Friday, July 17, 2020

Sam Geller January 14, 1912 - July 17 2004


Today is the 16th anniversary of my father's death. In looking for an article I once wrote about him, I came across this article from five years ago in The Jewish Independent, Vancouver's Jewish community newspaper:

Some superior senior solutions

Every year, we look to the Jewish Seniors Alliance Spring Forum for inspiration and the 170 people gathered in the Wosk Auditorium at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on April 26 found it.

After some opening activities....Moderator Gloria Levi, a social services consultant, was then introduced. Levi has a master’s degree in public policy and is the author of Dealing with Memory Changes As You Grow Older and a series of booklets, Challenges of Later Life.
She introduced Michael Geller, an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer, who serves on the adjunct faculty of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development. The talk was conducted in an interview format.
Geller’s topic was Lessons My Father Taught Me. He acquainted listeners with the unique and collaborative relationship he shared with his father, Sam Geller, who was one of the first members of the Jewish Senior Advisory Council (the original name of the JSA). He passed away 11 years ago at the age of 92.
Sam Geller was born in England and was a soldier in the Second World War who had survived being a prisoner of war. That occurrence colored his life. The very fact that he had survived made him happy and grateful to be alive and he never sought material things for happiness, often saying that things could have been so much worse. He moved to Vancouver from Toronto and enjoyed life at Langara Gardens, his grandchildren visiting him, doing Sudoku, crosswords, swimming and exercising daily. Then, after an emergency life-saving surgery, Geller said his father attempted to live each day to the fullest, saying, after all, it could very be his last.
Geller said his dad was a stoic, truly enjoying what he had rather than accumulating more items just to impress others who he may not care about in the first place. The lesson he received from his father was “Do what you enjoy, what makes you happy and continue contributing to the happiness of others, as that increases one’s own inner joy.” Geller recommended the book The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.
The love and respect that Geller said he felt for his father was reflected on his face throughout the talk. Thoughts of his father swimming are with him as he does his own laps in the pool.

Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

In for a penny, in for a pound: Final thoughts on Broadway & Birch rezoning


In for a penny in for a pound was one of my late mother's favourite sayings. For those who are not familiar with it, it means if a person decides to do something, he or she should fully commit to it. Once involved, one must not stop at half-measures.

Since publishing my last post, I have received considerable criticism because of my opposition to this project. Some cannot understand why I am writing and speaking out. Who has put me up to this? Do I have a vendetta against the developer? Why would I question the economics and challenge the city's statement that this proposal does not result in any land value increase?

I would like to respond. But first I want to share another concern that I have previously kept to myself, namely the size and livability of the ‘moderate-income’ rental suites and the anticipated rents when viewed on a price per square foot basis.

Let me start by noting this project is designed by IBI Architects. I consider them one of Vancouver's most capable firms and I have worked with them many times. I am currently working on a project which they designed in North Vancouver and I have only the highest regard for them. 

Here is the plan for Level 5 along with the plans for some of the units. You can find all of the plans here: https://rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/2538birch/documents/2538BirchSt-FloorPlans..pdf



The units on levels 4 through 9 on which the moderate-income rental suites are located are extremely small. There are 13 suites on Level 5 which has a floor plate of 9500 sq.ft. which is very large by Vancouver standards. As a result, there is a relatively low ratio of windows to suite area and this impacts livability. The higher market housing floors have a floor plate ranging from approx 5400 to 6900 sq.ft.


You will note that although the units are extremely small, they do have storage rooms. There are two reasons for this. The first is that they add to the livability. The second is that the area of the storage rooms is not counted in the floor space calculation, and it has become standard practice in Vancouver to maximize a building size by including in-suite storage wherever possible, in addition to the permitted FSR.


The staff report notes the following:

The MIRHP Program allows for consideration of the relaxation of unit sizes and configurations subject to the projects location, liveability, design performance and affordability. Considerations include the relaxation of the size of studio units from a minimum of 37 sq. m (398 sq. ft.) to 29.7 sq. m (320 sq. ft.), along with the provision for some inboard bedrooms (bedrooms without external windows) within the three-bedroom moderate income units. This application includes both studio units less than 37 sq. m (398 sq. ft.) and inboard third bedrooms.


