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Built Form & Development Workshop Tomorrow, Roundup from Wednesday's Discussion

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hello Friends and Neighbours,

Built Form Workshop Tomorrow

A reminder that this Saturday, January 11 the City is hosting a Built Form and Places Feedback Workshop, to discuss the draft Local Area Plan, from 10 am - 12:30 pm at the Strathcona Community Centre. This is an opportunity for interested residents and members of the LAPP Committee to discuss some of the proposed built form changes to Strathcona and the DTES with City staff.

The draft of the City's Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside was released three weeks ago and can be found here http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/downtown-eastside-draft-local-area-plan.pdf. The plan proposes a number of significant changes for the neighbourhood, some of which were mentioned in our newsletter from December 19 - residents are encouraged to review the plan, which goes before council on March 12.

Roundup from Heights, Development and Built Form Discussion

This last Wednesday the SRA hosted Canadian urban designer, planner and professor Patrick Condon; and Director of Planning for City of Vancouver 1973-1989, Planning Consultant and co-chair of DTES LAPP Ray Spaxman, to discuss ideas around densification and building scale being proposed in the Plan and with regards to the City as a whole.

The event was well attended with a variety of residents from the neighbourhood and the city at large; we were joined by (Green Party) City Councilor Adriane Carr, and a number of points, questions and considerations were presented in a lively discussion. Some highlights of the conversation and presentation by Patrick Condon are presented below in point form (thanks to SRA Council member James Johnstone for additional notes). Please note, these points do not represent a complete synopsis of all the comments and points made over the evening, and included comments by the guest speakers as well as audience members.

Germane to the overall conversation were some of the proposed upzoning with regards to heights, particularily along Hastings Street (up to 12 and 15 stories between Gore and Clark), and a proposed population increase of at least 150% over the next 30 years. The conversation was primarily focussed on the built form, but did delve into some of the issues surrounding housing types and affordable housing. The thrust of Patrick Condon's presentation discussed low rise densifcation and the "streetcar city" as a model for greener and more affordable densification.

  • The current DTES LAPP Draft Plan focuses on achieving density through high and mid-rise buildings that are more expensive than wood built apartments.
  • Wood frame apartments up to six storeys cost only $140 per square foot. Concrete construction highrises cost about $240 per square foot. (BC building code allows woodframe construction up to 6 stories)
  • Toronto is now actively pursuing this (low rise woodframe) model as a solution for building affordable housing
  • Earthquake in Christ Church New Zealand saw high rise apartment and commercial buildings survive, ie. They did not fall, but structural damage was such that even thought they still stand, they are unoccupyable and likely unrepairable.
  • Lowrise buildings are more in scale/compatible with older structures and contribute toward neighbourhood resilience.
  • Lowrise woodframe is greener technology, less embodied energy than concrete and largely recyclable at end of life (not so with concrete). Woodframe is easier to rehability, renovate or recycle (not so with concrete).
  • Eliminating parking could actualize some development cost savings
  • Vancouver is now the second least affordable city in the world after Singapore.
  • Questions about the math used to calculate housing mix and proposed population increase (doesn't seem to add up)
  • Vision Vancouver (currently City Council majority) are campaigning $3 billion for a subway line from Commercial and Broadway to UBC. The same $3 billion could give us a tramway network that would serve the majority of the city. Funding is contingent on senior government and developers.
  • Speculation that sources of funding a subway line might be dependent on significant upzoining and development along the Broadway Corridor
  • Condon was asked what he thought of Jane Jacobs. Responded that he “belonged to her church” and that the "Vancouverism" model was an interesting combination of Jane Jacobs low rise livable communities and Le Corbusier's Radiant City.
  • Condon says "sweet spot' for green densification is about 50 people per acre, Vancouver doesn't need towers to do that.
  • Condon presents UBC created model/vision of Vancouver circa 2050 with a population of 1.2 million: streetcars, greenspace, district energy systems and virtually no towers
  • "Vancouver has become addicted to big projects" both the city and residents have been seduced by developer cost levies and community ammenity contributions
  • Questions from floor about earlier 20% social housing requirement being city wide or just applying to DEOD. Just DEOD. Comment about things could have been so much different if the entire city had to comply with that model. (NOTE: the following correction was emailed to us from Councilor Carr: " Vancouver does have a 20% 'inclusionary policy' re: affordable housing throughout the city...but only for upzonings on bigger projects")
  • Concerns voiced about displacement, but not just the homeless but low income working people disappearing from the neighbourhood
  • Imperative to pass zoning before speculators buy up land in DTES
  • Imperative to address issues effecting the zcity's most vulnerable, who make up a large percentage of the DTES population
  • The proposed 60-40 split for housing in the DEOD (arguably the most 'agressive' inclusive zoning being proposed to address affordable housing in the plan) provides 20% at assistance rate, 20% at HILs rate (ie. 30% of income), 20% "affordable housing" (vaguely defined, but the recent benchmark established for the West End plan is reported at $1,125 to $1,310 for a studio apartment). The remaining 40% will be "market rental". It was pointed out that this falls well short of the SRA's unanimous resolution to support a 30-30-30 kind of mix.
  • City-commissioned study into the logisitcs of development and social housing in the DTES has been presented to the Urban Development Institute. Has been requested several times by the LAPP Committee but not delivered.
  • Question about is there a mechanism in place in the proposed DTES LAPP Draft Plan to ensure that new housing being built actually will be reserved for current DTES homeless/at risk population. Concerns about BC housing and NGO housing providers continuing to funnel people from outside at the expense of the population already in DTES.
  • Worries about “Build it and they will come”
  • In the absence of senior government funding, the City is looking to developer money in the form of CACs and DCLs to fund affordable housing.
  • Proposed heights may not necessarily represent the 'ceiling' but the precedent, as discretionary and conditional heights may go higher, particularily if the plan requires additional "fine-tuning" in the years to come
  • Concerns about how upzoning and development will effect retail, commercial and artist space - rendering unaffordable to small businesses
  • Concerns that tall buildings erode sense of community and overall livability
  • Concerns that tall buildings are favoured by developers and investors, but do very little to address local needs
  • Notion that historically City Councils move in waves: some are very friendly to developers, some are more hostile - speculation as to which wave we find ourselves in now was left to the audience to decide.
  • What are the methods for ongoing study and analysis of the LAP and development in the DTES?