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

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Vancouver Public Library: New Roof Garden

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We went downtown today to see the recently opened extension to the main public library. There is a new top floor with an large public space, currently hosting an exhibit about the changing city and above that a rooftop area that is mostly paved but with some planting (shown above).

I have also uploaded a set of photos to my flickr stream which I am linking to below

Vancouver Public Library

This poster is displayed in the main lobby. It is not meant to be taken literally.

Vancouver Public Library

As you can see it is not that hard to find your way around the new 9th floor.

There are two open patios on the 8th floor, also accessible from new exterior stairs as well as the internal escalators, elevators and stairs.

Vancouver Public Library

There is also a planted area that is not open to the public on the 9th floor as is the green roof above it.

Vancouver Public Library

The whole thing is all very nicely presented but I have to confess a feeling of being underwhelmed. The new space did get quite a lot of notice in the media, so I suppose I was expecting something more.

Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver Public Library

Movable tables and chairs are a very good idea. Maybe as the plantings grow and more people start to use the space, things will look better. No doubt sunshine will help but frankly the view is unimpressive. Not much of our glorious setting is visible from here – just the towers and the roof of the stadium

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Written by Stephen Rees

October 3, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Vancouver Election Candidates

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There are a lot of them. I picked my short list mostly based on party identification: Green, COPE and Vision plus a couple of independents. I did not expect the reaction that got on Twitter and Facebook.

Last night I had no light fiction reading to while away the small hours so I read the Vancouver Voters’ Guide which has the candidates’ statements and is the next best thing. We picked that up yesterday at the Community Centre. Apparently reading printed paper is supposed to be more soporific than a lighted screen. If you want to you can read the same stuff online – in fact if you are going to vote I think you probably should. There are lots to choose from and these profiles at least will help you narrow down your own list. The city has simply copied what they wrote – and some are barely literate. Others just spout their party’s line. One or two are well over the line – and a depressing number of mayoral and council candidates seem to have little understanding of what the City Council actually does. Parks and School Board candidates are generally better at that.

Only one failed to provide anything at all: Margaret Haugen, who is running for Park Board, and deserves no votes at all for her neglect. I would also warn against Jason Lamarche for Mayor who thinks control of illegal immigrants is a high priority, and Sophia Kaiser who needs to learn how to write. Here is a paragraph of her bio selected at random

AbsoluteObediencetoAbsoluteANATHEMAObedience: 153ArchonDemon-Indoctrinations PossessingMe/

Somehow she managed to get a much longer entry than anyone else. Most of it as incomprehensible as that quote. I cannot imagine a Council Meeting if she were to command the floor.

I would also suggest you make your list early and take it to one of the advance voting places (community centres or City Hall) to avoid the lineups that will bedevil election day.

I would also suggest you look at the very short entry for Ken Denike who thinks he is entitled to continue his reign at the School Board largely on his conviction that you will already know all about him. Of course if you vote NPA or BC Liberal you already do, so why are you reading this?

I voted

Written by Stephen Rees

October 2, 2018 at 10:50 am

Posted in politics, Vancouver

Short term rental

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This blog post is cobbled together from facebook postings prompted by recent events: I had been seeking assistance there but it turned out with a bit of luck and my very own Miss Marple we were able to track things down.

Context

Short term rentals have exploded everywhere. There have always been short terms lets for tourists – holiday cottages, flats and bed and breakfasts all offering furnished accomodation as a cheaper alternative to hotels and with more or less service. We have all (I suspect) used them. The internet changed how we booked them. We no longer buy a copy of a magazine like The Lady (which used to have lots of holiday lets in its small ads over the winter) we go to a website like Craigslist, or one of the growing number of specialists sites and apps of which airbnb maybe the best known but there are lots of others. In Vancouver, many advocates for increasing the supply of rental housing have been pointing to the explosion of these services as one of the reasons that rents are high and vacancy rates near zero. The revenue from these short term rentals is a lot higher than a long term tenancy.

The City of Vancouver “enacted a new bylaw that permits Vancouver residents to operate short-term rentals in their principal residence for stays of less than 30 days” starting April 19 this year. “Secondary suites can be operated as a short-term rental by an owner if it is their principal residence” but they need a business license.