While I could not find the moderate-income average unit sizes in the rezoning report, I calculated them as follows: studio - approx 370 sq.ft.; 1-bedroom approx 462 sq.ft.; 2-bedroom approx 709 sq.ft.; 3-bedroom approx 900 sq.ft.

While most of the 3-bedroom units do have windows in each bedroom, illustrated is a plan for a 3-bedroom with an internal third bedroom.

I am a proponent of smaller, well-designed homes. However, one of the major advantages of smaller suites under the moderate-income rental housing program is that the rents can be set by income levels, rather than a limit on price per square foot. 

During a twitter debate yesterday, someone assumed the rent per square foot for the non-market units would be $2.25 per month. In reality, using the allowable rent levels based on income, I calculate rents could be $2.70 per sq.ft. per month. As a result the average studio could be $1,045, 1-bedroom $1,320; 2-bedroom $1,760 and 3-bedroom $2,200.


So how does this compare with what is set out in the staff report? Well the staff report doesn't give the average rents. Instead, like a marketing brochure it gives the starting rents.

Under the program guidelines, the average rents will likely be higher than the 'starting rents'.(CLARIFICATION: While I calculated these rents based on small unit sizes, and what I understood to be the "rents starting from" others have pointed out that I misunderstood the staff report. These are in fact the rents in year one following building completion.) If this is correct, I am wrong and the starting rents are lower than $2.70 psf. However, my unit size calcualtions appear correct. )

So what's the big deal, you ask? Well, at $2.70 per sq.ft., the non-market units will be lower than market rents in new buildings, but they will not be dramatically less than what the market rents might be on the lower floors of a new building. Meanwhile, the developer is seeking approval for a building that is 3.5 times the currently permitted density along the Broadway corridor and a DCL exclusion. 

Moreover, I suspect these suite sizes are considerably smaller than what most speakers who were passionately supporting this project will have assumed, even those prompted by Abundant Housing. The rents per square foot will also be much higher.

So why have I been speaking out and risking the wrath of my colleagues in the development community, as well as those city staff and councillors who may want to see this project proceed?

For the past 7+ years I have become increasingly concerned about a number of very high density projects being promoted and approved by the city, often in the name of affordability and sustainability. 

If you review my blog, http://gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com/2013/09/ you will see I wrote about my concerns with a 6 FSR project in the 900 block of East Hastings, a 7.5 FSR rental project in the West End, the Independent at Broadway and Kingsway, and others. More recently I was concerned about two 24 FSR buildings that were approved in the West End. Gordon Price tells me this allowable density was the trade-off that residents were willing to make to keep density away from other parts of the West End. But I worry about these buildings as an urban planner. https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/when-is-big-too-big-when-it-comes-to-towers-1.21528494

I was first made aware of this particular proposal approximately 2 years ago by a lady who worked at SFU who emailed me seeking my advice on how to express neighbourhood concerns to the city. (I should note that I don't know her personally and have never met her.) At the time, I wasn't aware that the property had previously been rezoned from 3 FSR to 7 FSR but I could understand why, given the purpose built rental housing. But I questioned why a much higher FSR should now be allowed and wrote about it in the Courier. https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/bigger-isn-t-always-better-when-it-comes-to-rental-housing-in-vancouver-1.23542546

As an architect and planner, and someone who has been involved with a number of developments along the Broadway Corridor, including the tower at Broadway and Fir, and the building directly across the street while with Narod Developments, I thought the 10.5 FSR and scale of this building was completely inappropriate for this site. 

It saddens me that people assume I was put up to this or have some personal vendetta against the developer. The fact is, I am simply speaking my mind. As I drive around the city I often see buildings that are too big, but neither I or other professional architects or planners spoke out about them. 

As to why I questioned the economics, I was surprised to learn at the Public Hearing that in addition to the FSR bonus, the developer was requesting a DCL waiver when he was only creating 58 very small units. 

I was also troubled by the fact that nowhere in the staff report was there anything comparing the proposed FSR of the non-market units (1.99) relative to the additional density being requested (3.45) or other information on land lift, etc. I had to calculate it myself. 

