Vancouver’s Planning Department Rebels Against Urban Design Panel Recommendations – A Seven Year Process Nears It’s End

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Some days it’s hard to believe it has been almost two years since Hannah and I started City Duo, but that pales in comparison to the seven years this applicant team has spent on this project. It seems that it first went public back in 2014, at a meeting of the Vancouver Heritage Commission, and then sat quietly as its historic merits were debated until its first open house in 2017. That meeting was uneventful, yet a separate one forced further delays.

Perhaps those former members of the Urban Design Panel were cautious due to the anger directed to the application at 105 Keefer as they requested resubmission of this proposal in 2017. However, it never received anywhere near that level of opposition, which is likely why city staff have allowed it to be grandfathered under the repealed rezoning policy. That decision proved uncontroversial at its most recent open house, and was supported in September by the Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee.

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Left May 2017 Application / Right September 2019 Revision

That review largely set the tone for this meeting, and foreshadowed the conflict that would bring its end. Apparently the applicant team took those instructions to heart, as they presented two options to the panel, one stayed true to the concept submitted to the city, but the other reflected the suggested changes. The later eliminates the setbacks at the upper levels, bringing them flush to the corner to create the condition needed for a strong gateway to Chinatown.

Several of the five panellists in attendance praised the love, stamina, and resolve it’s taken to stick with this process, and one blamed the number of reviews for making it more difficult. They hoped this wouldn’t become the new normal, as there were too many hoops to jump through and another wonder if some eliminated height could be restored. That said, the applicants have benefited from the experience as the panel felt their presentation should be held as an example.

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Left September 2019 Revision / Right November 2019 Alternative

The only complaints focused on finer grain issues related to the development permit stage. Which is why their first recommendation called for more design development of the balcony railings and glazing detail. Though they couldn’t identify what, they felt something was off with the fenestration, and how the balconies met the ground. There was also some small criticism about the location of the planting on the rooftop garden, but it was generally recognized as a great amenity.

I thought the panel’s second recommendation to support the alternate concept with a taller corner element with cornice would bring the meeting to an end, but I was thoroughly mistaken. Normally it’s a formality when the chair asks city staff whether they have any comments, but that was not the case this time. They noted the model represented a compromise between the new and old guidelines, appearing shorter due to the setback, while using a strengthened middle to act as a gateway.

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Above September 2019 Revision / Below November 2019 Alternative

The panel refused to support the concept shown in the model, and believed their recommendation would address any opposition to the second concept, but city staff pushed back. They were clearly concerned that option had been presented before they had a chance to fully review it, and that it resulted in a slight increase to the overall density. When the applicant revealed the increase was only about 100 square meters, the panel dismissed this concern.

The chair noted the extra density was well-handled, and staff could simply make the changes shown in the alternate concept a condition of approval when it went to a public hearing. The rest of the panel backed up this compromise when they voted unanimously to support the project at the rezoning stage. No matter which vision you support, your opinion could make a big difference, so make sure to express it here.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership Bonnis Development Corporation
ArchitectsStudio One Architecture
Landscape Architects – Prospect & Refuge

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