Forgotten Details Threaten To Turn Vancouver’s Parkside Daydream Into A Contested Battleground

650 W 41st Ave (DP-2021-00512) –
Development Application 6 -The Commons, Upper Green, & Building 12
I’m a fairly rational person, yet I literally shivered when Hannah asked what would happen if, after eight reviews, the Urban Design Panel decided to reject the most recent phase of the Oakridge Centre. Sure enough, a few days later, that jinx turned what was supposed to be a short one hour review into a two and half hour marathon, that capped off a five hour session. That said, a couple members were upset it didn’t stretch on far longer.

It’s tough to join a complex process this far in, but it felt cruel when a recent addition insisted city staff, and the applicant spend multiple hours regurgitating 14 years of approved plans and five prior phases. Besides, as another panellist remarked afterwards, all of this was contained in their handout booklets that spanned hundreds of pages. Still, it was acknowledged this is about more than a single tower, as this centrepiece marked the culmination of this nine-acre park’s long journey.

The ease of movement played a large role in this discussion, as other new additions to this group continued to bring a refreshing focus on ensuring people of all ages and abilities were treated fairly. That aspiration was reflected in comments over whether the main loop path should be marked with narrower crossing points, as well as questions about the locations of elevators, and their capacity. The lack of passive access routes to the upper level was also a disappointment.

Like those that would follow, the chair struggled to summarize these points into a concisely worded instruction. Instead, the somewhat unhelpful wording of this recommendation was for design development to address accessibility and exclusivity concerns as noted in the meeting record. This wasn’t the only thing that suffered from a lack of clarity, as a few believed the programming of this massive open space had been left to their imagination, which the majority trusted would be well animated.

What they wouldn’t envision is landscaping in planters, rather than in deep-spoil, or seasonal splash pads sitting empty in the winter, with portable games suggested as method to avoid this. The Park Board also wanted activity here too, though their plans for an office and rangers on-site sparked a divide. A landscape architect underlined the need for homeless people to feel comfortable and welcome in parks, while an architect feared this would become a contested battleground of vagrants and skateboarders.

All agreed there should be quieter spaces too, with the applicant cautioning some artistic licence had been taken with the renderings. For instance, in lieu of stone circle pavers, the plug and play ready stage, as well as its green room under the great steps, will be connected with an accessible pathway, which was well received. Once again, these details were what informed a recommendation to consider appropriate technical details around park and landscape detailing as per the meeting record.

In contrast to the time spent discussing the park, the Family Room, its underground green space, and the residential tower received relatively little interest. That is until a self-described “Johnny-Come-Lately” architect highlighted how the later departed from the previously approved sections, and several others then agreed it needed more attention to be more cohesive. Ultimately, city staff, and the applicant apologized the same level of detail wasn’t displayed, with the former committing to hosting longer meetings if it was requested.

The resulting recommendation stated design development was required to the glazed façades, in particular the balcony edges, and details of the building with further refinement of the high street and residential entrance. That didn’t appease the aforementioned architect, who delayed a vote for a motion of support that was ultimately approved 6-2. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to leave your comments here, or register to speak to the Development Permit Board when they determine this proposal’s fate on October 18th, 2021.

Check out our Instagram for more images of this specific section of the Oakridge Centre here, or you click here to see how it fits into the wider site.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership – QuadReal Property Group, & Westbank Corp
Architects – Henriquez Partners Architects
Landscape Architects – PFS Studio

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