All About Affordability, Part 3 (City Conversations No One Else is Having #6, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.” This one is Part 3 of his “All About Affordability” series, featuring his affordability triage analysis.

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“I think I have the beginnings of some solutions.” I smiled at my son as we ate our Granville Island breakfast before our regular bike ride. “But I had to turn things on their head a bit.”

He looked puzzled. “Okay, I’ll bite, how did you invert what we talked about last ride?”

“I’m glad you challenged me to explain how to implement my six Ideas to tackle affordability,” I continued. “In terms of “bang for the buck,” it was immediately clear to me that I had the simplest ideas, what folks like to call the “low hanging fruit,” at the bottom of my list, when they really should be at the top.” I turned my notebook so it faced him, with the table that’s at the top of this post. “After our ride, I’ll explain why it’s more logical to start with Build easier than Build higher.

He gave me one of those Whatever, Dad looks and pushed off on his bike.

I used my bike time to organize my thoughts. I was more than a little intimidated—not so much by my son, although his Millennial generation is a tough sell for any idea from us Baby Boomers. I was unsure because lots of folks much brighter than I have been looking for their single solution to affordability—and I know many of those solutions have some value.

By proposing a suite of a half dozen Ideas with a hierarchy of value, most-to-least effective, I was opening myself to arguments about order of effectiveness, about what’s possible, about “Who are you to say…” Perhaps most challenging, I was taking on a social media communications paradigm that thinks in Tweets, at most bullet points, all competing as the Idea where at least six are the reality.

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A Setting Lost to the City, Part 3 (City Conversations No One Else is Having #9, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”

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City Conversations No One Else is Having, #9
A Setting Lost to the City? Part 3
By Brian Palmquist (first published 16-May-2021)

This much earlier City Conversation is being reposted in the week leading up to City Council’s consideration of a proposal by city staff that will destroy False Creek South—I will be speaking against the report on October 21st and my remarks will be published as Part 2 of an earlier Conversation about False Creek South. Meanwhile…

Brian is an architect whose Vancouver projects range from first proposing the laneway housing concept to managing the community planning design team for the North Shore of False Creek. He lives in Vancouver and sadly, has never had a mountain, city or water view from his home.

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Part 1 of this article reviewed the role that view cones or corridors played in the evolution of Vancouver’s downtown and False Creek areas. Part 2 looked at what we will lose if they are violated or disarmed at the east end of False Creek, as proposed by city staff and the development community, what I fear will be “a setting lost to the city.”

Part 3 focuses on the impacts of potential False Creek South development on the views from Fairview Slopes.

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The next day after my view cone walkabout along the south shore of False Creek, described in Part 2,  it was time to move to higher view cone elevations—specifically, Fairview Slopes and Choklit Park.

View “F” is the official view cone from Choklit Park at 7th and Spruce. I expect it was on the city’s original 1989 list of views to be preserved because it’s one of the few open spaces in the Fairview Slopes neighbourhood, so is a good proxy for the hundreds of view condominiums that tumble down the slopes from 8th north to the southern rim of False Creek South. In fact, pretty much the entire genesis of Fairview Slopes involved careful planning and positioning of buildings to maximize views of and over False Creek to the city and mountains beyond.

Regardless of that logic, the actual mountain views to be preserved from Choklit Park, labeled “F1.1, 1.2 and 1.3,” are actually quite narrow, presumably because much development preceded their establishment:

What’s of greater consequence is illustrated by the two diagonal lines labeled “6” and “12.” These identify where the approximate tops of future 6 or 12-storey buildings set in False Creek South might rise to. By comparison, the sloping red roofs centre right are about five storeys to their peak.