A Series of Events

There are over 80 suites in our building and there has been a fairly high rate of turnover. We also see plenty of care aids coming to visit their clients.  We try to get to know our neighbours. We also have a common laundry.  There are of course rules about how these facilities are shared. There is a system of reservation of laundry times – and one of the things that has changed recently is the number of times people have been in the laundry having the machines explained to them. Whenever we ask who these people are they usually are said to be relatives of the owner. One or two owners seem to have a lot of visitors.

One day we met a very pleasant young man in the elevator going down to the laundry. We asked him when he had moved into the building and he explained that he was in a short term rental. He said he was only here for three days prior to going on a cruise to Alaska. Miss Marple observed him going into a newly renovated unit – one we had been into on an “open house” event. At that time it had its own, newly installed washer and dryer.

Every strata has bylaws. Bylaw 14 in ours is pretty straightforward

No strata lots may be rented or leased

It goes on to set out a few exceptions but none cover short term rentals or operating a bed and breakfast out of your suite.

 

We did a quick scan of the airbnb web page looking for something in our vicinity, but found nothing. Then a couple of days later, there was some undelivered mail on the shelf by our mailboxes. Two envelopes – both addressed to the suite in question and from Booking.com in Amsterdam. There was no name of the addressee but a company “Royal Crown” on one “Royal Crown & Suite” on the other. Miss Marple did a Google search and there it is – not on Booking.com but airbnb. I have taken screen shots, so let me know if that link doesn’t work in the comments, and I will add them here.

I looked at the information and saw what appeared to be a business licence number. The City has the data on business licenses available as spreadsheets you can search. I established that the number quoted referred to two people I do not know and an address of a suite on Howe Street.

So I used the VanConnect app to report what we had learned to the City. Apparently many people are disappointed with the lack of action by the City on this issue and there is also now a Twitter account that is increasing the pressure (hat tip to Sean Orr for that link). You can also go to this report an issue page on the City’s site.

I also joined up for airbnb and tried to send the owner of the unit a message. That wasn’t possible since there was not a single date I could book the unit. This seemed a bit odd to me, so I reported that to Airbnb Support.

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The response time “may vary” is a flat lie. They just don’t want to communicate any more with me. There is, of course, no other way to communicate with them. I have never used airbnb – and now I don’t think I ever will.

Action

I don’t expect the Strata Council or the Building Manager to act as though this were an emergency. I do think that it may offer us a way of increasing the strata revenue since the by law also identifies a fine

(b) if the rental continues beyond the provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act, levy a fine of $500 every 7 days of prolonged occupancy, such fine to be added to the monthly assessment of the owner;

Now I also think that we probably need to add some wording at this point to cover the short term issue. The fines are now much greater than $500 for seven days for non-compliant short term rentals. Just by looking at the 8 reviews for September alone on this one suite – and taking them at face value – there is some revenue due. The Property Manager seems a bit hung up on the Residential Tenancy bit so we may need a General Meeting to resolve that.

The City could fine the owner $1,000 a day for as long he stays in business: the bogus business license should act as a trigger. Hopefully we will hear a bit more in due course and if we do I will update this post.

There is also the really useful Condominium Home Owners’ Association of BC. They have a number of bulletins on short term rentals – these are pdf documents to download listed here: look in the index under “rentals” for “short term rentals”.

By the way, since I joined airbnb I have now submitted a complaint using their online form, and got this response

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The City has now responded to my complaint using the VanConnect app: the status is “In Progress”. The City has also responded to my partner – just acknowledging receipt of the complaint. The building manager says that he has spoken to the owner. However, the listing is still on airbnb complete with the bogus business license number. (Last checked October 11, 2018)

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Posted in housing, Vancouver

Tagged with

Vancouver Election 2018

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The City has now produced its randomly ordered ballot for the upcoming election.

Given the size of the ballot I realised I would need something written to take into the voting place with me, where the names of the progressive candidates I would like to see elected would be in the same order as the ballot paper. I tweeted these out as three messages but I am also going to put all three lists here, for ease of reference.

Already someone has responded that their list is different – well d’uh! – they want to see OneCity folks. Sure if you want to produce your own list don’t let me stop you. I worked mine out on the basis of Green Party (of course) then Vision and COPE then independents that I have been impressed by. Of course your preferences and methodology for selection may be different from mine.

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Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2018 at 10:55 am

Posted in politics, Vancouver

Tagged with , ,

Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan Amendments

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The image and text below is taken from the latest Arbutus Greenway Newsletter from the City. I would expect that if you are deeply concerned about the Greenway that you would already have signed up for, but I suspect there might be a wider audience who will find this information of interest.

