Hit The Road! Urban Design Panel Recommendations Push Camouflaged Social Housing To The Edge

2924 Venables (Alice Saunders House)
When Hannah and I started writing City Duo, we wanted to put some good into the world by preventing misconceptions over our city’s growth. The planned expansion of this senior’s social housing building has already been the victim of that, as it was met by protests when it was first introduced. Had people known its residents would be rehoused and welcomed back, these difficulties could have been avoided, and the same could be said about this Urban Design Panel meeting.

Maybe it’s because the timeline of this process was backward, as this review happened while the virtual open house was ongoing. Either way, city staff forgot about the proposed Secured Rental Policy for low-density transition areas, and incorrectly informed these volunteers that there were no plans to allow similar developments nearby. That raised sensitivity about the surrounding single-family homes, and has forced the planning department to respond to requests to alter what one member called a “too ambitious,” “massive problem.”

Others dismissed the idea that the project could achieve its desired Vancouver Special character (pg 7) found in its design rational. The majority seemed to forgive this, recognizing the actual massing was a reflection of the requirements to commendably achieve a passive house level of sustainability. Another admitted they simply believed this density was needed, but it was the applicant’s plea that a certain scale was required to secure public funding that likely prevented calls for more substantial cutbacks.

Still, most believed the massing of the upper floors were too much of a neighbourhood burden, and suggested exploring ways to mitigate their presence. This led to some discussion, as one individual wanted further measures to offset this “drastic change.” In the end, the first recommendation reflected their desire, as it called for more design development to the overall massing, in particular to the treatment of the mass at the south and east, adjacent to the single-family homes.

Ironically, several panellists noted the large trees on this site partially hide this structure, and praised the efforts that had been taken to preserve them. There were concerns this would further shadow the ground floor homes along Renfrew Street, but the bigger focus was on the courtyard space. To take advantage of it, they recommended the applicant consider locating family units at the ground floor facing courtyard. Yet they worried how this space interacted with the neighbouring RS-1 zoned properties.

In this case, the fear was nearby homeowners would assume this space was fully open for their use as well. To prevent this, they recommended considering planting and locating to define the courtyard as a semi-private open space, both from the lane and Venables. However, a lack of ramps means residents of the fully accessible homes that comprise 5% of this building will be forced to roll up to the sidewalk to access these multiple amenity levels.

To remedy this, a recommendation called for further design development to provide further accessibility between the two amenities for a more direct, barrier free, connection. One person seemed equally upset that the eastern path went past the garbage area, and they were joined by another who worried all of the openings to this area weren’t very visible. Together their opinions helped form a recommendation for design development to further emphasize these various entries.

When combined, the advice in this motion of support won the panel’s approval, and city staff have acted on it. The conditions they’ve set forward hope to address the issues raised about the impacts on the nearby single-family homes by slightly reducing this building’s living space, and shifting it closer to the arterial roads (pg 21). City council will decided if that’s the appropriate response on December 2nd, 2020, and you can let them know your thoughts by registering to speak, or writing in here.

You can view more photos from this meeting here on our Instagram.

Applicant Team Information:
Developer Partnership –
Brightside Community Homes Foundation, & BC Housing
Architects – Ryder Architecture
Landscape Architects – PMG Landscape Architects

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