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A Setting Lost to the City, Part 2 (City Conversations No One Else is Having #9, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”

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City Conversations No One Else is Having, #9
A Setting Lost to the City? Part 2

By Brian Palmquist (first published 14-May-2021)

This much earlier City Conversation is being reposted in the lead-up to City Council’s consideration of a proposal by city staff that will destroy False Creek South—I will be speaking against the report on October 21st and my remarks will be published as Part 2 of an earlier Conversation about False Creek South. Meanwhile…

Brian is an architect whose Vancouver projects range from first proposing the laneway housing concept to managing the community planning design team for the North Shore of False Creek. He lives in Vancouver and sadly, has never had a mountain, city or water view from his home.

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Part 1 of this article reviewed the role that view cones or corridors played in the evolution of Vancouver’s downtown and False Creek areas. Parts 2 and 3 look at what we will lose if they are removed, as proposed by city staff and the development community, what I fear will be “a setting lost to the city.”

“I’m beginning to understand what this view cone thing is, why it’s a now issue and how serious it is!” I had just walked the length of the False Creek South sea wall with my wife, from Granville Island to Olympic Village, stopping to take photographs at each of the seven official view cone locations along the way. We were sipping happy hour drinks at the Tap & Barrel before retracing our steps on an unseasonably warm day for April in Vancouver—no complaints!

I told her that the existing view cones have done a pretty good job preserving views through the downtown peninsula, but much of the views east of the Cambie Bridge and west of the Burrard Bridge are toast, based on what’s been published. “And don’t even ask me about False Creek South and Fairview Slopes!” At a gut level I knew this was a fair statement, but I needed to do a bit more work before writing about it.

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A Setting Lost to the City, Part 1 (City Conversations No One Else is Having #9, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”

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City Conversations No One Else is Having, #9
A Setting Lost to the City? Part 1
By Brian Palmquist (first published 13-Mar-2021)

This much earlier City Conversation is being reposted in the week leading up to City Council’s consideration of a proposal by city staff that will destroy False Creek South—I will be speaking against the report on October 21st and my remarks will be published as Part 2 of an earlier Conversation about False Creek South. Meanwhile…

When we arrived in Vancouver in the mid-1970s, anything was possible for an architect. Pundits disparaged the city, calling it “a setting in search of a city.” I only saw a profusion of architecture, mountains and water. This is the first of a series of articles describing how we have reached a crossroads—if we choose the wrong road we will become instead “a setting lost to the city.”

“We lost because of the waterfront walkway,” mused my late mentor, Rein Raimet, one of the partners at Bain Burroughs Hanson Raimet Architects (BBHR), my first Vancouver employer. I had moved to Vancouver too late to work on their second place entry for the competition to design a community on the south shore of False Creek. Not bitter, rather contemplative, he continued:

“There was lots of waterfront access in our scheme, but TBP’s scheme had a continuous waterfront walkway. We didn’t realize how key that was.” TBP was local shorthand for Thompson Berwick Pratt & Partners, at the time the largest firm on Canada’s west coast and the winners of the city-sponsored competition.

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Mayor and Council: Do you really understand the City’s odd approach to developer profits in justifying tower developments?

When it comes to big tower developments, it’s all about the money. People need to ask Mayor and Council: “Can you personally explain why you are voting in favour of projects when your staff clearly don’t understand the financial aspects of the proposal?”

A CityHallWatch correspondent shared with us the outcome of a formal Freedom of Information request that was recently submitted to the City of Vancouver. Our correspondent has seen the City describe development profitability in a number of different ways in different municipal settings, and thought it would be important to understand how the City calculates “return on cost” given how it figured prominently in a City webpage concerning “streamlining rental housing” (a proposed citywide rezoning policy that goes to Public Hearing on November 2):

The FOI request was worded to ask for…

The following records in reference to page 4 of the “Shape Your City” document “Streamlining Rental Making it Easier to Build Secure Rental Housing in More Neighbourhoods”: Explain how the City of Vancouver calculates “Return on Cost” as used in the document; in particular, identify all items included in revenues, expenses, and project/construction costs.

