Monday, June 29, 2009

Silver Star Mountain Resort: it sort of reminds me of Albania!

What possibly could be the connection, you might ask. It's the colours...the use of colour to create a particular sense of place. In Albania, it was the brainchild of Tirana mayor Edi Rama, an artist who decided to create a new civic pride by painting the city's decaying buildings in an almost unimaginable range of colours and patterns (see my July 3, 2007 blog entry, or my Vancouver Sun story which is now posted on the Tirana Municipal website at,58,1502).

At Silver Star, I'm told it was an early planning decision to use colour to help create a delightful place. I had never been to Silver Star in the winter, but was recently there to look around, (and visit a daughter who was pretending to be a doctor for a month in Vernon).

While it is somewhat 'Disneylandish' I was still impressed with what I found. Although the place was somewhat deserted (I was told the summer season really starts on Canada Day), the use of colour was truly delightful. So here are some pictures, and thanks to our good friends who made our stay in Silver Star so very pleasant.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thank You Think City

According to the Think City website, "since 2002, the Think City Society has helped citizens understand the issues facing their communities while developing collective solutions to protect the environment, strengthen local economies, advance democratic rights and ensure access to quality public services."

I first became involved with the organization during the last municipal election campaign. It organized a workshop and subsequent candidates' debate (moderated by the Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith) addressing housing affordability, community participation in the planning process, and electoral reform. I was impressed.

I was therefore pleased to accept a recent invitation to submit an article on my proposal to provide interim affordable housing using factory built modules. Below is my 'op-ed'. You can learn more about Think City at

By Michael Geller

I have been interested in the idea of using factory-built relocatable modules as affordable housing since 1970 when I won a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) traveling scholarship.

That was the year of "Operation Breakthrough," a US government initiative to promote factory built housing, and my travels included visits to housing factories across America. I subsequently developed this idea as my university architecture thesis. Today, I see the opportunity as follows:

Throughout Vancouver there are vacant sites that could be used for interim housing for the homeless and others seeking affordable housing. These sites vary in size and location. Some are 'infill' locations along urban streets; others are larger undeveloped 'brownfield' locations. Some are privately owned; others are publicly owned.

While each property will ultimately be developed at some time in the future, many could be available for short term use with certain incentives. The resulting housing would not be a replacement for permanent homes. Rather, it would be an interim solution which could be available until adequate permanent homes are developed. Thereafter, the housing modules could be put to other uses.

I see an opportunity to develop different housing solutions including:
• a modified version of 'workforce housing' with individual sleeping rooms, shared bathrooms and cooking/living areas;
• small units comprising a sleeping/living area and a private bathroom; and
• self contained units for singles and families with cooking facilities

In addition to the housing units, there would be communal living spaces and live-in manager/support units, where appropriate.

This housing could be owned by government, non-profit organizations, or private companies and installed on private and publicly owned lands. Support services could be provided by the same non-profit organizations that are currently providing services to those in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels and other more permanent forms of housing. While priority would be given to those who are homeless, the communities might include other households, resulting in a broader social mix.

In terms of design, the units need not look like 'trailer parks' as some critics fear. The housing could be one or two storeys in height and very attractive with a variety of exterior design treatments to fit the neighbourhood. One approach might be to create decorative murals, such as a forest or urban views over metal siding. The units would be designed to applicable provincial and municipal building codes.

Based on my research with two major modular housing companies in the lower mainland, I have determined that the housing would cost approximately $110 per square foot. When one adds in the costs of installation, site servicing, consultant and other fees, the cost per unit ranges from $37,000 to $46,000 depending on unit size and bathroom arrangements. Design, approvals, construction and installation would take approximately four months.

In summary, this is not the solution to house the homeless. However, it could be a cost effective and speedy solution for many people desperately seeking decent shelter.

Michael Geller is a Vancouver based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 20 Most Influential People in Residential Construction are:

I was very flattered to recently learn that I was included on a list of influential players in BC residential construction. It was compiled by BC Homes Magazine and the Canadian Home Builders' Association.

The 20 Most Influential People in Residential Construction are:

Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier of British Columbia
Honourable Rich Coleman, Minister of Housing and Social Development
Larry Beasley, Beasley and Associates, Planning Inc.
Patsy Bourassa, CHBA Central Interior
Norm Couttie, Adera Development Corporation
Casey Edge, CHBA Victoria
Maureen Enser, Urban Development Institute
Chris Erb, SupErb Construction Ltd.
Michael Geller, The Geller Group
Eric Gerrits, Homescape Building and Design
Philip Hochstein, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
Richard Kadulski, Richard Kadulski Architect
Cameron McNeill, MAC Marketing Solutions
Cameron Muir, BC Real Estate Association
David Podmore, Concert Properties
Shayne Ramsay, BC Housing
Peter Simpson, Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association
Joe Van Belleghem, Three Point Properties
Ray Windsor, National Home Warranty
Doug Wittal, DW Builders

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend a special presentation luncheon this past Friday at the Westin Bayshore, but do want to thank whoever thought to put me on this list. I'm both flattered and honoured. Congratulations to all the other 'winners'!

