Slow streets in Vancouver

Slow streets in Vancouver have arrived. The first 12km length of slow streets connects New Brighton Park to QE Park along existing cycling routes with traffic calming measures in place. This means only local traffic is permitted and there is no street parking or stopping near intersections. There is signage at the crossings of major arterials, a move that should discourage ‘rat-running’ by motorized vehicles. Pedestrians are allowed more space to pass each other by walking on the road. The bike routes are already 30km/hr zones. As of Saturday (May 23rd), the crossings at major arterials were not automated at traffic lights (hence ‘beg-buttons’ were still in use). The City’s website notes that “other routes across the city will be added in the coming weeks.”

Back in May of 2019, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a pilot project for 30km/h speed limits on certain side streets. In Toronto the speed limit was reduced to 30km/h in 2015 for many inner-city streets The results of those changes have been looked at, for example in the study and summary: Lowering Speed Limit to 30 km/h in Toronto Drastically Improved Pedestrian Safety: Report. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for the City of Vancouver to consider deploying a wider 30km/h policy for side streets.

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References
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City Council + Public Hearings May 26 & 27, Park Board May 25: Heads up on controversial and critical topics

Drinking beer and wine in public spaces

The coming week has one Park Board meeting, on Regular Council meetings, two electronic Public Hearings, and one Council Standing Committee meeting. Here are quick links to agenda, and further below are CityHallWatch comments on selected items, plus the full agendas (check City site for latest versions). We encourage concerned citizens and groups to communicate with Commissioners and Mayor and Council if you have comments on any item. The agenda pages indicate how you can provide comments. See also our contact page here.

Park Board, May 25, 2020 6:30 pm
https://parkboardmeetings.vancouver.ca/2020/20200525/index.htm

Council Agenda, May 26, 2020 9:30 am https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/regu20200526ag.htm

Council Committee Agenda, May 27, 2020 9:30 am https://council.vancouver.ca/20200527/pspc20200527ag.htm

Public Hearing Agenda, May 26, 2020 6:00 pm https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/phea20200526ag.htm

Public Hearing Agenda, May 28, 2020 6:00 pm https://council.vancouver.ca/20200528/phea20200528ag.htm

Is drinking in public spaces coming to Vancouver?

Here are some selected items plus comments by CityHallWatch.

Regular Council May 25, 2020

PRESENTATIONS

  1. COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts: Financial Mitigation and Restoration of City Service Plan

https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/documents/p1.pdf

Excerpt: Patrice Impey, General Manager, Finance, Risk and Supply Chain Management, to present the report dated May 19, 2020. Staff outline project priorities and cost implications.

REPORTS

  1. Sewage and Rainwater Management Plan for Vancouver

https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/documents/r1.pdf

Excerpt: The 2019 to 2022 Capital Plan has allocated $137 million for the renewal and separation of aging sewer pipes as part of the City’s ongoing renewal program. A further $111 million was planned for upgrades triggered by growth as part of a new program to respond to development. Based on current estimates, the cost to complete the separation of aging combined sewer pipes throughout the city as part of the renewal program is approximately $3.7 billion.

CityHallWatch comment: The impacts of growth on infrastructure is enormous, especially where large amounts of density are concentrated like development corridors where the services need huge upgrades to service the growth.

COUNCIL MEMBERS’ MOTIONS

  1. Defining Social Housing Consistently and Transparently in the City of Vancouver

https://council.vancouver.ca/20200526/documents/motionb4.pdf

Motion by Clr. Fry to improve the definition of Social Housing. Worth a careful look.

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 Standing Committee of Council May 27

AGENDA ITEMS

1. Development and Permit Process Improvements

a. Presentation – Development and Permit Process Improvements

b. Regulation Redesign – Amendments to Zoning & Development and Parking By-laws

CityHallWatch comment: These By-law amendments are significant for a number of reasons. The city is combining a large number of amendments on unrelated issues as an omnibus change to the Zoning and Development By-law for various zoning schedules, for various Official Development Plans, for the Parking By-Law and other land use documents. These are not minor text amendments, but are substantive changes to zoning and regulations, with a variety of impacts.

No “redline” documents are provided to show what is changed in context with the original by-law or a detailed explanation of what each amendment means in practical terms to the built forms or development process. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for Council and the public to really know what is changing.

Some of the issues that stand out appear to be changes to RS and RT zones that include variances allowed for character house retention and for increased intrusion of decks and porches into front and side yards by about 6 ft, without being related to adjacent buildings.  It is not clear how this could apply to side yards that are usually less than 6 ft. on most lots.

