Conditioned For Failure – Vancouver’s Mistakes May Destroy Local Family’s Rental Housing Dream

512 West King Edward Avenue – DP-2019-00708 – Reema Royale
One of the sad truths Hannah and I have learned is that it’s almost impossible for anyone but a large company, or government body, to redevelop property in our city. Granted, smaller firms often have success, but local families, like the one who owns this site, sometimes lack the resources to navigate this complex and convoluted process. This Urban Design Panel review not only highlighted that problem, but identified what could be a fatal flaw for this rental building.

That’s because like all proposals, its 2016 rezoning approval was tentative on meeting a series of conditions (pg 15) at the development application stage. City staff sounded embarrassed to admit a lack of coordination between the planning and engineering departments had created a set of unachievable requirements that conflicted with each-other. Specifically, it was impossible to connect to the neighbouring parkade, and turn over part of this already narrow property to widen King Edward Avenue (pg 22), while retaining more of the existing trees (pg 18).

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The mistakes don’t stop there, as the applicant was originally told this review wouldn’t be needed. However, after they disposed of their 5-figure scale model, they were advised city staff had changed their minds. The panel understood this prominent location required some extra attention, but were baffled that the Cambie Corridor Plan (pg 53) only allowed six floors across from the King Edward Canada Line station. Clearly most of them had fallen for what was described as a “beautiful,” “handsome” design.

The credit for that vision largely lays with the old architect firm who now has bigger opportunities, but it was the new team who refined it. They’ve taken a project that managed to achieve LEED Gold and turned it to one that can easily hit LEED Platinum. As this has been realized through cost-effective measures, like optimizing the mullions, reducing the vision glass, and providing more insulation, some panellists suggested the applicants could still do more.

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Instead of pouring money into thermally broken balconies, the property owner has invested in higher quality glass, and a rooftop amenity that makes up for the small amount of space on this tight site. Its biggest critic felt that there should be more activities geared to teenagers, namely an urban agriculture plot and BBQ. Though the majority was more appreciative of this generous space and its amazing views, they had some suggestions on how to improve it for everyone.

Reflected in their minuted comments, their hope was city staff would permit the relaxations needed to incorporate a small indoor amenity and bathroom. That said, a similar desire for the outdoor amenity to offer more uses and weather protection was included as a consideration. The panel was also concerned about the future residents’ privacy, particularly as the lighting of the model caused some confusion. For this reason they suggested the applicant consider the placement of the opaque glass.

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I’m not sure why these two models disorientated the panel, but a couple also failed to realise the black lines on the larger model were in the previous submission too. A new gold colour has been added, but the applicants hoped to remove the decorative stone printed spandrel, which the panel supported. They also approved how the city’s demand to locate the lobby on Cambie Street had been handled, but added a consideration calling for it to be more pronounced.

In contrast, those who fondly remembered the retaining wall on King Edward suggested reusing some of the existing stones, and a consideration called for the new walls appearance to be softened. All of these considerations were to the applicant’s discretion, and the project won support by a 8 -1 vote. The lone member against was passionate in their feeling this building didn’t belong here, as the Cambie Heritage Boulevard created a gateway to heritage thqat stretched across the entire street.

This lone vote may get their wish, as I don’t know how staff will address their critical mistake, or what happens when conditions of approval can’t be met. The panel’s support will play a big role, but public opinion matters more. So make sure to send your thoughts to project facilitator Mike Bird, at mike.bird@vancouver.ca or (604)-829-9770. The deadline to be included in the staff report is today, January 31st, 2019, but comments will be considered until the project’s fate is decided.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer – S Benjamin Holdings LTD
ArchitectsBradbury Architecture

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