Urban Design Panel Urges Vancouver Rental Homes To Find Sunny Ways Despite City Council Delays

3449-3479 W 41st Ave and 5664 Collingwood St
It’s fitting that this meeting started with several Urban Design Panel members discussing their plans for retirement, as many of the homes in this rental building are being targeted for that very demographic. The applicant explained their discussions with the Dunbar Residents’ Association led them to provide more studio homes to ensure students, and those who love Dunbar, will be able to continue to live here. Unfortunately, city council’s recent actions may make that more difficult in the future.

As city staff were cautious about what they were saying, it took some time for the panel to tease out the full explanation. Eventually, they revealed the policies to replace the Affordable Housing Choices IRP, and allow four floor rental buildings on select side streets had been delayed (pg 8) until after the Vancouver Plan is settled. Conversely, they claimed the planning department really wanted these initiatives to move forward, but couldn’t get ahead of a council that hasn’t acted.

Still, they acknowledged it was inconceivable these changes wouldn’t eventually happen especially on West 41st Avenue as it’s now served by the R4 Line, and most of these volunteers agreed. A lone voice of dissent admitted they didn’t understand the economics needed to make rental housing viable, yet felt this scale was the wrong fit for a neighbourhood that was so proud of its landscaped gardens. The ensuing discussion led to one of the longest recommendations I’ve ever seen.

It was actually broken into three parts, with a desire to accommodate the neighbouring single-family homes leading to 1A) which called for more articulation and expression of the north elevation, and west side. In contrast, 1B) suggested a review of the unit mix that drove the expression of the south facade, as the panel believed the studio homes had contributed to a monolithic look. Finally, 1C) was to simply strengthen the corner expression at West 41st Avenue and Collingwood.

This language evolved several times, and if not for the efforts of a city employee who captured this on screen, I wouldn’t have been able to write this recap. However, what was clear is the majority were concerned about mitigating any impact on the surrounding multi-million dollar homes, despite their support for the proposed height. As such, the second recommendation was to explore further stepping and increase the setbacks on the north and east sides of the building.

Included in this was also the instruction to increase the amount of common outdoor amenity spaces on the terraces. Ideally, they hoped this would reduce some of the private patio areas, who’s placeholder images confused one member as they included a kitchen sink. This was somewhat appropriate, as the fourth recommendation to improve all amenity spaces essential threw that fixture at the applicants, and it once against was comprised of two subsections.

Perhaps the applicants had done their homework, as their plan to locate study rooms at the interior corner of each floor addressed a common concern about privacy issues. Unfortunately, a lack of windows led to recommendation 4A) to provide operable window and access to natural light to all amenity spaces. 4B) was similar as it suggested to consider providing an upper level amenity room next to an outdoor terrace, and consider relocating the children’s play area for better sunlight access.

The third recommendation also focused on this level, and highlighted the impact one person can make. While most agreed with the desire to improve the ground level activation through patio level access to the ground floor suites, a lone individual championed the call to lower the entire building. City staff cautioned this wasn’t necessary to achieve the former goal, but this member insisted it be included as they were tired of “doing damage control” due to raised parking ramps.

They ultimately convinced their colleagues to include this in the motion, and the chair paused for a moment to consider if it should be one of re-submission. Ultimately, they moved a motion of support which was approved 7 – 3, though by this point one individual had left the meeting. Fortunately, it’s far less time consuming to quickly leave your comments on the project here, or to express your thoughts on the larger issues that were raised to city council here.

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

Applicant Team Information:

Developer – Sightline Properties
Architects – Ciccozzi Architecture Inc
Landscape Architects – Enns Gauthier Landscape Architects

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