There has been no public consultation on this item. The City’s approach in this case it that a Public Hearing is considered the public consultation, but there has been no opportunity for public input to be considered in the staff recommendations. Public would normally have a chance to give input prior to the staff’s recommendation for referral to a Public Hearing.

  1. Enabling Mass Timber Construction

https://council.vancouver.ca/20200527/documents/pspc2.pdf

CityHallWatch: This policy is to enable twelve-storey wood frame construction. Many considerations. See media coverage for more analysis.

  1. Recalibrating the Housing Vancouver Strategy post COVID-19

At the Council meeting on May 12, 2020, Council referred the following motion to the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services meeting on May 13, 2020, in order to hear from speakers. Subsequently, due to time constraints, the motion was deferred to the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities meeting on May 27, 2020 to hear from speakers, and for the Committee to engage in debate and decision.

https://council.vancouver.ca/20200527/documents/pspc4.pdf

CityHallWatch comment: This motion asks for data to be made public regarding information to inform the reconsideration of the Housing Vancouver Strategy targets. There has been considerable media coverage about this topic. We support the motion!

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Public Hearing May 26, 2020

  1. REZONING: 2776 Semlin Dr and 2025 East 12th Avenue

CityHallWatch comment: Note that in the proposal there will be 104 units and 32 will be to HILs rates. These break down as follows:

  • Twenty-seven out of the 32 units are studios.
  • These 27 units will be for renters with a gross household income of less than $51,500 per year.
  • Using 30 percent for housing as a standard measure for affordability, an income of $51,500 means a person can afford to pay $1,287.48 in monthly rent.
  • Five out of the 32 units are two-bedroom units.
  • These five units will be for renters with a gross household income of less than $63,000 per year.
  • Again using the 30 percent for housing as affordability measure, a household earning $63,000 can afford a monthly rent of $1,575.

Most of these units will be studios renting at $1,287/month. This is actually at market rates for the east side or even higher than market in many cases. Only  five units will be 2 bedroom at $1,575/month. While this is below market for 2 bedrooms, it is not that much below. But more troubling, are these liveable? Now the city is allowing for rentals to have bedrooms without windows and to be so small that they can barely fit a bed inside. More like a closet or den.

Also for consideration, this project is the redevelopment of a church owned property that would have been exempt from property taxes for the entire time the church owned it. And since the church will be rebuilt on the main floor of the new building, this tax exemption will continue, at least for the church portion, and possibly for the rest of the rentals too since it is categorized as social housing.

On top of that, the project would also have development fees waived, both for CACs and DCLs. Further,  it is getting a density bonus and height relaxation to six storeys.

Basically, it is a scandal that the city is “giving away the farm” for no real affordability for the people who need it most.

All church properties should be retained for non-profit community use, or the church should pay back to the city all previous tax exemptions it got waived prior to sale or any redevelopment approvals. This would reduce the land values of these properties and be a disincentive to selling them off to developers or for churches acting like developers.

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Agendas have been reproduced below:
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In Vienna, housing is a destination

Hundertwasser House, Vienna

In Vienna, housing is a destination. More specifically, the Hundertwasser House is a tourist destination. This housing complex was completed in 1985. While it is a tiny bit out of the downtown core, visitors still flock in large numbers to see it. Further details on this housing complex can be found on the Vienna info website:
https://www.wien.info/en/sightseeing/sights/hundertwasser-house-vienna (Kegelgasse 37-39, 1030 Wien)
Vienna has often been ranked as the most liveable City in the world. There is a significant stock of affordable rental units in Vienna. Below are recent photos of Hundertwasser House.

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Reference
How Vienna ensures affordable housing for all with an extremely complicated housing system (July 9, 2017, Milwaukee Community Land Trust)

The Flint Hotel

The Flint Hotel at 1516 Powell Street is looking good with a recent fresh coat of paint and other repairs. It’s an interesting building on a narrow 33-foot lot with a four-storey form. It was built around 1905. This “hotel” is a hotel in name only; currently it provides approximately 90 units of non-profit housing.

The units are single occupancy, there are shared showers and toilets, kitchen spaces, some rooms are used for storage and administrative offices. The Flint Hotel is listed as an SRO in City’s 2015 Rooming Houses & Residential Hotels document.

This building goes from one street to the laneway on a long, narrow lot. It is sandwiched between a gas station on one side and two-storey industrial building on the other. There are a few others apartment buildings like this one in Vancouver such as 107 East Broadway (which extends north to East 8th Avenue). An open question: would the City allow building similar housing today? Or are these buildings simply relics from another era, classified as existing, non-conforming to current bylaws? Are there lessons to be learned here? And should we try to preserve other mature rental stock like this for the future?

