UDP Approves of Recovery and Social Homes at 1st and Clark but Split Over Northern European Look

1636 Clark Drive & 1321-1395 East 1st Avenue
This was not your average UDP meeting, as it began with city staff asking the rare question of whether the building should be allowed to be even taller. Meanwhile, the applicant admitted their aspiration was to include as much greenery as possible to improve outcomes for the wellness centre, as well as include as many family sized homes on this site as they could. While that might be the goal of every for-profit developer, it’s harder to criticize the motives of this partnership of BC Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and the City of Vancouver. It’s fair to say that these three organizations are simply trying to get the best value for taxpayers, while dealing with an underfunded government housing program.

Despite that reality, the applicant acknowledged that the community was deeply divided on this proposal, with half in favour of more housing and half against the change to the neighbourhood. Members of that opposition were present during the meeting, and were clearly upset to learn that, while the housing and withdrawal clinic were expected to employee 50 staffers, there would only be 10 parking spaces provided.

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Taking note of all the members of the public, the chair queried the panel on whether to allow note taking. The consensus was that, despite audio and video recordings being banned, this was a public meeting, and the average person had every right to be there and take notes – lucky for me.

Those opposed to the project must have felt lucky as well, as the first panel member expressed that the massing and height of the proposal was foreign to the neighbourhood, and were worried that policy would result in every building taking this boxy form. Afterwards one person shook that panelist’s hand, expressing their thanks for those remarks. However, had they listened more carefully, they would have also heard the panelist’s support for the density and use proposed for the site.

Unfortunately for the opposition, the debate wasn’t whether the building was appropriate, but instead whether its massing should be broken up to relate better to the neighbourhood. Those who wanted the massing broken up simply felt that the western portion should be taller to compensate. One member even commented that those homes would be a great place to live, with million dollar views and hoped for a rooftop amenity space.

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The divide was so stark that the summary recognized that the opinions on the building’s height and form were very unique, diverse, and strong. However, it was noted that all members supported the density, and that the programing and location were felt to be an excellent choice. The tally of remarks revealed that a slight majority felt the current form of the building was appropriate. It was noted that Vancouver’s environmental standards will likely result in more buildings with this Northern European typology in the future.

The consensus also expressed that the public realm did a good job of sheltering residents from the nearby mini-highway, and that all the main elements were already there in this early stage. The panel appreciated the decision to incorporate Juliette balconies.

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There was a small surprise in the recommendations, as the panel felt the height of the western (Clark St) side of the building should be increased, to allow for further articulation of the east section. The other recommendations were for some design refinements of the building’s base, as well as more development of the residential portion to help imbue it with a stronger identity. With the meeting over, many of the applicant team still stuck around as Amazon’s new office building at 349 W Georgia was the next agenda item, and everyone was eager to learn more.

Now that you’ve learned about the panel’s feelings on this project, make sure to let the city know your feelings here.

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