(Note: The website cited is Shape Your City – https://shapeyourcity.ca/rental-rz)

After the request was made, what happened? Initially, the FOI Office showed some resistance and requested a clarification of the question. The FOI Office ultimately did respond – with these remarkable words:

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Massive towers keep coming during moratorium on rezonings during Broadway Plan consultations. Why? Citizen challenges Council to take action.

Applicant (Yuanheng BH Developments Ltd) rendering for 1395 West Broadway (at Hemlock)

CityHallWatch has obtained a copy of an e-mail from a concerned citizen to several members of City Council dated 28-Sept-2021. It relates to the fact that even while the public is engaging with the city in good faith, planning staff appear not to reciprocating in the same spirit. This appears to be condoned right up to the top management at City Hall, and our elected officials are allowing this to happen. The so-called Broadway Plan (vancouver.ca/broadwayplan) is comprehensive area plan with a 30-year time span for Broadway between Clark Drive and Vine Street, in the neighbourhoods of Mount Pleasant, Fairview, and Kitsilano. The planning and engagement process began in March 2019 and will finish in early 2022. Meanwhile, although an Interim Rezoning Policy (effectively, a moratorium on rezonings) is supposed to be in place, planning staff are engaging in extensive and detailed discussions with developers and moving blockbuster projects ahead seeking Council approval. As we wrote in July, these actions seem to be condoned right at the top, by the Director of Planning. So the question is, among the 11 elected official on City Council, who is going to do something about this and put some integrity into the Broadway Plan?

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Letter from a concerned citizen to members of Vancouver City Council, September 28, 2021.

Dear Councillor  

I am writing to you as a follow-up to the July 21, 2021, Council meeting at which I spoke to the agenda item: Consideration of Rezoning Proposal at 1477 West Broadway (South Granville Station). I articulated my concern that if this request passed, it would initiate yet another Broadway rezoning application ahead of the Broadway Plan and well before any public knowledge of the built form being proposed by staff in Phase 3 of the Plan, which we’re told to expect soon. I also articulated that any reasonable person could look at the scope and size of the excavation underway at the 1477 site and know that a big, big building is intended for the site — after all, 332 parking stalls are far too much for a 5-storey building. 

The repeated concern that my neighbours and I have expressed to you individually and together over the past three years, in City-led walk shops, workshops, correspondence and public hearings, is the continuation of tower proposals being entertained while the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy (the Moratorium) is in effect, before the Broadway Plan community consultation is complete and before the Plan is approved. Staff deny, when asked, that which they are surely aware of: skyscrapers are in the works

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Guest comment: An extraordinary result on the Climate Emergency Parking Plan (CEPP) at council

CityHallWatch has received this contribution from David Fine, a local filmmaker who also moderates the VanPoli Facebook group and is involved in local politics. This topic went before City Council on Tuesday, October 5 and 6. as the “Climate Emergency Parking Program” (meeting agenda). In this piece, David follows up on his previous piece, “The climate emergency parking plan survey is in and guess what?”

An extraordinary result on the Climate Emergency Parking Plan (CEPP) at council. It took the mayor to cast the deciding vote against, which I must admit, I did not see coming. Who did? The cynical amongst us assume it was a desperate attempt to curry favour with an election almost exactly a year away, but analysis of his post vote statement actually reveals a considered and sensible response, and kudos to him for that.

Councillors all made passionate speeches about this issue, for and against. I was especially moved by Lisa Dominato. Colleen Hardwick spoke eloquently as well. Pete Fry tried to put lipstick on a pig by suggesting considerable amendments. Pete recognized that the plan was inherently flawed in a number of ways, but still felt it deserved to be passed, albeit with changes to seek to address the many objections around the plan. One of the most noted was the notion that the $45 charge would quickly rise. Supporters of the CEPP insisted this was an exploitation of misinformation, but staff climate lead Matt Horne publicly stated that the charge was a start and that it would eventually rise to market rates, so this was not misinformation, it came straight from staff.

