Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

City hall greenlights density hike

with 5 comments

A reader wrote (in a comment on another thread that will not appear there)

Thoughts on this news story?

And normally this is not something I would get into very much, because it is not my neighbourhood. I do not live in Vancouver and I only know the site because of passing through West Broadway.

But on the other hand, West Broadway is one of the most important commercial strips in town. Meredith and I have traded thoughts on the need for rapid transit on this corridor – and whether it should be on the surface or underground. And as you can see from the map, this is the centre of medical business district. Proximity to the hospital means many doctors – and related services, such as labs, xrays, nursing agencies all locate themselves here. Which means most of us have spent more time around here than we would have liked to – and spent a bit in the retail and catering businesses that service the area.

Quite why it needs more residential development is questionable – but again if the people who work here could afford to live close to their jobs, not a bad idea. But as is far too common across the region the parking provision is excessive “122 residential units with 159 residential parking spaces in three levels of underground parking”.  It might be thought a deal to reduce the amount of parking would cut costs to the developer, help to alleviate local concerns about traffic, and also help the car co-op. Indeed there is plenty of precedent for such a deal. People who live here will have very good transit close at hand, and a lot they can walk to, so the need for every unit to have a parking space plus 37 visitor spots seems high to me. No, it isn’t Yaletown, but Vancouver is going to have to accept that as the more people move to the region, greater density in Vancouver outside of the downtown core is going to be essential, if only to get the best return on the rapid transit investment.

The people who come to public hearings always tend to be those who have concerns. And I do not think that these have necessarily been addressed. There will be a shadow effect in winter – so Peter Ladner’s comments are far from emollient. This developer will argue he has already contributed a lot elsewhere, so the parking deal may actually appeal. He gets a lower cost (underground parking being very expensive to build) but the new residents still have access to a car when they need one without the cost of car ownership.

In other cities in North America the requirement for affordable housing would have been much more onerous.

It is also the case that our housing market is about to tip over the edge. There is much more supply on the market now, and buyers are able to be picky. There are fewer Americans buying here – just because their domestic market has gone bad in a very big way. We have yet to see prices actually fall here, but we will, I am sure. And we have also seen other condo developments founder on the combination of rising construction cost and limited capacity of the construction business to take on more work.

So those considerations might have been in the planners’ minds. They got $1m for traffic calming and bike route improvements, and 6 out of 122 units is something if not the 10% most other places aim for.

So not a disaster – but also not nearly as good as it could have been.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2008 at 10:25 am

5 Responses

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  1. Compare the Holiday Inn project to this Vancouver Coastal Health Authority project – on Broadway 4 storeys a half block form the Broadway & Commercial Skytrain Station(old funeral home site). Outright FSR is only 1.0 (conditional only 3.0) and it was tough to get the 4 storey building!

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    Click to access 1669%20East%20Broadway%20-%20DE412066%20-%20POST%20DPSC.pdf

    Ron C.

    July 30, 2008 at 10:31 am

  2. What are the advantages of this development? One, part of it is the density bonus for allocating a pretty fair chunk of land for public use in another project (plaza space in the Woodwards development). Another is retaining the services of of a good architect (I’m reluctant to name others that don’t have as good of a reputation out of the fear I’d get sued). Still another is an appropriate density for the Central Broadway corridor, and the fact the tower will help obscure the terrible north facade of the Holiday Inn.

    On hte downside, I agree that there could have been more co-op housing units. Also, I don’t believe the zoning north of 8th Ave allows anything higher than two or three stories. So there’s no allowance for stepping down in increments from the higher density nodes and strips. Seventeen stories to three is a big jump. Maybe they should consider intermediate densities.

    Regarding the shadows, we lived at 6th x Oak for a year and were in deep shade for four or five months because of the steepness of the slope (the walk up to the Broadway bus stop was a killer, but we were sure in shape) and the uphill development that effectively raises the shadow line. If Fairview residents living downhill from Broadway are concerned about shade in winter on a steep north-facing Vancouver hill, then they should move to Arizona. The shadow line clears 8th Ave on the site on the summer side of equinox.


    July 30, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  3. the walk up to the Broadway bus stop was a killer, but we were sure in shape

    Interesting choice of words. Walking is good for you. Walking up hill is a more strenuous exercise but more valuable in terms of calorie burnt, and muscle use. Unless you were in very poor shape or had chronic heart disease, quite the opposite of “killer”

    I am very proud of my son, who has managed to shed the “freshman 15” he gained at UVic. He did not count calories, but simply refused all offers of a ride to the gym – which is 2 miles (on flat terrain) each way – and walked.

    Stephen Rees

    July 30, 2008 at 4:51 pm

  4. Another reason that this area is great for density is the abundance of amenities available. Granville Island and SEFC are both within walking distance, each with a community centre. Firehall Library is within 1km. Charleson Park is a few blocks away. Of course, Cambie, two blocks away, has Save on Foods, Canadian Tire, Whole Foods, Home Depot, etc. There are dozens of restaurants a stone’s throw away.

    One of the big concerns about EcoDensity ™ was the introduction of density without providing enough green space or other amenities. This part of town does not have that problem.


    July 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm

  5. Stephen, the “killer” factor was facing a 20+% hill first thing every morning while barely awake. It was definitely murder after a winter snow too. I may not walk as much now, but then there’s the hucking-drywall-during-renovations-on-our-old-timer-house factor ….

    Sungsu, absolutely. The Laurel land bridge over 6th Ave is great too. You probably already know They planned another at Spruce just below Choklate Park (sp?) but never got around to building it. We moved even closer to Granville Island for 10 years and really miss the 5-minute walk to the market and small ferries across False Creek. I commuted by bus, ferry and foot to work in downtown for 5 years then. Unfortunately, I now live and work in different locales which are separated by 14 K with less-than-covenient bus service.

    Back to Central Broadway, the future rail transit there — regardless of mode — will likely have a stop at Willow as well as Cambie and Oak. With further density increases I can definitely see less distance between stations from Main to Arbutus. But my hope always remains that the heavily-travelled pedestrian + bike cross streets will not be severed by a new transit project. Careful planning and detailed design is essential.

    BTW (and on a semi-related topic), has anyone read Babara Yaffe’s column today on peak oil and climate change? She’s doing the public a huge public service favour by addressing these issues, especially from the standpoint of a conservative regular op/ed journalist in a conservative paper with a capital-N Neocon editorial page editor. She also introduces the Dynamic Cities Project, a high-quality site by a local architect. Links below.


    July 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

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