Affordability Comes At A Price For Vancouver’s Hottest Rental Homes

4408-4488 Fraser St and 707-709 E 29th Ave
As Hannah and I enter our fifth year of recapping our region’s urban growth review process, Vancouver city council’s vote to streamline the secured rental policy seemed like an early Christmas present. We’re hopeful this means the Urban Design Panel multi-hour reviews of these standard six floor rental buildings will now be a thing of the past. Then again, there may be the occasional exception, like this project which seeks to stitch together a retail node on Fraser Street.

Had our elected officials not delayed their decision on that updated policy, this session may have been unnecessary. Instead, over the next hour, the lead architect tried to explain how this six floor structure fit within the community they’ve called home for thirty years. Neither the adjacent four floor strata, nor this team’s similar sized rental building nearing completion several blocks to the north was enough to assuage one of their neighbours, who happened to be in the room too.

Understandably, this panelist never disclosed where they live in the “Fraserhood,” yet they feared the single-family homes down the hill to the west would forever be burdened by this project’s shadow. As even a shorter building on the west side of the street would cast a far larger impact, their colleagues didn’t share this concern. However, their focus was on the residences along the alleyway that had been sunken five feet into the ground to accommodate this site’s awkward terrain.

Whereas I enjoy a darkened bedroom, these volunteers prefer more daylight, leading them to recommended design development to improve the livability of the townhome units on the lane. Others thought they might be the coolest part of this hot building, as there’s no plan to provide air conditioning for these rental homes. That might not sound bad right now, but the memory of the summer heat dome led to a recommendation to consider passive design strategies and provision of cooling.

Ideas ranged from incorporating a partial system, bigger operable windows, or at least cooling in the amenity room on the rooftop. Including an accessible washroom in this space was almost added to this list of recommendations too, until a landscape architect pointed out that it would be redundant, as it will be required by the building code anyways. Still, it was agreed that this space should be made more inclusive, especially in light of how many people would use it.

That might be why they didn’t buy the explanation that the small size of the outdoor rooftop amenity was to prevent people from overlooking the neighbouring detached homes. While the recommendation for design development to increase the size of the outdoor amenity space might hurt the developer’s pocket book, several members thought there were savings to be found elsewhere. One even suggested this property could easily accommodate far more housing, but acknowledged that city staff wouldn’t allow it.

So the group identified areas in the busy architectural expression that could be cutback, like the complicated jogging roofline. That the recommendation for design development to simplify the architectural expression and materiality would improve the relationship to community was seen as an added benefit. You can probably guess which member questioned whether it added enough to the community to earn their support, yet the majority felt the new storefronts and townhomes would make this a welcome addition to the area.

Like the motion to support this project, that sentiment was one that won unanimous support, including from those present who live in the area. Even the resident member of the applicant team agreed these comments reflected parts of this proposal that needed to evolve, and they were sure their client would recognize the benefits afforded by an air-conditioning system. That said, only your comments will ensure these homes see the light of day, so make sure to leave them here.

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

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership – Strand Properties Corporation, and Locarno Legacy Corporation
Architects – Integra Architecture Inc.
Landscape Architects – Prospect & Refuge Landscape Architects

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