Generous Amenities Help Middle Class Rental Homes Wash Away A Brutal Past

2538 Birch St (DP-2021-00628)
Given the tone of this Urban Design Panel meeting, you would never know that this proposal under the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program had once gone through a passionate public hearing. With hundreds of letters, both in support and opposition, the decision came down to a single vote on city council, who split 6-5 to approve its general shape and form last summer. Of course, it would be a mistake to think this divide has healed since then.

Today, that’s shifted kitty-corner to this site where a taller office building is proposed, and down the block to what’s envisioned above the future South Granville SkyTrain station. That said, there are those who continue to stand against this project, and at this event they outnumbered the number of city planners present. Granted, there were only two of them, and they were a few minutes late, but then again so was one of the most important members of this applicant team.

There was certainly a sense of relief once Debra Sparrow found the right door to this room, as the widespread support for her artwork has grown like this weave pattern itself. That this wave of water now washed into the public realm was seen as a key element of how the interaction with Birch Street had been opened up and improved. The experience along West Broadway was similarly well received, and there were suggestions that a recommendation should recognize this.

That’s because the panel viewed the adjacent city-owned sidewalks as a brutal, barren space that wasted the energies of this proponent. A landscape architect underscored this dissatisfaction, with what they later admitted was a trick question to city staff, who earnestly attempted to answer it by referring to the upcoming Broadway Plan’s potential. Yet, an architect on the panel was more concerned with how this structure would be seen at a distance, as they felt that’s how Broadway is best experienced.

They struggled with the multiple stepped roof levels, as it reminded them of 1930’s Manhattan, and would only serve to increase construction costs, and pose sustainability challenges. Noting the high quality of materials used, they thought this look could be accomplished visually rather than physically. This idea was hinted at in a recommendation for design development to tower form to ensure significant improvement to building stepping and massing strategy with respect to livability form factor, and unit complexity.

Still, the thermally broken balconies were appreciated, and it was acknowledged the amount and quality of the amenities areas were very generous. The problem was, aside from the top level, there wasn’t always an indoor space to accompany them, which, given the podium’s large size, was seen as a missed opportunity. A passing remark highlighted that might be a better place to locate the children’s play area, currently situated on the top level, and others saw the opportunity that presented.

To ensure parents would have somewhere to rest and use the washroom nearby, they recommended to consider provision of indoor amenity space adjacent to outdoor amenity space on level four. It was understood this would likely eliminate some of these 200 market and 58 middle income rental homes, but was seen as a worthy trade-off, as both residents would be able to access these areas. In contrast, the simple architecture of these lower floors was see as the right move.

A lone member questioned whether adding banners might improve these blank walls, though feared they might detract the public art’s consistency. In fact, they believed there were several aspects that had steadily improved over the last year, which ensured the vote to approve this motion wasn’t a nail-biter, as it passed unanimously. However, the past shows a single voice can make a huge difference, so don’t sit silent when the Development Permit Board decides this application’s fate on November 15th, 2021.

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

Applicant Team Information:

Developer – Jameson Broadway & Birch LP (Jameson Development Corp)
Architects – IBI Group
Landscape Architects – Durante Kreuk Ltd.

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