Christine Boyle felt that not passing this plan would be tantamount to letting the planet burn. Not her exact words, but she suggested as much. Like Fry, she recognized how flawed the motion was, but felt it should pass anyway so that we could work on improving it. Supporting councillors repeated this line. “It’s got lots of problems, but let’s pass it and then fix them”. So it was good to see that the issues the public shared were at least getting through to everyone on council, no matter their position on the policy, but it begs the question as to how staff could be working on this plan for so long, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and still present something everyone agrees was fundamentally flawed on many levels.

Supporting Councillors also asserted that having passed the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP), they had a duty to pass each component presented to council, but this assertion was utterly false. The whole point of approving the CEAP was so that staff could present ideas and council would assess each of them on their merits. That was exactly the plan. It was never meant to be a process of rubber stamping whatever staff brought to council.

Boyle said that a vote against this is a vote for the status quo, echoing the oft repeated falsehood that opponents feel that we should just do nothing. No one thinks that. Literally no one.

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Recommended reading – ‘Zoning Must Evolve’: In 5-part essay, Scot Hein introduces ‘socialdensity’ concept, says Vancouver is at a crucial crossroads in planning and development

Today the third and final instalment of Scot Hein’s graphic novella was published online. It presents in an illustrated and highly readable format some valuable insights into the past, present, and possible future of urban planning and development in Vancouver, with profound implications for the affordability and livability of our city and its neighbourhoods.

The novella (manga or cartoon format) puts the ideas across in a compact way, but it serves as an appetizer to the real thing, a five-part essay entitled “Zoning Must Evolve,” which also just went online over the past several days.

Hein provides a insight into how planning and consultation used to happen at Vancouver City Hall, how things changed, where we are now, and the crossroads we are now at. With these two works, he has attempted to proactively address the complexity of multiple stakeholder interests.  He offers something beneficial to all involved in the city making process.

Scot Hein

Absolutely, some big choices need to be made, and even this week crucial topics are going before City Council for decisions (including a motion on the future of False Creek South, and citywide rezoning policies). Meanwhile, a citywide planning process dubbed “Vancouver Plan” is underway, as well as several other major planning/consultation initiatives. Hein’s works would be good reading for everyone, and we mean everyone, to develop their thoughts and inputs into these processes.

We are at the regulatory crossroads of managing affordability with only a few tools left to control the cost of land so housing is better aligned with local incomes…. Elected officials must now choose between the current for-profit, market-driven approaches of “supply, supply, supply” or refining current zoning to deliver new affordable housing solutions. There are institutionalized biases to achieving this but I remain optimistic that we can regulate more “elegantly” to meet all stakeholder interests while solving our housing crises. Our goal is a quintuple word score win that achieves greater outcomes than solutions that only address singular interests in isolation. Let’s solve for resilience

Scot Hein in “Zoning Must Evolve” (Part 3)

Part 5 of the essay focuses on False Creek South, held up as a shining example of planning success. Hein says that Vancouver City Hall must make a choice. Either continue to print money (demanding Community Amenity Contributions through the re-zoning process) in the pursuit of “world crass,” or return to humanist values by holding up False Creek South as an example for other neighbourhoods, showing how to “refresh” towards resilience by more thoughtfully introducing new, affordable housing capacities “under zoning.”

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City Hall needs to be transparent and fair with future of False Creek South neighbourhood: Clr Colleen Hardwick

Above: Images from False Creek South neighbourhood.

Below, we are sharing a media release received today from Councillor Colleen Hardwick, who is presenting a motion to City Council on October 5 on the future of the False Creek South. Housing there is recognized around the world as a model of highly successfully community and integrated planning, with high-, middle-, and low-income households on long-term leases from the City. For years now, the community has been discussing lease renewals with the City, but the future of the neighbourhood is at risk and shrouded in City-imposed secrecy. Anyone concerned can write or speak to Council on this item (instructions on the Council agenda page). Now, this statement from Clr Hardwick.