On Tuesday at 1pm Council will make its decision on this project. Regardless of the outcome, I do hope I have contributed positively to the debate.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Some different reasons why Council shouldn't approve this Broadway & Birch proposal: Balancing public and private interests

Last night I watched a portion of the City of Vancouver Council Public Hearing on the Broadway and Birch project. I missed the staff report and most councillors' questions but did hear most of the speakers. As many of you know, I oppose this building because it's too big for the site from a physical planning point of view. Interestingly, in reviewing the proposal for the earlier 7.0 FSR rezoning, the staff wrote: "For sites zoned C-3A, the guidelines suggest adhering to the local C-3A height provisions for rental projects, however, an urban design review of the surrounding context is required. That was excluded from the more current staff report.

Balancing public and private interests: But since so many consider my concerns about neighbourhood fit and urban design outdated, especially for a location such as this, I would like to offer some other reasons why I don't think Council should approve this building. They relate to the project economics, and balancing public and private interests. I'll be particularly interested in Tom Davidoff's opinion on these points since he often talks about the value of development rights.

As will be seen below, if approved,this proposal will result in an additional 3.45 FSR (more than the original zoning would allow) in order to achieve 1.99 FSR of non-market rental housing. Moreover, the site value will increase approximately $4 million but the city will forego $4.8 million in Development Cost Levies 

Site area: This project has a site area of 18,762 sq.ft. (As an aside, to those who claim my concern about FSR is not really valid since it often depends on site area, this is not a small site. It's quite a large site.)  The zoning requires retail space at grade, but above there can be commercial retail or office space, or a mix of commercial and residential.

Development potential and value under original zoning: At the Broadway C-3A density of up to 3.0 FSR, this equates to a development potential of 18,762 times 3.0 which equals 56,286 sq.ft. So what is the site worth at this FSR? While opinions will vary, and I don't pretend to know the value of commercial space in this location, given a mix of condominium residential and commercial, I would guestimate the value might be in the order of $450 per sq.ft. If I multiply the development area by this value I get approximately $25.3 million. As a check, I looked at the BC Assessment data. This year, the site is valued at $30.5 million. At 3 FSR, this equates to $542 psf. This is too high a value to make a condominium project work.

Previous rental proposal: That's no doubt one of the reasons why the developer decided to look at a 100% rental project for the residential component. According to other experts, land for a market rental project is worth around $200 psf of building area. I note from the staff report that the previous rezoning had about 35,000 sq.ft. of commercial space and approximately 97,600 sq.ft. of residential space. If one valued this space at $200 psf, that equates to $19.5 million. If the commercial space is worth $400 psf, that's another $14 million for a total of $33.5 million. I should note that in 2019, the property was assessed at $36,465,000. Since the developer didn't want any controls on what rents he could charge, he agreed to pay Development Cost Levies of approximately $2.1 million.

New proposal: Now let's look at the new proposal. While there appears to be some discrepancy between the number of units in the rezoning report and staff report, the FSR is 10.52 which equates to around 197,000 sq.ft. The commercial area is reduced to around 27,500 sq.ft. and the resulting residential area is 169,821 sq.ft. 22% is reported to be non-market which equates to 37,360 sq.ft.

This equates to a non-market FSR of 1.99. In other words, there is a 3.45 FSR increase  from 7.07 to 10.52 in order to achieve 1.99 FSR of non-market housing. 

Equally importantly, before the developer was paying approximately $2 million DCLs to fund community amenities.. Now the company is seeking forgiveness of $4.8 million in DCLs.

Value under new proposed zoning: So what would the property be worth if it's rezoned at the new FSR? Well lets assume the land for the non-market rental housing has no value. The remaining 132,461 sq.ft is worth say $200 psf or $26.5 million. Add in the 27,500 sq.ft. of commercial area at $400 psf and that is an additional $11 million for a total value of $37.5 million.

In other words, by including the non-market units to justify a rezoning to 10.52, the site value increases from $33.5 million to $37.5 million and the developer avoids paying any DCLs.

Looking at it another way, we get 53 or 58 non-market units with an average area of only 600 sq.ft. of which only 22 are family units, in return for a building that is more than 3 times the originally permitted and surrounding FSR density.

I am all in favour of developers trying to make money and they should make money. But given all the legitimate concerns about the resulting building form, especially in the absence of the Broadway Corridor plan, is it really in the public interest to allow this rezoning? I don't think so. I say let's stick with the earlier rezoning.







