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

Arbutus Centre Update

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There was a Press Conference held at City Hall at lunchtime today, while the rest of the world was watching a football match. I did not speak on camera but I am hoping that I will be able to link to both the CBC coverage and Jen St Den of the Vancouver Star Metro in due course.

This week I came across an interesting blog post about the Urban Design Panel’s take on the proposed development.   Frustratingly the link on that page to sources just takes you to the city’s page on the development  which is silent about the UDP. To find that I had to do some digging but I did eventually find the minutes of the UDP meeting on February 26 2018 . You have to click on the link that gives you a pdf file: the Arbutus proposal is the first item. I am going to quote from that

1. Address: 2221-2223 Main Street
Permit No. DP-2017-01206
Description: The proposed amendment to the existing CD-1 (642) is to permit an increase in the maximum allowable floor area across Block C and D, from 67,065 sq. m (721,881 Sq. ft) to 77,611 sq. m (835,400 sq. ft.); and an increase to the maximum building height on Block C from 57 m (187 ft.) to 60 m (197 ft.), and on Block D from 57 m (187 ft.) to 72 m (236 ft.). The proposal is being considered under the Arbutus Centre Policy Statement.

Zoning: CD-1 Amendment
Application Status: Rezoning Application
Review: Second (First as Amendment)
Architect: Brett Hotson, DIALOG
Norm Hotson, DIALOG
Owner: Wendy LeBreton, LARCO
Delegation: Margot Long, Landscape Architect, PWL
Peter Joyce, BUNT
Staff: John Chapman, Tim Potter & Grace Jiang
EVALUATION: SUPPORT with Recommendations

 

So the interesting bit for me are the recommendations: recall first that this UDP meeting came after the Open House (February 13). The Policy Report considered by Council on June 19 states

The application was reviewed by the Urban Design Panel on February 26, 2018, and was supported with recommendations (see Appendix C). Staff conclude that further refinements are required to the design as conditions of the rezoning amendment as noted in Appendix B. A reduction of density on Block D is anticipated through design development. The applicant has proposed to replace this floor area by adding a penthouse storey onto the eastern wing of Block A through a Development Permit amendment.

So now I have two documents, essentially saying the same thing. The project was reviewed and a number of concerns identified.

Panel’s Consensus on Key Aspects Needing Improvement: Having reviewed the project it was moved by Ms. Avini Besharat and seconded by Mr. Sharma and was the decision of the Urban Design Panel:

THAT the Panel Support the project with the following recommendations to be reviewed by City Staff:

• Balance distribution of density between the two parcels; the density may need to be reduced to achieve appropriate massing and to mitigate the overshadowing.

• Reduce the shadowing of the Public Square, street, and private courtyard on parcel D;

• Reduce shadowing of the park;

• Further design development on the architectural expression in order to simplify and calm down expression of the building;

• Further design development to the view analysis to include roof top structures and mechanical RTUs and to review how they impact the view. The height may need to be reduced to preserve the view of the North Shore Mountains.

Related Commentary: There was a panel consensus that the original concept was the preferred choice. The second concept was a big change from the original. The original application was a better fit and blended in smoother. The current concept is too bulky especially with building D.

Then panel agreed there was a very significant addition of height and density being absorbed mostly on the western parcels which created a misbalance. The original concept was lost because the additional density has been dropped on one block, and should have been better distributed. A consequence was a large parcel created that is out of context.

A panelist noted there were fundamental issues with planning and massing of the entire space. If massing is properly planned in the first phase there would be better relation. There is a loss in transition down to the lower scale units. A panelist noted the site is in a real bowl which could be to the applicant’s advantage.

Moving forward with the architectural expression the strong parti concept has been diluted as well. In the earlier models the parti was cleaner and simpler. A panel member suggested looking at the elevations to determine if they want to be closer or completely different from what is across the street. The elevations should be revisited to be a lot cleaner without losing elevation and height.

7 to 12 storeys created significant shadowing on the park, open space, and street. Yew Street will be completely shaded in the afternoon. The impacts are also significant on the view. Viewpoint is important and cannot be ignored. A big bulky building has a lot of negative effects on the neighborhood; in this case Main Street is too over shadowed. There are intrusions to public views in the City of Vancouver all the time however these issues are on the whole block.

Building C, on the west façade has so many different fenestrations and proportions. In general a calmer and boulder contemporary expression would be more successful. A panelist noted public views can be better distributed back to building C.

Just to be clear “parti concept” refers to the idea that this development has to fit into its surroundings.

” The parti is a simplified version of the plan, and it describes the overall configuration or organization of the building.” is one of the definitions offered.

It seems to be inconsistent to approve a building – but with the observation that it does not fit into its surroundings. If planning is supposed to achieve anything at all cannot it be at least based on a simple concept – does it fit in?

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 2.50.43 PM

This illustration shows most clearly what has changed since the original proposal was approved. This building is much too big for this site.

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 2.53.47 PM

And this table shows the figures for dwelling units over all four parts  – which I am afraid got a bit confused during the press conference but are in fact not confusing at all. Council policy was recently changed to require 30% social housing units in large scale developments, but Larco are still only offering 20%. And just in case you were wondering what “affordable rental units” might cost I have replaced (July 17) what was here with something more reliable.

In the case of the 2109 West 35th Avenue development, Baker said that renters must have an annual income of $150,000 to be able to manage paying the rent for a three-bedroom unit at $3,702 per month, based on the 30 percent affordability threshold.

So don’t go confusing “affordable” with “social housing” – they are quite different and should NOT be added together.

Even so, staff are still recommending adoption, because of the $2m now being offered towards the Arbutus Greenway.

As was pointed out in discussion today, there are plenty of examples of developers being required to meet different specifications as a condition of approval, who manage to complete their projects and casually ignore these requirements with no penalty.

It really seems odd to me that staff would recommend approval of a project which raises so many concerns. A much safer approach would be to deny the application for expansion, but suggest to the proponent that this proposal needs to revised and then resubmitted once these concerns have been dealt with to the satisfaction of staff. However, the concerns of building height and massing are such that they cannot be reasonably accommodated just within areas C and D, and A & B are now under construction so that the only changes could be made there would be on the allocation of units between the market/rental/social/affordable classes.

No building recently approved along Arbutus Street is over 6 stories: not the Ridge (at 16th Avenue) nor the recently completed block at 49th and West Boulevard. Approving a 12 storey building sets a new standard which will undoubtedly be embraced by  developers on the half dozen or so sites around Arbutus Village which are either already acquired or on the point of being so. We accept that there is a need for more housing on the West Side in general, but dumping all of it on Arbutus Village seems a bit much.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm

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