Underground Barriers Cause Royal Pains For Permanently Affordable Modular Housing Initiative

1406-1410 East King Edward Ave
It was fitting this Urban Design Panel meeting was being broadcast live, with every chair in the room filled, as city staff announced it would mark the end of an era. Over the decades, they admitted city policy had grown complacent, focused only on providing a smooth transition between condos and single-family homes. Having ignored CMHC’s divestment from social housing in the 1980s, the loss of developer’s profit was seen as a trivial concern until home prices grew too high.

Facing a “record housing crisis,” and a severe affordability problem they now recognized not all forms of tenure should be judged equally, even if it makes some uncomfortable. Hannah and I observed that at this project’s virtual open house, as dozens of comments decried its scale, and worried it would unleash an “invasion of hoodlums.” Granted, just two individuals were responsible for about twenty of those remarks, but several panellists shared their concerns over its contextual fit.

Despite claiming to understand the need for these 118 non-market homes, one member specifically refused to examine them through anything besides the same lens used for condos. Regardless if this block would continue to remain two floor detached homes, or evolve into the six story mid-rises now permitted by the streamlined secured rental policy, this level of density made some nervous. In contrast, another thought it simply balanced the hundreds of strata homes in King Edward Village across the road.

Ultimately, they couldn’t achieve a consensus on whether this amount of housing was appropriate. As a compromise they recommended design development to the project expression to the east and south to the park. However, the Permanent Modular Supportive Housing Initiative (PMSHI) impressed everyone, as it allows for a short six month construction timeline that still achieves passive house standards. The correct choice of materials had ensured this uniform expression had been successfully broken down, and was heading in the right direction.

That said, the upper levels had made a wrong turn as they lacked the common amenity balcony found on the lower levels. This featured heavily in the recommendation to consider amenity spaces at each floor and to consider views and orientation for maximum user benefit. That was intended to take advantage of the open air above King Crest Park rather than the North Shore Mountains, yet they felt the biggest missed opportunity was at the ground floor.

The resulting recommendation to consider strategies to increase permeability and engagement with program spaces at grade ignored advice from the local urban indigenous community. Their feedback noted the rooftop location can accommodate smudging ceremonies, access to medicinal plants, and offered privacy from the nearby 25 bus stop. The panel meanwhile was more interested in promoting neighbourhood integration and issued a recommendation to improve the response to the public realm at grade by considering strategies to relocate services off of grade.

As an architect noted, the reason the sprinkler room was forced above ground was the “damned parking ramp” took up too much room (pg 7). As it only provided access for four cars (and 129 bike stalls), there were suggestions they could utilize street parking instead, or lease spots in a nearby building. A lone voice worried how the neighbourhood could accommodate all this extra foot traffic, though another preferred a more urban laneway, which might align better with the area’s future.

Apparently the city has plans for a park-related building at the northwest edge of King Crest Park, likely disappointing those who wanted a stronger pedestrian connection to that green space. Nonetheless, they understood this was beyond the applicant’s control, and unanimously approved a motion showing this application had done enough to earn their support. That won’t interest those who are using this process to criticize a separate proposal in Kitsilano, so it’s even more important to leave your comments here.

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

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership – Vancouver Native Housing SocietyVancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society, M’akola Development Services, CMHC, BC Housing, & Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency
Architects – Stantec
Landscape Architects – Stantec

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