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Astroturf vs. grass in the Greenest City

Is astroturf really a good option to use along boulevards and on private property? Recently we noticed that there’s a strip of astroturf between the sidewalk and the curb at 4320 Slocan Street in a low traffic pedestrian zone. The grass at the adjacent lot, at 4310 Slocan is quite healthy (above photo shows the property boundary).

Artificial turf was also installed at 1695-1773 East 18th Avenue (below). During the rezoning process, the landscape plans clearly stated the surface would be a lawn. During the DP process, this was changed to artificial turf in a classic bait and switch. The City’s own rules prohibit the installation of artificial turf on private properties (more on that later).

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No rezoning sign at site yet City wants feedback by June 1st (1649 East Broadway)

No rezoning sign has been posted at 1649 East Broadway (May 19, 2020)

[Update May 23: the sign was finally posted; yet it does not include information about the June 1st comment deadline, photos have been appended to the end of this post]

Due to its implications for all rezonings in Vancouver going forward, here is a case that merits a close look. Has some policy decision been made to do things this way from now on? A rezoning application quietly posted on the City website. No sign on site. No open house, no public engagement. Short deadline for public comment. Questionable renderings used to portray the impacts of the proposed building.

On a City of Vancouver web page the City quietly posted a rezoning application for 1649 East Broadway. There is no information sign displayed at the site. On the City’s rezoning website, there is a deadline of June 1st, 2020 for comments and questions. It appears that no Open House or any public engagement event will be held.

This site has already been rezoned in 2018 for a 10-storey building with strata and rental units, commercial at grade, with a Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 4.0. A total of 93 units were approved with 47 rental and 46 strata suites. This new rezoning application is for a 12-storey building with 124 rental units (with 23 below-market rate), a FSR of 5.0, height of 119.5′ (36.4m) and a total of 70 underground parking spaces. The Grandview-Woodland Community Plan allows for a maximum of 10-storeys on this site, for which this site was rezoned. In comparison, this site was identified for 6-storeys in the Final Report of the Citizens’ Assembly during the Community Plan process.

There are a couple of renderings included with the posted application. For comparison, we’ve taken photos using a standard 50mm lens on a full frame camera that shows how someone would normally see this location while walking at street level. Do the architects’ renderings give an appropriate representation of the proposal, or does something look off? Do the renderings show the true scale and building size? How about the scale of the surrounding buildings? Is it an attractive building design?

We’ll examine the topic of renderings, human perception and camera focal length in much more detail in several upcoming posts, so stay tuned. Details on this proposal can be found on the following website and through the assigned rezoning planner:

https://rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/1649ebroadway/index.htm
City Contact: Kent MacDougall, Rezoning Planner, kent.macdougall@vancouver.ca, 604-829-9579

It’s worth noting that this rezoning was not included our May 1st snapshot of rezoning applications as it was not on the rezoning webpage at that time. The City’s website states that the application was submitted on March 9, 2020. The City’s deadline for comments is June 1st, the City is forgoing an Open House and has not posted information signs at the site. Continue reading

Important Metro Vancouver online meetings on upgrades to Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant (19+21 May, 2020). You can help orcas and wild Pacific salmon!

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, GSA 2020
Metro Vancouver is holding two online community meetings (same content, one in afternoon, one in evening) on the upgrade to the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 12:00 to 2:00 pm
Thursday, May 21, 2020, 6:30 to 8:30 pm

See the agendas and register online here on Metro Vancouver website.

Why is this important? Much of the sewage and wastewater from Vancouver ends up being treated here before being discharged into the Salish Sea. Your voice can help make it better. Read on!

The meetings are for the Project Definition Phase of the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant Project.

Learn about the design concepts for the new plant and give feedback on community and park integration, and habitat enhancement and resource recovery opportunities. Each meeting will have the same presentations, with time for questions and discussion.

Here is an excerpt from a notice by the Georgia Straight Alliance.

Share how better wastewater treatment can protect the Salish Sea

An upcoming upgrade to Metro Vancouver’s largest wastewater treatment facility, the Iona Island Plant, is presenting an exceptionally rare opportunity to tackle a significant source of pollution to the Salish Sea. The Iona Plant’s outflow is discharged directly into the Salish Sea at the mouth of the Fraser River. Without advanced tertiary treatment, this effluent carries toxic contaminants and microplastics directly into habitat critical for endangered Southern Resident orcas and wild Pacific salmon. These contaminants are known to disrupt the reproductive and developmental health of these iconic species, and it’s vital that we take quick action to reduce the Iona Plant’s impact on the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. Continue reading