SEFC Social Housing: Hey Meggs, Let's get real!

From a recent Vancouver Sun Story by Jeff Lee on the SEFC Social Housing cost overuns...

"However, Anton said she favours selling the units at market prices and putting the proceeds towards building more affordable housing elsewhere.

Her idea was roundly condemned by other councillors, including Woodsworth and Geoff Meggs, who said it would turn the village into a "gated neighborhood" where only the rich could live."

What utter nonsense!

The reality is, the cost of the social housing units, now estimated at approximately $600,000 each (including land), is far beyond what was initially expected. It is estimated that to make these units affordable to core needy households could cost another $55 million in subsidies, or more.

As a former Program Manager of social housing for CMHC, and a consultant to the BC Government when it established its Social Housing proposal call program, I am a supporter of integrated communities with a mix of market and non-market housing. However, given these costs, and the very real potential for significant losses on the land sale to Millennium, and losses and cost over-runs on the balance of the SEFC development including the public amenities, I think the responsible thing would be to sell these units as "fettered ownership housing" to families who cannot afford the market units.

The units could be sold with resale controls to prevent windfall gains, and other, can only be purchased by 'end-users', not investors, and generally not be rented out; priority would be given to families with children; the city would have the right to buy back units and re-sell over time. Similar programs have been put in place very successfully at UniverCity (Verdant) and in Whistler (employee housing).

While this would not result in the 80/20 split of high/low income residents, it would result in a healthy mix of mid and higher income households, and the desired mix of families with children and other households.

So please Councillors Meggs and Woodsworth. Please stop the rhetoric and reconsider how best to spend the taxpayers money. And yes, Vision Vancouver and COPE can now start planning some non-market lower income housing ON ADJACENT SEFC sites, to ensure the broader socio-economic mix in the community. If you start now, you might even have some units finished by the next election. And I know you will ensure they will never go over budget!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thank You Councillor Raymond Louie

On June 16, Vancouver City Council approved the referral of a report on Laneway Housing to Public Hearing on July 21. While I strongly supported this concept, which was initially proposed as part of the EcoDensity plan, I was concerned with some of the staff recommendations. More specifically, the requirement for 2 parking spaces on a 33' lot, combined with another requirement that units not penetrate into rear yards by more than 26', would result in predominantly 2 level laneway houses.

My concerns were that these would not be as appealing to seniors; they would upset some neighbours; and prevent the installation of an alternative concept, namely a longer, narrower prefabricated modular unit, such as that illustrated above.

Following an email exchange with city staff and members of council, at the meeting, Councillor Raymond Louie proposed an amendment that addressed my concerns, thus allowing longer, thinner units on deeper lots during the trial period. As evidenced by my comments in the Georgia Straight, (below) I believe this is a positive change to the guidelines, which will result in a greater range of ideas to see and review during the trial period.

And it should be a trial period. I strongly believe staff made a mistake in proposing permanent changes to the RS-1 and RS-5 in order to accommodate a 100 unit pilot program. Both Andrea Reimer and Suzanne Anton picked up on this. Councillor Cadman had nothing to say on the matter....but that's because he wasn't there! Carbon Cadman was no doubt off in some far away place talking about environmental solutions. It's a pity he wasn't here to support this important initiative.

Vancouver laneway housing motion approved

Laneway houses on single-family lots in Vancouver are a step closer to reality after city council voted unanimously to send the issue to a public hearing.

“This is the final step,” Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Georgia Straight following council’s June 16 meeting. “It will go to public hearing, and if it passes at public hearing, it will be allowed in short order after that. If it doesn’t pass at public hearing, it will not be allowed.”

Vision councillor Raymond Louie amended a staff recommendation to allow the construction of one- or one-and-a-half-storey buildings on existing single-family lots.

Reimer said that when looking at building laneway housing, homeowners should consider three interrelated factors: parking, the height of the unit, and the length of the lot. The public hearing will determine how much parking would be required on each site.

Speaking outside council chambers, development consultant and 2008 Non-Partisan Association council candidate Michael Geller told the Straight that laneway housing is “a good idea” and that he’d “love to see it succeed”. He promoted this policy during the last civic campaign.

