Hannah and I want to preface this post with a quick note that we deeply respect the staff in the City of Vancouver’s planning department. They’re devoted public servants, highly educated in their field, and often endure horrific abuse. However, even the best of us screw up occasionally, and it certainly feels like that happened with this proposal to revamp a 45 million dollar, 1.5 acre vacant lot on Kingsway, formerly home to a Rona Hardware Store.
We never received the pre-application notice for this project, so we learned about it the way many others did, through a Daily Hive article. Now, thanks to someone who filed a freedom of information request in October, we’ve discovered why a formal development application has been delayed, and what’s going on behind the scenes.
Originally, the proposal called for the site to be transformed into four blocks of townhomes to respond to the neighbouring single family homes. A 16 floor tower along Kingsway punctuated the development, and responded to the similarly sized King Edward Village across the road and the recently built Kensington Gardens to the east.
Proposed Massing Variations -Source (pg 40)
Surprisingly, an August 22nd Freedom of Information request reveals that many of the neighbouring single family home owners didn’t bother to attend the event. In fact, the opposition mostly came from residents of the King Edward Village towers, eight of whom insisted that this building be shortened to preserve their views (pg 4).
Still, seven attendees supported the height, and the remaining seven people weren’t concerned enough to even comment on it (pg 4). The majority seemed to support the plan, and praised the townhomes and pedestrian mews that Rositch Hemphill Architects had designed (pg 4).
Sadly, none of those voices ever really mattered. One week before the event, a meeting of senior staff, which included the head of the planning department, Gil Kelly, resulted in the rejection of the applicant’s design (pg 28). These individuals felt 16 floors was too tall, despite the scale of the neighbouring towers and policy which conditionally allows for this height on large C2 zoned properties. Which begs the question, as the decision was already made to reject it, what was the point in seeking community input in the first place (pg 28)?
Now, whatever the applicant puts forward will make the neighbouring residents feel like they’ve been deliberately mislead. These senior officials have required the tower to be reduced to 12 floors, choosing to spread its density across the site. This has increased both the height of the podium, and has resulted in 4 story stacked townhomes (pg 42) to the north. Our past experience leads us to believe the neighbouring single family home owners will likely be livid at this a betrayal of expectations.
Even worse is that city staff, in an exchange with the assistant director of urban design, actually worried that if the open house went “too well,” it would become harder to force the applicant to reduce the building’s height (pg 33). Ironically, they now feel the shortened tower is too bulky, and want the massing further sculpted away (pg 42). Of course, as stricter environmental polices have recently come into force, they’re also asking, but not requiring the applicant, Cressy Development Group, to follow these new guidelines (pg 42).
The disconnect between the two sides is clear, as they can’t even agree on the tone of the open house, described as a “huge success” by the applicant, but as a “mixed reception” by city staff (pg 29). One staff member seemed particularly irritated that a member of the applicant team joked about “tossing out the bad” feedback forms (pg 29).
Three Concepts -Source (pg 66 – 68)
Though what really upsets us is that the public’s opinion was given no value. It’s shocking these senior members wouldn’t wait to hear the community’s feedback, which seemed to contradict their decision. After all, voices in opposition often lead to projects being cut back in scale, why shouldn’t the opposite be true? However, in this case, the views of those opposed were dismissed as well, as preconceived notions seem to have been valued above all else.
Given that an official application still hasn’t been made public, and as the applicant claimed to be eager to move forward (pg 46), we can only assume the project continues to experience further difficulties outside the timeline of this FOI request.
While public feedback didn’t seem to matter before, that’s no reason to stay quiet. Force them to hear your voice by contacting the applicant team and city staff involved in these decisions at their respective addresses below. After all, positive or negative, in favor or against, your opinion deserves to be heard and respected.
Update : Upon further reflection, as this was a pre-application open house, we recommend you reach out to the applicant team at firstname.lastname@example.org