-5 (duplex).

The www.zealty.ca website lists this property with a price of $289,000 (1912 William Street), with a 9ft frontage and a 60 ft depth (2.73 x 18.3 m). The lot area will be approximately 540 sq feet or 50.2 sq metres, and zoning allows for an FSR of 0.60. Here it appears that ‘downsizing’ is the name of the game.

What kind of ‘tiny home’ could be built on this site?

Duplexes are out, as the RT-5 zoning district schedule states: 4.1.2. The minimum site area for a Multiple Dwelling shall be 511 m².

The front yard would have to be a minimum of 12 feet (3.66 m): 4.4.1. The required front yard shall be a minimum depth of 7.3 m or 20% of the lot depth, whichever is less.

Side yard setbacks would be calculated at 0.9 feet (0.27 m) on either side, making the building width 7.2 feet or 2.19 m on the exterior (less on the inside due to wall thickness): 4.5.1. A side yard with a minimum width of 10 percent of the width of the site shall be provided on each side of the building, except that it need not be more than 1.5 m in width

A rear yard setback of 35.1 feet (10.7 m) is also stated in the zoning: 4.6.1A rear yard with a minimum depth of 10.7 m shall be provided, or 30% of lot depth for lots with an average depth exceeding 36.5 m.

There would of course be possibilities for variances and for the discretion of the Director of Planning to provide relaxations to the RT-5 zoning. However, regardless, a lot that is 9 feet wide would still only permit a tiny house. Perhaps a design competition could yield some interesting ideas on what kind of ‘tiny house’ could be built on this site.

For context, here’s the outline of the property in VanMap:

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Westbank defects in Kensington Gardens and Vancouver House, plus some background

HVAC changes at Westbank’s 2220 Kingsway on May 1, 2021. Kensington Gardens was completed in 2018

Westbank’s (CEO Ian Gillespie) luxury developments have recently run into a spate of reports of defects in the completed projects. This post touches on rapportage about these incidents, plus some contextual information about the relationship between major developers and the City, and links to social media coverage and discussions added at the bottom.

The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at the “Kensington Gardens” (three 17-storey towers at 2220 Kingsway in Vancouver) were recently changed a couple of times as reported on social media by @jonesj. Since they are installed in the rooftop, this is a big deal.

A couple of weeks ago residents posted footage online of flooding in the Vancouver House project, affecting 20 floors, with the water running into condo units, down and out of elevator shafts, down the emergency escape stairs, and flowing into the underground parkade.

Did buyers expect luxury both inside and out from the Vancouver House? Commenters gave analogies of selling Lamborghinis and delivering Fords. Or perhaps it is like buying a Ferrari on the outside but getting a Fiat on the inside.

One way of looking at this and many other phenomena City Hall watchers observe is that Vancouver is witnessing the symptoms of late-stage “regulatory capture” (see our 2015 post – Is this what’s wrong with Vancouver City Hall?). This idea is worth further exploration. It leads to a deep question for a future post: How can a City move beyond late-stage regulatory capture?

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Development applications snapshot 1-May-2021

Example of a development application sign

As a free public service CityHallWatch has for many years been taking a monthly snapshot of rezoning and development applications from the City of Vancouver website and making them available on our website.

IMPORTANT: In recent months, the City has completely stopped updating its rezoning (vancouver.ca/rezapps) and development application (vancouver.ca/devapps) web pages and shifted to a very different format called “Shape Your City.” Some changes may make it more user friendly, but some changes have reduced information transparency and accessibility. On Shape Your City, you only see the applications the City wants you to see right now and the rest of the information disappears. We will do a separate analysis of that at a later date.

If you see any of concern, please spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested. Our archive goes back years and is not available anywhere else. Even the City does not provide this information.

The City has stopped providing a map showing applications, so we must now create our own static snapshot version using Google Maps. Click HERE to see the current map.

Listed below (generated by webscraping shapeyourcity.ca as the City no longer updates their addresses and links on development.vancouver.ca or vancouver.ca/devapps webpages): Continue reading

Rezoning applications snapshot, 1-May-2021

Example of a rezoning application information sign

As a free public service CityHallWatch has for many years been taking a monthly snapshot of rezoning and development applications from the City of Vancouver website and making them available on our website.

The lists contain valuable information on each application (all now being done online during the era of COVID). If you see any of concern, please spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested. Our archive goes back years and is not available anywhere else. Even the City does not provide this information.

IMPORTANT: In recent months, the City has completely stopped updating its rezoning (vancouver.ca/rezapps) and development application (vancouver.ca/devapps) web pages and shifted to a very different format called “Shape Your City.” Some changes may make it more user friendly, but some changes have reduced information transparency and accessibility. On Shape Your City, you only see the applications the City wants you to see right now and the rest of the information disappears. The City has essentially made it impossible for web crawlers their new “Shape Your City” portal. We will do a separate analysis of that at a later date.

We’ve created our own static snapshot version map using Google Maps. Click HERE to see the current map for May 2021.

Below is our list of rezoning applications created as of 1-May-2021. Continue reading

Laneway house on corner lot

Corner lots can make excellent sites for laneway houses. Here’s an example from Garden Drive and East 7th Avenue. The laneway house directly addresses the street, Garden Drive, as there’s a doorway and path leading to the sidewalk. An open question is whether the City is actively looking at improving the permitting process for allowing laneway houses. Could there be further opportunities to help incentivize the construction of laneway houses specifically on corner lots?

This site previously had a garage in the laneway: Continue reading

Retail gentrification: Do new developments favour chain stores?

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The slideshow shows three recently-completed developments with 6-storey buildings. The new occupants of the retail space mostly appear to be chain stores and medical clinics. In areas with a rich tapestry of local stores and services, is it only chain stores and medical clinics that compete for the new space? Could smaller storefronts, with narrow frontages (for example 25 feet or just a bit more) encourage a wider range of services and more appeal and variety of the street front? What are the effects of high ceilings on the ground floor — in terms of building costs, rent costs, look, feel and ambiance? Are business improvement associations (BIAs, which often speak up at Public Hearings to endorse rezoning and development applications) talking to their existing members to get input on what kinds of developments/buildings will help them survive and thrive? How can the City and developers ensure that small shops and businesses (traditional and startups both) survive and thrive when existing commercial sites are demolished and redeveloped? Or does the appearance of a development application sign in front of a building automatically and inevitably mean the death knell for those existing shops and businesses that add so much to the feel, culture and richness of — and love for — a neighbourhood? These are things for everyone to consider, not the least being our planners and elected officials.

Geographic distribution of hotels purchased for social housing

We’ve created this simple map that plots the geographic location of hotels and other buildings that were purchased by the BC government. In an article from the CBC, reporter Justin McElroy tabulated the purchase prices for the hotels and other buildings that were purchased to provide housing for people without homes. In total, the purchase price was around $250 million for approximately 750 beds. It might be worth noting that not a single building purchased is on the west side of Vancouver. The map shows that these new facilities are clustered around Strathcona, the downtown peninsula and along the Kingsway corridor.


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Public Art: The Proud Youth

The Proud Youth is one of the installations in the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum. The piece is located on the Yaletown seawall along Drake Street. We’ve included a few photos for reference. Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit charitable organization that “exhibits great art in public space, creating a catalyst for learning, community engagement, dialogue, and social action,” with a mission “to make Public Art accessible, engaging, and motivating to create vibrant and inspired communities” (more information here https://www.vancouverbiennale.com). A heartfelt thank you to Vancouver Biennale!

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