“What this (ed note: Councillor Louie's amendment) means for Vancouver is that we will be able to see more single-level units—which I think of as more like cottages, as distinct [from] two-level units,” Geller said. “But at least there will be a chance to see both being built and people can evaluate them. I really want this to succeed as an experiment, because it is a wonderful idea. In England or in Australia, we call them ‘granny flats’. ”

Last October, the previous NPA–dominated council approved 25 directions for laneway housing and instructed staff to come back with a report laying out how plans could proceed citywide. City planning director Brent Toderian told council at the June 16 meeting that permitting laneway housing in all areas of the city would lead to an equitable distribution of the units and avoid concerns over varying tax rates.

“We were hearing from the public that there was a great deal of interest in these housing types across the city, and that there was a certain benefit to trying the housing type in all different neighbourhoods,” Toderian said at the meeting.

Reimer told the Straight her amendments to the staff recommendation dealt with the “monitoring and review” of the introduction of laneway housing.

“A report would be made available to the public at least every six months that looked at eight different impacts and tracked those—things like tree retention and location,” Reimer said. “ ‘Are they all happening in one neighbourhood? Are they spread out?’ Also, quite importantly, it’s 100 pilots [100 laneway houses] or three years—whichever comes first—and we will review the policy in its entirety [after that].”

On the same day, council also approved a staff recommendation to amend the Zoning and Development By-law to introduce land-use definitions for a “principal dwelling unit combined with a secondary dwelling unit” and a “secondary dwelling unit”. If approved, this would allow secondary suites within apartment buildings downtown, in commercial districts, and in Southeast False Creek.

Secondary Suites and Laneway Housing: it's getting confusing for some!

Vancouver to consider small secondary suite

Vancouver council will consider a staff report Tuesday that recommends allowing secondary suites and laneway houses as small as 19 square metres (about 200 square feet).

As evidenced by Neal Hall's story below, one journalist was a bit confused by Council's decisions on June 16 to forward both Secondary Suites and Laneway Housing to a Public Hearing on July 21...

The small secondary suites would be only allowed in apartment blocks and mixed-use buildings in commercial areas along arterial routes, in downtown Vancouver and the Southeast False Creek area.

The laneway housing would be allowed in 94 per cent of the city’s residential areas.

The secondary suites would have a separate entrance, full bathroom and kitchen, all within a 20-foot by 20-foot space.

Current zoning regulations allow secondary suites with a minimum floor area of 29.7 to 37 square metres (319 to 398.3 square feet). But city council has made affordable housing a key priority and is trying to find ways to increase rental housing stock.

“Our concept is to try to create more affordable housing,” Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie said Monday.

The small secondary suites would be generally new construction because it would not be very cost-effective to retrofit into an existing building, he said, but conceded it could be done.

“This is part and parcel of a four-part program of council to create low-range and mid-range housing,” Louie said.

The report suggests no increase in parking space be required for small secondary suites because they will likely appeal to students, low-income renters and seniors who will use bicycles, transit or walk.

The staff report recommends council refer the proposed zoning amendments to a public hearing.

Louie said the proposal is expected to go to public hearings and return for a council decision before the end of July. There is some urgency because Vancouver has a .3-per-cent vacancy rate, he said.

The report on laneway housing suggests the units could be as small as 19 square metres (205 sq.ft.) and as big as 46.5 square metres (500 sq.ft.) for studio and one-bedroom units on 10-metre-wide (33 feet) lots, and up to 70 square metres (750 sq.ft.) for two-bedroom unit on wider lots.

Height would be limited to 1.5 storeys. and the footprint would be the size of a two-car garage.

Adding secondary suites to apartments is not a new concept.

UniversCity, a condo development at Simon Fraser University, built 25 units five years ago with “lock-off” secondary suites of about 250 square feet that rent for $500 to $600 a month — roughly $2 a square foot.

“It was the first of its kind in Canada,” said Gordon Harris, president of SFU Community Trust, which oversees development of SFU land for market housing. He credited Burnaby council for supporting the innovative idea.

He said the units were the first to sell because they offered flexibility — owners could initially rent the suites, live in the main suite and then expand into the secondary suite if they had children.

Council will also consider a report that recommends relaxing parking regulations and waiving some development levy costs to provide new rental housing near local shopping areas and transit stations.

The program is limited to 2.5 years and estimates building 1,000 units would provide 1,600 full-time jobs, thereby stimulating the local economy.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Although Neil confused the details of the two propositions, (the laneway cottages are expected to fit into a 20' x 20' space), I am pleased that both are going forward to Public Hearing on July 21. As expected, the proposition to allow suites as small as 205 sq.ft. did attract a fair amount of criticism, as evidenced by some of other news story headlines...

Vancouver considers 205 square foot mini-suites Is it affordable housing or eco-density gone too far? Vancouver city council...
City of Vancouver looking at ‘mini’ suites Teeny tiny suites could be coming to Vancouver. City council is looking...