Monday, July 6, 2020

Scot Hein's Thoughts on Broadway and Birch and planning directions in Vancouver

Scot Hein is the former campus urban designer and professor in the Master of Urban Design Program at UBC. He was previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver, where his work focused on the downtown core on such initiatives as Woodward's, Southeast False Creek/Olympic Village, a New Housing Plan for Chinatown, the revitalization of Gastown/Victory Square/Hastings Corridor, and related public realm opportunities such as the Carrall Street Greenway/Pigeon Park, Downtown Historic Trail, CPR ROW and the Silk Road.
He was previously registered architect in BC and is a currently registered architect in the state of Washington. He holds degrees in environmental design and architecture and a minor in economics studies from the University of Kansas.
Here are some of his thoughts on Broadway and Birch and other new developments in Vancouver. 

 Just a quick note to offer commentary re: the Birch Street/Denny's tower height, and the Pine and West 8th mass timber tower project.

Our entire discretionary regulatory framework (zoning and re-zonings) have historically rewarded density for best urban design practices as the primary driver of value creation.  It is an elegant, and legally defensible, system if properly managed.  It is underpinned by the simple idea that all sites have potential to stretch their carrying capacity, but, all sites also have limits given their urban design (contextual) role towards a visually cogent and legible city. For example, tower sites in the downtown must contribute to a "domical" overall skyline image. And sites outside of the downtown also have rules which are different than those for the downtown. So please consider that we actually have three cities as per the image above.

1)  The Downtown's Loop City (fill your boots with towers in the proper locations)
2)  Broadway's Line City (as a unique cross-town corridor with its own form and character "signature")
3)  And the balance as Grid City underpinned by the former streetcar grid as a more ambient contextual idea in support of our neighbourhoods.

All three are distinguished with each as a unique idea/morphology deserving of its own approach to density and form.

We all, and certainly previous councils, have gotten into trouble mixing these three ideas by "grafting" Loop City form onto Line or Grid city sites for the laudable purposes of generating economic value towards affordable housing.  I'm spiritually on the same page that seeks market value for important amenities, however, it is important to know when you are overreaching.  Both proposals, in my opinion are overreaching.

I would suggest that Rize's Independent Tower in Mt. Pleasant be viewed as maximum precedent height, at approximately 20 storeys, for future station site locations west to Burrard.  The quality of urban fabric and land use changes west of Burrard.  In order to achieve visual emphasis to mark the station locations between Main and Burrard, towers could be considered at each location at approximately 20 storeys which would also introduce a visual rhythm to the image of Broadway.  Everything in between should therefore defer in form and scale to these TOD intersections.  The Denny's site in this future context, at 16 storeys, is defensible.  

With all due respect to the architects who I greatly admire, a 34 story tower off and north of Broadway (in an ambient low-midrise context with quite modest residential towers) is not defensible, even if as the tallest mass timber proposal (for awhile at least) in the world.  The 8th and Pine tower would have been rejected at the enquiry stage in previous years as an urban design non-starter while also keeping elected officials out of harms way.  No reason to justify such height with a questionable public benefit, especially off Broadway.  Perhaps staff could help the proponents find a more appropriate site.  We did this all the time in past years.  

Hope this gives you a framework for thinking about tower form in the Broadway corridor.  Not so affordable rental continues to be a dubious public benefit when there are other typological built form choices that generate even more affordable rental, without expansive/expensive parkades, and also invigorate/strengthen neighbourhoods.  Kudos for piloting Missing Middle ideas.

I wanted to offer the above as most hard fought urban design experience, and more artful engagement that thoughtfully generates market value, has left the building.  

My very best, s

btw – Here is a technical term - “Pig in Space” which describes a singular tower out of context.

Ray Spaxman's thoughts on planning the city. Lessons from Downtown South

In my previous post I included comments from some of Ray Spaxman's 'followers' to something he shared a week ago. Since it relates to the creation of Downtown South, one of Vancouver's most successful new neighbourhoods, I am copying it here: 

 Hello. Here is a different-from-normal urbanarm missive. Now that I am “sort of retired” I am quite busy culling and filing "stuff from my past”. Today, I came across a letter I had written in October 2007 to an architectural critic who had completely mislead his readers about the urban design principles that were guiding the redevelopment of our Downtown South area. I am sharing it with you now for it has a distinct relevance to the development that we see emerging today. 

