Urban Design Panel Rewards Faux Heritage Speculators With Efforts To Illuminate Their “Crumby Neighbour”

418-496 Alexander St (450 Alexander St)
Like the Hon’s distribution centre this project will replace, I thought this Urban Design Panel meeting would deliver some good ol’ comfort for the soul. After all, at the other end of the block is the similarly-sized Roddan Lodge, and anyone who works in Railtown can tell you how badly this proposal’s 37 space daycare is needed. In fact, one of this application’s neighbours was such a passionate supporter, they actually came out to speak at this meeting.

Granted, they were the CEO of the non-profit that hoped to construct these 181 non-market homes, and occupy its ground level social enterprise space. Admittedly I was surprised to hear city staff qualify that, at one time, this would have been an extremely controversial project, as when the neighbourhood plan was approved there was a strong no tower sentiment in the community. The resulting high street walls created long, heavy shadows, which is why they were considering this alternative massing.

This form was met with wide-spread approval, as it ensured the Japanese Hall across the street remained illuminated. However, some feared it would set a precedent, and could leave the daycare in darkness if buildings to the south were allowed to do the same. City staff insisted they wouldn’t let that happen, but couldn’t deter a recommendation to consider strategies to ensure further protection of sun access for outdoor daycare through location, elevation, or future development policy.

The intent was to move it to the upper floors, which the city’s social planners had stated wouldn’t meet licensing requirements, yet this changed nobody’s mind. That wasn’t an isolated incident, as even after one panellist revealed the adjacent, heavily modified, “heritage homes” weren’t on the official registrer, others insisted they deserved preservation. As the investor who owns these properties refused to sell them for anything less than double the assessed value, they’ll find the resulting recommendation welcome news.

It called on this non-profit to consider strategies to enhance relationship to neighbouring site in its current development form, and future development opportunities. Ironically, they described this proposal as a “crumby neighour,” as the architectural expression, particularly the orange tone, didn’t align with the surrounding historical context. To remedy this, they recommended design development to architectural and landscape details with respect to materials, colours, neighbourhood and cultural referrences. That said, one cautioned that not everything needed to be Vancouver House.

They noted the wants of architects can quickly see costs add up, and that the priority should be ensuring these affordable homes worked within BC Housing’s allocated funding. While they may not have wanted to burden this project, they weren’t willing to accept that this meant people would have to live in poor conditions either. Their colleagues wholeheartedly agreed, which is why they recommended to consider adding an indoor amenity space to level seven, adjacent to the outdoor roof area.

Going hand-in-hand with this was a recommendation to consider an accessible washroom on amenity roof level, which I later learned is required by city policy anyways. Still, that request was understandable, and given the recent heat dome, so was the last recommendation. This was to consider additional suitability strategies including thermally broken balconies, higher performance windows and passive solar shading. Yet, it was the planned increase of density here, and across the city, which troubled the panel’s landscape architects.

One questioned what that would lead to, though ultimately they understood this time the result would be the creation of these much needed below-market homes. Which is likely why they joined their fellow volunteers who had no such qualms about these issues, in approving a motion to support this project, bringing this review to end nearly 30 minutes later than scheduled. Fortunately, it only takes a few short moments to send your comments to rezoning planner, Carly Rosenblat, at carly.rosenblat@vancouver.ca or 604-829-9621.

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

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership – Atira Women’s Resource Society, & TL Housing Solutions
Architects – IBI Group
Landscape Architects – ETA Landscape Architecture

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