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CITY HALL NEEDS TO BE TRANSPARENT AND FAIR AS IT LOOKS AT THE FUTURE OF THE FALSE CREEK SOUTH NEIGHBOURHOOD

The voices of Vancouverites living in False Creek South need to be heard. These families are partners, not just tenants: Councillor Colleen Hardwick

Vancouver, B.C. (October 4, 2021): TEAM Councillor Colleen Hardwick says City Hall needs to “stop keeping families in the dark” and assure the 6,000 residents of False Creek South that they will have a home in the award-winning neighbourhood as council makes plans for its future. Hardwick is putting forward a motion at the Oct. 5 council meeting that would proceed with lease extensions for strata leaseholds, co-ops and non-profit housing and implement a transparent community-planning process for the 40+ year-old neighbourhood.

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City Council and Park Board Preview Oct 4-5, 2021: Citywide rezonings in C and R zones, climate emergency parking, False Creek South, SAFER, neighbourhood safety, and more

A Vancouver Park Board meeting will be held on Monday, October 4, 2021. On the agenda is Daylighting Canyon Creek at Spanish Banks – Feasibility Update (for decision), the General Manager’s report, and three items for enactment (Parks Control By-law – Amendment Regarding Feeding Wildlife, Park Board Ticket Offences By-law – Amendment Regarding Feeding Wildlife, and Park Board Procedure By-law – Electronic Meetings).

This week, Vancouver City Council will have three meetings all on the same day, Tuesday, October 5, 2021:
– a Regular Council Meeting starting at 9:30 a.m, consisting of mostly procedural matters,
– a Special Council meeting at 11 a.m. to hear from speakers on many outstanding topics , and
– a Public Hearing at 6 p.m. with four items on the agenda. Below we highlight selected topics, and further below provide the full meeting agendas (check the City website for updates).

For the Special Council meeting on Tuesday, October 5th, among the key topics, we see the following:

Referral report – “Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas – Amendments to the C-2, C-2B, C-2C and C-2C1 Zones and Creation of New Rental Zones for Use in Future Rezoning Applications in Surrounding Low Density Areas Under the Secured Rental Policy


Above: One map and eligibility legend plus the table indicate areas affected for proposed RR new rental zone policy. The other map (with large grey strips) relates to the C2 zones (red strips in the map). The illustrations show examples of streetscapes for both C zones (commercial) and RR “low density” zones.

CITYHALLWATCH COMMENT FOR THE ABOVE – This is a staff “referral report” (staff are recommending it go ahead to public hearing, which could occur within weeks) so no speakers from the public are allowed at this meeting. Council is being asked to approve the recommendations on the spot. From our perspective there are a number of problems with the process. First, the report combines (1) an area rezoning of C2 (commercial) zoning schedules with (2) a Rezoning Policy of off the shelf new zoning schedules. These are entirely different things. They require different processes and separate reports, not combined into one Public Hearing topic. This referral report itself is huge, at three hundred and forty-eight (348) pages. The report should go back to staff to be separated into individual reports and brought back separately to council for reconsideration of referral to public hearing. Second, affected residents (owners, renters, etc.) on the affected properties should be properly notified of what is going on. The City should mail notice cards directly to all affected property owners, residents and tenants of both reports, and explain exactly what is being proposed — and the implications — in plain language. Anything less would be cheating Vancouver businesses and residents of the chance to understand what is going on and the opportunity to provide informed comment to our elected officials. Third, this report is related to the Climate Emergency Parking Program since, if that report is approved, it will mean that most of these rental projects will have little to no onsite parking. The additional cars will be flooding the surrounding areas. The proposed citywide pay permit parking system is intended to manage that, as well as being a cash grab for city coffers. It is a giveaway to the development industry and an extra burden for all those of less means who do not have a garage.