 "While I enjoy your energy and enthusiasm for your subject and always look forward to your articles, I get worried when I see you going off into places which are misleading to peoples’ understanding of why the city might be the shape it is. If people are misled about the principles guiding building and city design they will lose the ability to judge and improve the products. 

Improvement is always needed for we do learn as we go along both from what we achieve and the changing needs of society. I am enclosing for your information an excerpt from the Planning Department’s October 1982 Quarterly Review which describes the work occurring in the Downtown South area, and especially the investigative urban design exploration into the best shape for development in what was known as the “hole in the doughnut”. 

The tower and podium emerge in response to the design performance guidelines that the department was pioneering at the time. Those guidelines included such principles as good sunlight and daylight penetration, privacy for residents, access to water and mountain views, “eyes on the street”, continuous street activity for security, human street scale, enhancing the sense of community and achieving a comfortable interface between the private and public realms - and all focused on achieving a new level of livability, with affordability, at higher densities. 

The guidelines of course owe much to the wisdom of people like Jane Jacobs, Gordon Cullen, Christopher Alexander and Kevin Lynch. We have much to learn from what has happened in the Downtown South and wherever new high-density development occurs in the future, (which will present different challenges than the Downtown South). I hope its design will always concentrate on providing for those human needs that contribute to livability.” I worry these days that our approving authorities seem most interested in maximizing the number of units and making as much money as possible for the City and the developer. Also, why are our professional planning, architectural, social and development organizations so silent about all this? Perhaps they believe it is all good and cannot understand why so many of us just can't see it What do you think? Keep safe and well. Ray

Why I oppose latest 28 storey 10.52 FSR proposal for Broadway & Birch

While for many decades I was often the proponent for higher density residential rezonings, in recent years I have become increasingly concerned about some very tall, and very high density buildings being approved in Vancouver. I label this DENSITY IN THE NAME OF AFFORDABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY. 

On a few occasions I have written about this phenomenon  https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/when-is-big-too-big-when-it-comes-to-towers-1.21528494 and here https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/bigger-isn-t-always-better-when-it-comes-to-rental-housing-in-vancouver-1.23542546

Last week, Vancouver approved another 24 FSR building in the West End next to the building referenced in the first article. I predict that when both are completed, there will be far more concern than that expressed at the Public Hearing. 

Many people chide me for my concerns and wonder out loud if I would have opposed the Sylvia Hotel when it was first approved, since it was out of context. They add "look at it now". 

It's a fair comment, but I would add that I did support the fabulous tower designed by Richard Henriquez next door which was very controversial at the time. 

Having said that, it's a shame more people didn't oppose the massive Ocean Towers highrise next door.

There is no doubt that we need to allow higher densities to achieve greater affordability. But when is big too big? Some will argue that FSR is just a number. It's meaningless. I disagree. It is a measure of a building relative to its surroundings and while some argue one building may not destroy the neighbourhood, a row of similar scale buildings might. That's why I would like to see an overall study completed for the Broadway corridor before allowing such dramatic FSR and height increases. 

As a former president of the Urban Development Institute and developer myself, I am often uncomfortable criticizing the proposals from other developers and architects. But in this particular case, I feel I must speak out. The last proposal that was rezoned for this site at 7+ FSR was more than two times the current 3.0 FSR allowed for this site. At 16 storeys I don't have a problem with its height. But what is now being requested is wrong from an urban design and planning perspective. It is out of scale, it will block sunlight and views, and does not plan for increased amenities. For what? Some 'moderate-income rental units' It's not worth the damage it will do. I therefore hope this time Vancouver City Council rejects the application.

