A Mislead Community – Vancouver’s Planning Department Rejects 16 Floor Kingsway Tower Days Before Open House

1503 Kingsway
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.

1503 Kingsway Variations.jpgProposed 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)?

1503 Kingsway Updated Stats.png-Source (pg 61)

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 info@cressey.com


6 thoughts on “A Mislead Community – Vancouver’s Planning Department Rejects 16 Floor Kingsway Tower Days Before Open House

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  1. Is nobody realizing that neither 16 nor 12 storeys is allowed on this site under C2 zoning. The maximum height suggests 55’ that’s it (Read the C2 guidelines) This is not a Rezoning. This application appears to be fatally flawed. How is anything beyond 55’ even a conversation much less a near application? A short read of the zoning on this has left me completely confused. Great piece.


    1. Hey Jack,

      As we noted in the article, a rezoning in not required as the current C2 Zoning allows for this height and density. We do apologize for not doing a better job explaining why. I’ve included a better answer below.

      Any property under the C2 zoning allows a Floor Space Ratio of up to 2.5 (page 9).
      “4.7 Floor Space Ratio
      4.7.1 The floor space ratio shall not exceed .75, except that the Director of Planning, may permit an increase in floor space ratio as follows:
      (a) for all uses combined, up to 2.5; ”

      Furthermore, in order to ensure this massing is distributed across such a large site in a manner respectful to the existing neighbourhood, to provide public/green space, and to conform with other city policies, the rules regarding height can also be conditionally increased (page 6).

      “4.3 Height
      4.3.2 Despite section 4.3.1, the Director of Planning or Development Permit Board, as the case maybe, may permit an increase in the maximum height provided the Director of Planning or Development Permit Board first considers the intent of this Schedule, all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council, and the submission of any advisory group, property owner, or tenant. ”

      Of course, as they are conditional relaxations, the proposal is required to meet other high level marks when it comes to design quality, and treatment of the public realm. This was noted by city staff (page 56).

      “· The tall building should reduce its bulkiness and exhibit a clear vertical expression. While responding to context, this should be achieved through massing sculpting and not by a cosmetic exercise.
      · The C-2 Guidelines should be followed (high livability standards, including private outdoor space, highquality materials, etc) · Landscaping and mini-plaza programming is also key.
      · If by any chance you are considering Passive House, I can help with that too.”

      While there may have been flaws in the timely communication between the applicant and senior city staff, the proposal itself is certainly within the guidelines. Hopefully this clears up any confusion. Thanks for your comments and let us know if you have further questions.


  2. Thanks Darren for posting your clarification. The By-law describes IF height can be relaxed. The guidelines, often describe HOW and to what extent it might be relaxed as here (Guidelines 4.3(e):

    (e) Relaxation of the 13.8 m portion of the height envelope may be considered up to a
    maximum of 16.8 m:
    (i) for sites that are exceptionally large in both depth and width, to achieve benefits
    such as increased neighbourliness, open space and amenity;
    (ii) for sites adjacent to active rail lines or industrially zoned land, to achieve a more
    livable form of development; and
    (iii) for sites located beside and/or across the lane from zones permitting heights greater
    than 13.8 m;
    provided that the impacts of a height relaxation on over-shadowing, overlook, or
    views of neighbouring residential development are not unduly worse than with a
    development that conformed to the height limit.

    I see that (i) is a sub of (e) meaning that for large sites height goes to a maximum of 16.8m. (i) should not be read as stand alone to permit a different height altogether then described in the document.


    1. In this case, as per section 4.3.2 of the bylaw, the director of planning must consider more than just one section of the guidelines when making a decision.

      Intent of the Bylaws:
      The intent of this Schedule is to provide for a wide range of commercial uses serving both local and city wide needs, as well as residential uses, along arterial streets. This Schedule emphasizes building design that furthers compatibility among uses, ensures livability, limits impact on adjacent residential sites, and contributes to pedestrian interest and amenity

      Intent of the Guidelines:
      (a) to address the wide range of lot sizes, orientations, uses, and neighbouring buildings that occur in C-2, and to achieve compatibility among a variety of uses, as well as between existing and new development;
      (d) to ensure a high standard of livability for housing; and
      (e) to ensure that both corridor and courtyard forms of residential continue to be possible in mixed use development, in order to allow a measure of housing variety

      Applicable Policies and Guidelines:
      – The King Edward Village, a CD-1 Zoning with similar height across the street.
      (Less Likely)
      – The MIRHP Program, Allowing over 6 and up to 14 storeys at arterial intersections
      – The Norquay Community Plan, Allowing for heights up to 14 Storeys on large sites, east of Nanaimo on Kingsway.

      The submission of the property owners:
      A request for a relaxation of up to 16 floors to provide a building similar in height to the King Edward Village along Kingsway. Townhomes have been provided on the side streets to relate to the existing properties. In addition, to create a public benefit, a publicly accessible mews and other amenity space will be provided.

      Other considerations:
      2.5 FSR can comprise many forms, eg. one 2.5 storey building comprising an entire site, one 5 floor building comprising half the site, etc. The form a development takes is impacted by several desires: to create a transition to the neighbourhood, to maintain the required setbacks between buildings, and provide adequate public and semi-private space.

      After weighing all of these considerations, the director of planning exercised their authority. This allowed for a compromise that related well to the neighbourhood, created a public benefit, but did not give the applicant everything they were asking for.

      Of course, I could be wrong in this interpretation, so one could always reach out to the city staff for their expert opinion.


      1. Hi Darren,

        Mighty good defense, but I think the City is outside of its authority on this one. The other policies you mentioned are for rezonings. There’s also no appreciable public benefit in play on this one.


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