The Greenway currently ends at Fir St. The former CP right of way ran beyond this point northwards to West 1st Avenue where it was joined by the line from Terminal Avenue (that became The Olympic Line) and then went over False Creek on a trestle. The Olympic Line terminated at Granville Island and the land between the station and West 2nd Avenue was used to build a Starbucks. If the proposed amendment goes forward non-transportation use of this land would be allowed, and the potential to re-establish a through route following the former Interurban line could be lost.

POSTSCRIPT

I have received that following information from the City

“The intention is to connect the former Olympic Line with the Arbutus line, and the Citywide streetcar network plan is considering routing options to do that. We are not using the Option Lands due to engineering and safety constraints.”

SECOND POSTSCRIPT August 31

Loonie deal: City of Vancouver may resell portions of Arbutus corridor for $1

In the Georgia Straight

“In the purchase agreement between the city and CPR, Article 11 stipulates that if these properties, which have a total combined area of 0.62 hectare, are removed from Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan, CPR will have the option to buy back the lands for $1.”

Arbutus map

In line with the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision and the Arbutus Greenway purchase agreement we have determined that the area between West 1st Ave and West 5th Ave is not required for future greenway purposes. Therefore, the City is proposing to:

Amending these bylaws will not change the current zoning of the properties.

The proposed changes are supported by the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision which has highlighted a number of safe and accessible alternatives for the proposed greenway extension routes to False Creek and Granville Island.

To learn more about the amendments please visit our website here. You can also read the July 24, 2018 Policy Report.

 

Share Your Thoughts with Council on the Arbutus Corridor ODP

Vancouver City Council will hold a Public Hearing on the Arbutus Corridor ODP Amendment on:

  • Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018
  • Time: 6:00 pm
  • Place: Council Chamber, Third Floor, City Hall

There are two ways you can participate:

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Arbutus Centre: Park impact

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Block D will replace what now remains of the existing mall. It is a three storey building. The Main Floor now houses the liquor store, bank, Safeway (pharmacy and convenience store only) and the dance studio. The top floor used to be offices but is currently unoccupied. The building sits on a basement car park with what used to be the Village Recreation Centre which is now used by the Dance Co with a pool now rented to a company which teaches children to swim. That part of the building although underneath the stores is at ground level on the park side.

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This view is taken from the path through the park looking south east. Immediately in front is the pool and the roof of the atrium between the liquor store and Safeway can be seen at the top of the building. Behind it is one of cranes in use to construct blocks A and B.  (UPDATE – those two large trees at the sides of this picture have now been cut down to allow for sewer construction.)

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In the drawing, the point where I was standing to take the picture would be on the bottom edge midway, looking south east.  I have put a ^ mark in the title space which ought to line up no matter what screen you are using to view this.

So the pool block gets replaced by the row of town houses set in echelon along the path. Behind that looms Block D. Here are the elevations for that block – west and north respectively.

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Block D will be twelve storeys high or 72m (236ft) geodetic datum. But sits on land one storey above the park ground level – to the right of the image above. The extended Yew Street is on the left of this view.

The crane is currently constructing blocks A and B which were granted permission for 8 and 6 storeys respectively. Since the crane has to work over the 8 storey structure, the tip of the vertical tower of the crane is probably a good indicator of where the roof of the proposed block D will be.

Unbelievably the design panel and staff reports both draw attention to the impact on the park – and use words like “massing” and “shadowing” to characterize the issue. But that is not enough in their view to stop the proposal. They both indicate that somehow this can be mitigated even though the developer will have been granted permission to proceed. I simply do not understand why this council would approve this proposal before any of the necessary changes have been designed. It is not at all clear how these impacts can be reduced. It is also not clear how staff will determine that the concerns have been adequately addressed.

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This building was recently completed at the SW corner of West Boulevard and 37th Ave. It is pretty typical of what has been approved in recent years.

The Ridge

This is The Ridge at 16th Avenue and Arbutus.

Both of these are four storey buildings on a major arterial. What is proposed now is a building three times this height, overlooking a park.

AFTERWORD

The tweet below appeared on my Tweetdeck feed on Tuesday July 17 around 2pm

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Written by Stephen Rees

July 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm

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?

 

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

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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