While we don't hear much public criticism from other architects and planners, some have spoken out including former City of Vancouver planners Frank Ducote and Scot Hein and former Director of Planning Ray Spaxman. Others have responded to Spaxman's call for comments as follows: Hello. Here is a different-from-normal urbanarm missive. Now that I am “sort of retired” I am quite busy culling and filing "stuff from my past”. Today, I came across a letter I had written in October 2007 to an architectural critic who had completely mislead his readers about the urban design principles that were guiding the redevelopment of our Downtown South area. I am sharing it with you now for it has a distinct relevance to the development that we see emerging today. "While I enjoy your energy and enthusiasm for your subject and always look forward to your articles, I get worried when I see you going off into places which are misleading to peoples’ understanding of why the city might be the shape it is. If people are misled about the principles guiding building and city design they will lose the ability to judge and improve the products. Improvement is always needed for we do learn as we go along both from what we achieve and the changing needs of society. I am enclosing for your information an excerpt from the Planning Department’s October 1982 Quarterly Review which describes the work occurring in the Downtown South area, and especially the investigative urban design exploration into the best shape for development in what was known as the “hole in the doughnut”. The tower and podium emerge in response to the design performance guidelines that the department was pioneering at the time. Those guidelines included such principles as good sunlight and daylight penetration, privacy for residents, access to water and mountain views, “eyes on the street”, continuous street activity for security, human street scale, enhancing the sense of community and achieving a comfortable interface between the private and public realms - and all focused on achieving a new level of livability, with affordability, at higher densities. The guidelines of course owe much to the wisdom of people like Jane Jacobs, Gordon Cullen, Christopher Alexander and Kevin Lynch. We have much to learn from what has happened in the Downtown South and wherever new high-density development occurs in the future, (which will present different challenges than the Downtown South). I hope its design will always concentrate on providing for those human needs that contribute to livability.” I worry these days that our approving authorities seem most interested in maximizing the number of units and making as much money as possible for the City and the developer. What do you think? Keep safe and well. Ray 

All are increasingly upset with decisions being made by city planners and politicians. Below are just some of the things being said: 

From Frank Ducote, FCIP/RPP "None of us raised much of an eyebrow for the earlier Broadway/Birch application (at 7.7 FSR and 16 storeys.) In fact, it seemed to me like a fairly natural incremental change for a site on Broadway in a transit station’s pedestrian shed, which has a 12 storey/3FSR  discretionary zoned height and density. It did no domino-like harm and actually could have been replicated slowly elsewhere near stations where opportunities permitted.

I know of that 8th and Birch tower proposal having seen it come in as an inquiry a couple of years ago. Wrong scale, wrong place, and for the life of me I can’t see what’s in it for the City, in return for what? Corporate bragging rights? That sure is a lot of bonusing. IMO. Btw, that site could easily have fit two conventional towers of lower height (12-16 storeys), situated diagonally, plus some lowrise elements to provide streetscape animation and continuity.

As for the big picture of how this all matters, why is urban scale and form and all its nuances a lost art now in this city of all places, which has such a proud history of leading edge urbanistic thinking? Hopefully, Scot Hein's paradigm, once refined, can serve as a clear and useful tool for helping us move forward through the fog."  

From Scot Hein: "Just a quick note to offer commentary re: the Birch Street/Denny's tower height, and the Pine and West 8th mass timber tower project.

Our entire discretionary regulatory framework (zoning and re-zonings) have historically rewarded density for best urban design practices as the primary driver of value creation.  It is an elegant, and legally defensible, system if properly managed.  It is underpinned by the simple idea that all sites have potential to stretch their carrying capacity, but, all sites also have limits given their urban design (contextual) role towards a visually cogent and legible city. For example, tower sites in the downtown must contribute to a "domical" overall skyline image. And sites outside of the downtown also have rules which are different than those for the downtown. So please consider that we actually have three cities as per the image below.

1)  The Downtown's Loop City (fill your boots with towers in the proper locations)
2)  Broadway's Line City (as a unique cross-town corridor with its own form and character "signature")
3)  And the balance as Grid City underpinned by the former streetcar grid as a more ambient contextual idea in support of our neighbourhoods.

All three are distinguished with each as a unique idea/morphology deserving of its own approach to density and form.

We all, and certainly previous councils, have gotten into trouble mixing these three ideas by "grafting" Loop City form onto Line or Grid city sites for the laudable purposes of generating economic value towards affordable housing.  I'm spiritually on the same page that seeks market value for important amenities, however, it is important to know when you are overreaching.  Both proposals, in my opinion are overreaching.

