Health Care Focused Rental Homes Find An Evergreen Solution To Strathcona’s Decade Old Eyesore

456-496 Prior St
As our regular readers know, Hannah and I do our best to research the projects we write about, and on this occasion we may have gone overboard. Granted, it was a fluke that, as we sorted through my family’s home videos, we found John Daly’s 1989 report on the St. James Social Services Society’s eviction by the City of Vancouver. At the time, Mayor Gordon Campbell justified that decision, noting “how would you feel if it was in your neighbourhood?”

According to famed social housing advocate May Gutteridge, seven vulnerable people were left jobless thanks to a “wasp’s nest of stings” from neighbouring residents complaining about this old paper depot. In the thirty years since, not much has changed, except that now the term “eyesore” is reserved for this mix of medical offices, and the 262 rental homes on this two-acre site. The other difference is that the nearby freshly painted character homes’ property values have grown to ~$1.7 million.

Like this application’s virtual open house, the relationship between it and those detached homes was the biggest point of contention of this Urban Design Panel review. In the opinion of one landscape architect, this was far too tall and dense to be located near Strathcona or the New St. Paul’s Hospital, as the latter should be the neighbourhood’s most prominent structure. However, the others were far more supportive of this scale, so long as it was mitigated with specific measures.

Had city council selected the Malkin Connector, instead of preserving this route as an arterial road, this wouldn’t have been an issue as, this form would have run afoul of the False Creek Flats Plan (pg 66). Yet, now a recommendation for design development to the massing to maximize sun exposure across Prior Street was seen as sufficient to comply with its conditional requirements. Many would have been satisfied with a simple setback of the fifth floor, but others had larger desires.

Understanding that these single-family homeowners could decide to turn their properties into townhomes at their leisure, these individuals felt it was important for this design to fit in with the context of today. As such, they recommended design development to Prior Street architectural expression to improve its response to Strathcona’s residential character. Another member appeared more disappointed to learn this road’s width prevented a mid-block pedestrian crossing from that neighbourhood into what they described as this project’s best feature.

This breezeway won near unanimous praise for its connection to the future Wellness Walk, as well as providing ample outdoor space for the city-owned cultural centre. Even so, one feared that it might be overshadowed by the bridge-like structures that provided substantial amenity space for residents, and be too tight to be truly accessible. Once again, a recommendation for design development to massing of south building to maximize exposure in the courtyard was thought to be the answer.

Like before, the deeper commentary suggested a setback on level five would be sufficient, so long as the right type of trees were located in the courtyard. This idea soon encompassed the entire property, with a recommendation to consider planting species to increase privacy to residential neighbourhood to the north. Ironically, this could render their earlier instructions somewhat moot, as their specific request for evergreen trees might shadow the other side of the street, and block this design from view.

That may have suited one panellist, but the rest appreciated the “thoughtful approach” to this difficult site, as their 5-1 vote to support this project demonstrated. Still, they felt sustainability improvements, like highly efficient heat recovery ventilation, or a wastewater recovery system could help it reach the next level. Whether your want to see it achieve that goal, or think it should be flushed, make sure to send your thoughts to Rezoning Planner, Leifka Vissers, at leifka.vissers@vancouver.ca or 604-829-9610.

You can view more of our photos of this project’s model, and renderings here on our Instagram.

Applicant Team Information:
Developer – Strand Development
Architects – Francl Architecture Inc.
Landscape Architects – ETA Landscape Architecture

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