Caption: Map from 5-Oct-2021 staff report. This shows areas in Vancouver that currently require residential parking permits. Staff failed to include a map of areas where they are proposing to introduce parking permits. They should have, so that Council and the public is clear about what’s involved. Basically, everywhere else – all the white coloured zones in the map. Click to enlarge.

Climate Emergency Parking ProgramCITYHALLWATCH COMMENT – Staff have brought this forward as a policy and are recommending immediate Council approval and implementation. While everyone acknowledges climate change is an urgent issue, many people have questioned the effectiveness of this policy and are seeing it as a cash grab. See CityHallWatchGuest comment: The climate emergency parking plan survey is in and guess what?” in which David Fine looks at how staff ignored overwhelming public opposition and criticism and tried to manipulate the survey process to get the results they wanted. See also “An Inequitable Greenwashing Cash Grab” written by Jak King. This report is also related to proposed changes to the Parking Bylaw that would eliminate onsite minimum parking requirements in new developments. It is a giveaway to the development industry since they save $50,000 to $80,000 per stall for underground parking. The impacts will be offloaded to the surrounding community by flooding the area with vehicles. The proposed parking permit system is intended to manage this overflow. It’s all connected. It is related to proposed citywide rental rezoning and spot rezoning policies that will likely waive most onsite parking. In addition to being a cash grab and adding to unaffordability, it also will slow the pace of transition to electric vehicles since there will be no onsite parking for charging in new developments.

Member’s Motion – Making SAFER More Helpful For Low Income Seniors (by Councillor Swanson)

Member’s motion – Regarding the Future of False Creek South – (by Councillor Hardwick) – This is covered well by Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight: “Vancouver councillor Colleen Hardwick calls for immediate extension of leases in False Creek South.”

Member’s Motion – Saving Lives with the Community Led Compassion Club Model for Safer Tested Drugs. (by Councillor Swanson).

Member’s Motion – Supporting Additional Transportation Options to Reduce Reliance on Vehicle Ownership (by Councillor Dominato).

Member’s Motion – Public Safety: Evaluating and Addressing Any Impacts of City of Vancouver Actions on Neighbourhood Safety. (by Councillor De Genova).

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For the Public Hearing on Tuesday, October 5th, here are some comments:

  • Item 1. Minor Amendments to FC-2 Zoning District Schedule, Sub-Area E Intensification of Employment Space in Mixed-Use Buildings (False Creek Flats Area Plan). This one is to “amend the FC-2 District Schedule of the Zoning and Development By-law to optimize the use of employment floor space, while retaining ground floor spaces for light industrial activities in Sub-area E. See map above.
  • Item 2. Removal of the Alma Street West Side Building Line North of West Fourth Avenue
  • Item 3. CD-1 Rezoning: 357-475 West 41st Avenue. This one is for a 22-storey tower near the west part of the property, 14-storeys on east part of the property, connected by a 6-storey podium, 6.32 FSR, 310,470 sq. ft., max height 72.6 m (238 ft.), commercial at grade. Total of 419 secured rental residential units (currently 8 RS-1 lots west of Albert to the lane parallel to Cambie on the north side of W 41st Avenue), approx 64 Moderate Income Rental or 18% of units (no CACs in proposal, but DCLs of around $3.3m). “Moderate Income Rental Units” at rental rates targeting households earning between $30,000 and $80,000 per year (see Figure 8). p.11. Proposed to have 372 vehicle parking spaces.
Above: proposed 357-475 West 41st, at 22 storeys, 14 storeys, and 6-storey podium
Fig 8 from rezoning referral report for 357-475 West 41st. Same numbers apply for 325-343 West 41st (Below).
  • Item 4. CD-1 Rezoning: 325-343 West 41st Avenue. Rezoning for a 10-storey building with 95 market rental units, 10% or 9 units to be Moderate Income Rental Units (height 37.9 m (124 ft.)) with 5.43 FSR, 69,379 sq. ft., 42 vehicle parking spaces. Current site has two RS-1 lots.

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For reference, the meeting agendas are reproduced below:

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