I would suggest that Rize's Independent Tower in Mt. Pleasant be viewed as maximum precedent height, at approximately 20 storeys, for future station site locations west to Burrard.  The quality of urban fabric and land use changes west of Burrard.  In order to achieve visual emphasis to mark the station locations between Main and Burrard, towers could be considered at each location at approximately 20 storeys which would also introduce a visual rhythm to the image of Broadway.  Everything in between should therefore defer in form and scale to these TOD intersections.  The Denny's site in this future context, at 16 storeys, is defensible.  

With all due respect to the architects who I greatly admire, another  34 story tower off and north of Broadway (in an ambient low-midrise context with quite modest residential towers) is not defensible, even if as the tallest mass timber proposal (for awhile at least) in the world.  This 8th and Pine tower would have been rejected at the enquiry stage in previous years as an urban design non-starter while also keeping elected officials out of harms way.  No reason to justify such height with a questionable public benefit, especially off Broadway.  Perhaps staff could help the proponents find a more appropriate site.  We did this all the time in past years.  

Hope this gives you a framework for thinking about tower form in the Broadway corridor.  Not so affordable rental continues to be a dubious public benefit when there are other typo-logical built form choices that generate even more affordable rental, without expansive/expensive parkades, and also invigorate/strengthen neighbourhoods.  Kudos for piloting Missing Middle ideas.

I wanted to offer the above as most hard fought urban design experience, and more artful engagement that thoughtfully generates market value, has left the building.  

btw – Here is a technical term - “Pig in Space” which describes a singular tower out of context.

Some anonymous comments to Ray Spaxman on; "Who Needs Urban Design."

1. You are right to remind us. Involvement in the Downtown South planning was most satisfying because the factors which you list came out of the process, and have been justified in the results. As Jon Markoulis of Concord Pacific said to me: if Downtown South does not work this means problems for Concord on False Creek. Anything goes (profit maximization  would have been disastrous; a lot of people living, working and playing there now in a dense but healthy urban environment overall.

(Geller note: The FSR throughout Downtown South is less than half of what is being proposed for Broadway and Birch)

2. Ray - Even more relevant today, sadly. Not only are the development community and approving authorities totally tilting the playing field, but now the YIMBYs and similar groups are completely disregarding urban design principles in favour of more rental units, especially for moderate and lower income levels. Their voices completely drown out any call for better city building. Is there an angel on either side of this rancorous debate? If so, it doesn't seem to be the side we’re on anymore. 

3. I can only echo your statement:  "I worry these days that our approving authorities seem most interested in maximizing the number of units and making as much money as possible for the City and the developer." 

You are much more restrained and polite in your response than I would be. But I will take your lead and just say, yes, I too am worried. Very worried. And have been for well over a decade. Nothing seems to have changed, no one at City Hall seems to be listening, and there seems to be no change in approach with this Council, which is more than disappointing. I think one of the most depressing aspects of this is that citizens are being (deliberately?) beaten down. We protest, we write letters, we appear at meetings - and nothing changes. So eventually, even the most active and passionate of us get tired and - dare I say it? - give up. It's hard not to feel discouraged, sad, angry….

4. I remember our preparation of public amenity strategies ranging from Coal Harbour to Triangle West to Downtown South and even out to Oakridge Langara and others. How can this even be possible when random rezonings are coming in at 24 FSR? 

How can we even plan for the right width of sidewalks let alone schools and parks never mind emergency and social services? The fallacy of providing more units to somehow mythically provide more services and amenities is laughable, given the net loss that each and every unit results in. We proved this conclusively in the Financing Growth Strategy. Since our goal was to achieve some balance and provide as much livability as possible, when did the City throw in the towel? Should we change the name to the City Development Department from the City Planning Department? 


On; "The Way it will look to the way it will be." 
1. I think it is time to bring the Architectural Foundation, Lambda Alpha and perhaps Urbanarium & others into the discussion before more damage is done.
 (Ray wonders ; and architectural and planning professions, the UDI, maybe the engineering and legal professions?)
 
2. Exactly. It seems that when the West End plan was approved a few years ago it was the signal for huge amounts of density all around the West End perimeter with no thought to amenities. I love the West End, but it is already crowded enough. Why does everyone else get to throw a hissy fit at a six-storey building in their neighbourhood, but we are expected to suck it up and be happy with multiple 20, 30, and now 60-storey buildings. When any objections are raised the response is a shrug, and an “oh well, it’s in the West End plan”. 
 
