Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Adding 16 feet to a 600 foot building...

I learned last week about a property owner who was upset with a report going to Public Hearing this evening, recommending that a rezoning 'Text Amendment' be approved for 1133 West Georgia, the former Ritz Carlton development. What disturbed the homeowner was not the request to increase the number of units from 163 to 293, nor the proposal to increase the FSR from 17.74 to 20.8, yes 20.8! What disturbed him was the developer's request to increase the height from the previously approved 600 feet to 616 feet.

Now, this may seem like a very minor change, UNLESS YOUR HOME IS AT THE 600 FOOT LEVEL. And you purchased it for a lot of money on the understanding that a Council policy established the maximum permitted height for the adjacent 1133 West Georgia site at 600 feet.

Let me be the first to acknowledge that I have often requested approval for higher densities and greater heights than what surrounding neighbours would like to see. However, in each case there was deemed to be a corresponding public benefit.

In this instance, there is absolutely no public benefit. The developer wants a taller building and he knows that he previously got approval for a greater height, and the developer of the Shangri-la was able to finesse an approval for a greater height. However, at that time, there was no one living across the street whose view would be partially blocked.

The only apparent justification is the purchase of density from the city's heritage density bank.
If the city wants to sell the density, I say allow the density increase. But do it by adding a few inches or feet to the width of each floor. Just don't add 16 feet to the top of the building. Especially when this will block a portion of the north west views for those property owners who purchased homes at the 600 foot level of the Shangri-la, on the understanding that the maximum height for the 1133 property will be 600 feet.

I know it is hard for most of us to feel sorry for someone who can afford to purchase a home on the 61st floor of Shangri-la. But the fact remains that if this change is approved, the planning department and Council are basically signalling that there are no longer any approved height limits in our city. Everything is negotiable.

And while this may benefit those of us who want four storeys instead of three along West 41st Avenue, and higher buildings along Cambie Street around transit nodes, it may well create uncertainty for all Vancouver residents as more and more architects and developers seek approval to rise above previously approved height limits.

I just don't get it and do hope that Council rejects the request for the modest increase in height.


Joe Just Joe said...

Have to argee that council is really pushing matters and could find itself in legal battles if things continue. The public looks at council reports for guidance, if those guidelines are constantly ignored then uncertainity takes over. Uncertainity is a terrble thing for people.

Jon Petrie said...

To me 600 feet is already too high. And the idea that the developer could buy more height by contributing to the heritage density bank I find disturbing. For me the grandeur of the natural setting of Vancouver is its most important heritage. Part of that grandeur are the North Shore Mountains towering over the older height limited buildings of Vancouver as viewed from Jericho etc. Now the Shangri-la competes with the mountains. And from Ambleside in West Vancouver, Stanley Park trees used to hide all of downtown Vancouver, now the last few stories of the Shangri-la projects over the tops of those trees destroying for me a heritage view.

As far as I know, there has never been a serious attempt to get democratic approval for 600 feet buildings in Vancouver. The old height limits of downtown Vancouver were changed after a phony public 'consultation' in the old library building. Interested parties who turned up could vote on raising the height limit -- clearly a biased sample -- after looking at views of Seattle taken from a helicopter etc. and notably a planner's conception of what the new height limits would do to the relationship between Vancouver's skyline and the North Shore Mountains as seen from City Hall. After the votes were counted it emerged that the viewpoint taken for showing the relationship between mountains and buildings was the top of City Hall, not ground level. In my opinion, either some of the key City's planners of the time were incompetent or they had a strong and unscrupulous desire to get the old height limits overturned.

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