4464 Dunbar Street
Despite the lack of formal training in the urban planning or architecture fields, Hannah and I like to think we’ve started to become pretty good at noticing elements that may hold a project up. That was the case at the recent open house for this development, which had to contend not only with the strict guidelines of the 20 year old Dunbar Community Vision, but also the sloped terrain. Ultimately, it seems the Urban Design Panel shared many of our concerns.
Maybe it is because we attended the open house, but I wasn’t surprised when the applicant revealed that, so far, they haven’t received any complaints about the height of the building. That said, many expressed concern over the potential loss of the neighbourhoods cherished small businesses. As someone that has often patronized businesses in the Dunbar Village, I found that somewhat ironic, as many operators I’ve spoken with seem excited for the customers the new developments will bring.
However, almost every member of the panel felt the proposal could do more to encourage these small businesses to return to the neighbourhood after this project is completed. In fact, most of their criticisms revolved around how people would experience and interact with the building from the outside. While some criticized it as feeling relentless, everyone acknowledged it was doing the best it could given the restrictions placed upon it, and agreed that some needed to be relaxed.
Once again, some of these comments likely won’t make it into the minutes, as they critique city policy. For instance, it was pointed out that many of the flaws are not the fault of the project, but instead are due to city regulations. It was highlighted in the panel’s summary that city staff need to revisit the C-2 zoning guidelines, as it seems to now be negatively affecting almost every project that comes to the panel for review.
Still in this case, the panel found plenty of flaws with this top heavy design, chiefly that the project seemed to be unfinished. They recommended that there needed to be more detailed information on the glazing to solid wall ratio, and that the location of the exhaust vents for the retail stores needed to be considered before moving forward. The panel was concerned that, when these systems are implemented, it would make the laneway outdoor amenity even less usable. They felt that feature needed more design development with regards to its size, exposure, and even location.
While Hannah and I expected those concerns about the laneway, I didn’t expect the panel to have so many regarding the public realm on Dunbar Street. To help improve that aspect, it was advised there should be more design development to the size of the storefront windows, and that there should be more detail with respect to the grade variation, business signage, and lourvers. The intent was to help promote small mom-and-pop shops, and it was felt that, while more storefront doors would encourage them, the size of the retail spaces may prevent them from being successful.
Though there was praise for the plaza space, some were concerned that the art feature would be destroyed by skateboards, which was the fate of a similar project by the same artist at the Olympic Village Station. Other members felt it was important to ensure the space was sheltered from rain, and not completely taken over by patio space, so it could be used by the general public. However, none of these fears made it into the recommendations.
It was the semi-private spaces that rounded out the final recommendations. The panel felt that the balconies along Dunbar should be enclosed, as should the balcony guards along the top of the building, as they currently made the building feel even more relentless. At this point, with such a long list of recommendations, I expected the project would be advised to resubmit to the panel. However, to my surprise, the motion that was first put forward was for approval. An awkward silence ensued when no one moved to support it and though the second motion, for the project to resubmit, had an equally slow start, it was ultimately approved unanimously.
As many of the panel’s concerns seem straightforward, city staff may instead choose to move the application forward to a hearing, but require that these changes be implemented as conditions of approval. That said, there’s plenty of time for your voice to influence this design, so you make your voice heard by contacting the project facilitator, Carl Stanford, at email@example.com or by phone at (604)-871-6796.