3. Cities enact zoning bylaws to enable neighbourhoods to develop their own character. Clear and definite bylaws give owners, residents and investors greater certainty that these neighbourhood characteristics will remain relatively consistent over time.

Vancouver claims to have zoning bylaws, yet the City treats these bylaws merely as starting points for negotiation. Any individual property, in any neighbourhood, can be renegotiated to become a separate zone unto itself. Bonus density is sold to the highest bidder.

A BC judge described this approach a few years ago as a “Swiss cheese” approach to zoning. With increased density and other zoning relaxations for sale to the highest bidder, our zoning bylaws, policies, and neighbourhood plans and guidelines have become completely meaningless.

- Developers fume at the red tape, delays, and lack of clarity in costs and what they can actually get approved.
- Citizens bemoan the constant fight required to retain the distinct character of their own neighbourhood, and the inevitable false accusations of NIMBYism that follow. 
- City hall complains about the huge administrative burden of reviewing so many rezoning applications. 
- Council grows weary of the drudgery and conflict that arise from the endless flow of rezoning hearings. 

It seems that with our current approach, everyone is frustrated and unhappy.

Our current City Council was elected with a clear mandate to reject the existing Vision-led approach and reset the city’s zoning with a new Citywide Plan. Yet there’s every indication that neither City staff nor City Council possess the will or desire to take action in this direction.

Will it take another election to clean house and return to a state where a zoning bylaw actually means something?

4.  I guess the City staff  through their actions is telling us we have to accept ugly, un-neighbourly and overbuilt to get rental. Surely there are other solutions. Here is another one in my neighbourhood at Alma and Broadway and this is the second iteration… As the last writer said, all you have to do is propose rental and all other planning principles are thrown out the window. 


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Vancouver's Regulation Redesign Public Hearing Thursday June 25th, 2020

     This coming Thursday, Vancouver will be holding a Public Hearing to consider a number of zoning amendments that arise from a regulatory review that has been underway for some time. I wrote about this in the Courier in March https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/city-of-vancouver-wants-input-into-cutting-red-tape-in-its-building-permit-procedures-1.24093581
     While this seemed like a most worthwhile and much-needed review, it had not received much attention. Indeed, as noted in my article, I was one of the few people in attendance at an Open House held at City Hall. 
     As noted by Marco D'Agostino, the planner in charge of the review, the regulatory review/redesign is intended to rationalize a myriad of zoning regulations, including those related to balconies, porches, decks, in both residential and commercial zones.
     I should note that I applaud the city for undertaking this review and support the recommendations, with one further modification that I describe below.
     I only learned about the Open House from representatives of Lumon, a Finnish company that manufactures a retractable glass system that can be installed on balconies in both existing and new buildings to improve livability and performance. For the past two years, I have been assisting Lumon in seeking municipal approvals to allow installations without the area of the balcony being deemed 'enclosed' and therefore included in FSR calculations. While their system is so approved in over 20 countries around the world, and numerous jurisdictions across Canada and around Metro, it is not yet approved in Vancouver without FSR ramifications in those zones where enclosed balconies are not permitted or limited.
   
The reason why balconies incorporating retractable balcony glass and other similar European-style systems should not be deemed 'enclosed' is that these systems do not create a conventional exterior wall or 'conditioned interior space'. The fully retractable single-pane glass panels have air gaps at top and bottom and sides, and are designed primarily to keep the rain out, and reduce wind and noise. Despite the gaps, tests have shown that the system can improve energy performance and sound attenuation, and increase the longevity of balconies.
It's a bit like creating a 'convertible balcony'.
Although I shared a presentation some time ago with City officials, I have recently updated it to include the city's differing zoning regulations related to balconies and some observations about the importance of balconies that have become apparent during the recent pandemic. A full copy of the presentation can be found below.
     If you agree that the city should allow the installation of retractable balcony glass systems made by Lumon and other manufacturers in both new and existing buildings, please write to the Mayor and Council at MayorandCouncil@CityofVancouver.ca or consider speaking at Thursday's Public Hearing. You can sign up here: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200625/phea20200625ag.htm You can also find the proposed bylaw changes here as well. Now, everything you ever wanted to know about balconies!