New Dunbar Development Excludes One Bedroom Homes to Gain Community Acceptance

4464 Dunbar Street
While we have friends who’s parents live in Dunbar and who support greater density, and have recently witnessed support in the community for the Make Room Duplex Policy, we were still expecting a high level of opposition to this proposal when we went down to Dunbar for this open house. Though we were not as involved with our community in the past, we still remember the news coverage of the extreme backlash to a 6 story building which was proposed for the former site of Stong’s Market. Ultimately, that led to city staff rejecting it before it had a chance to be heard at a public hearing.

However, much like the open house about the Make Room Policy, we were completely wrong about the mood of this proposal’s reception. While it seems we missed the early rush by the time we arrived at roughly 6pm, we still had a chance to converse with many of the roughly 50 people that came through. By far the largest complaint we heard was a concern that the retail stores were too large to survive, and should be broken down into small store fronts. This is something that actually seems possible, given the jagged design of the storefronts along Dunbar.

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Apparently that element was initially opposed by city staff, but the applicant managed to successfully convince them of its benefits. Unfortunately, they were unable to repeat this feat when it came to the location of the amenity room, which was originally planned to overlook the plaza space at the southwest corner of the building. As staff felt this concept would negatively impact the privacy of those using the square, the applicant was forced to relocate the amenity. However, we feel the new location, along with a policy that requires the indoor amenity area be paired with an outdoor space, has created new problems. Now located in the northeast corner along the laneway, the outdoor space neighbours the building’s loading bay area, so neither Darren nor I think it will see much use.

Fortunately, there is a second, far superior outdoor amenity space located on the sunny south side of the third floor’s roof. Coming complete with a sitting area for adults, a BBQ/dining area, and a children’s play area, we both think this space will be well used, and that it has been skillfully handled. The penthouse homes will also have their own balconies and rooftop patios, and we can only imagine the families who live there will be very happy with the large outdoor space.

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The building is actually designed for families, as 80% of the homes will have 2 bedrooms, while the rest will have 3. This was not the applicant’s first choice, but was done in response to a pre-application open house where those present expressed fear over the type of people who would want to live in one bedroom homes. I was stunned to hear this, as I imagine there would have been many house-rich seniors in the neighbourhood that would have loved the opportunity to cash in and downsize.

There were other aspects I could not understand about the building, such as why city staff required it have even larger setbacks than the 4 story building that was eventually approved at the former Stong’s Market location. I had hoped that, after seeing how overly prescriptive policies led to cookie-cutter architecture and a boring public realm along Cambie Street, city staff would be open to allowing more freedom of expression and design. That said, there will be some creativity, as the applicants have commissioned Marie Khouri to create a sculpture for the new public plaza, which is reminiscent of their previous work at the Olympic Village Station.

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However, that is the only way this proposal relates to mass transit, as the oversupply of 105 residential (129 total) parking stalls clearly shows it is car-focused. Perhaps that is part of the reason the building treats its southern entrance, tucked away in the laneway, as more of an after thought. While there are certainly challenges to such a long building, they seem to have been made even worse by the challenging guidelines required by the city. So, while a residential entrance at the centre of the building feels like it would make sense, we are told that policy restrictions prevent it from happening.

Still, given the building generally complies with existing zoning, and the people we spoke with had no problems with the building’s mass and height, it seems this proposal is well on its way to becoming a reality. That said, there is still plenty of time to make your voice heard, so be sure to express it by contacting the project facilitator, Carl Stanford, at carl.stanford@vancouver.ca or by phone at (604)-871-6796.

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