While I do not necessarily believe there will be a big take up of this idea at first, I think the secondary suites are a good idea and should be allowed. However, my advice to city staff and council will be to change the proposed size requirements...280 sq.ft.minimum with discretion by the Director of Planning to relax this requirement down to 205 sq.ft. Instead, I would recommend a minimum suite size of 250 sq.ft. rather with no DofP discretion to reduce this size. This could increase the likelihood of success.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Basement Suites in the Sky

This week, Vancouver City Council will consider a report recommending that Vancouver allow suites within suites, similar to what was approved by the City of Burnaby for UniverCity. While I strongly support the initiative, I am concerned that the city may be making a mistake by requiring that suites be a minimum of 280 sq.ft. although the Director of Planning could have discretion to reduce them to around 200 sq.ft.

At SFU, after considerable study, we decided that a more appropriate minimum size was 24 sq.metres or just under 260 sq.ft. Below is a story that appeared a few months ago in the Tyee that describes this concept. (The reference to 240 sq.ft. was a mistake on my part.) Hopefully this is an idea that will provide another housing option.
How a lock-off suite fits into a larger apartment. Credit: Perkins & Co.

Lock-off suites could help young families own condos and create rental housing for singles.

By Monte Paulsen
Published: March 10, 2009

The City of Burnaby may be the first municipality in the world to legalize secondary suites within apartments -- also called lock-off suites -- that enable owners of condominiums to do what owners of houses have done for decades: rent out extra space.

Towers of basement suites

"Basement suites provide the most affordable housing in the Lower Mainland," said architect and planner Michael Geller. "Some of these basement suites are legal; most are not. Some remain as rental housing in perpetuity; others are taken over by the homeowner as family size increases, or family finances improve."

A longtime advocate of Flex Housing, Geller was president of the SFU Community Trust during the development of UniverCity, a planned community of up to 4,500 homes on 200 acres adjacent to Simon Fraser University.

"Both the university and the City of Burnaby wanted to provide some affordable housing for students within the community. However, the university did not want to use high value land for student housing, especially since it might "de-value" the adjacent condominium sites," Geller explained.

"So the question we asked ourselves was: Why not create the equivalent of a basement suite in a fifth-floor apartment?" he said.


"The answer came from resort architecture. We've all been in a hotel room or suite where, through a series of interlocking doors, two individual rooms can be joined as one suite," Geller said.

After considerable negotiation, the City of Burnaby amended its bylaws to approve lock-off suites within up to half of the apartments and townhomes at UniverCity. The suites must be at least 240 square feet. They are permitted to have their own entry from the corridor, as well as their own bathroom and cooking facilities.

"When we initially thought of this concept, we expected these suites would be the third bedroom in a three-bedroom unit," Geller said. "However, the first units to be built were in fact two bedroom units, where the second bedroom could either be the master bedroom, or a separate suite."

Twenty-four such suites were built as part of the first development at UniverCity. (See sample floor plan, above.)

"I am quite certain that nowhere else in North America -- or for that matter, in the world -- has another municipality developed a specific zoning bylaw to govern suites within apartments," Geller said. "Burnaby did it in 2002. And Vancouver is looking into it now."

Flexibility does not come cheap

The Burnaby Mountain lock-off suites are not "affordable" in the strictest sense.

In fact, Geller figures they cost between $20,000 and $30,000 more than the same-sized unit with ensuite bathrooms but without lock-off capability. Included in this amount is the extra door to the corridor, more fire-proofing between living quarters, an additional electrical panel and wiring, and parking.

"In order to increase affordability, the city agreed that it would relax its normal parking requirements," Geller said. "Only one space was provided for every four secondary suites."

But the existence of the lock-off suites -- and, specifically, the prospect of their rental income -- has made these relatively expensive apartments more purchase-able, because lenders have regarded a portion of the anticipated rent as income.

"This allows a young family to get into the suite they might not otherwise afford. And later, when kids need their own room, they can take over the whole suite," Geller said.

"Some people would argue that costs inherent in making a home flexible are too great," Geller said. "Particularly recognizing that, at least in North America, we have a propensity to move quite frequently. Others might argue that our propensity to move is a result of the fact that our homes can't change as our needs change."

Filling a gap in the rental market

The lock-off suites have not proven cheap to rent, either. These tiny bachelor suites -- ranging in size from 240 to 285 square feet -- fetch from $525 to $750 per month.

"They rented for much more than I expected," Geller said. "Still, they rent for considerably less than for a conventional one-bedroom suite."

But while the rents are quite high on a per-foot basis, these tiny suites are cheaper than almost anything other than a substandard basement suite or an aging residential hotel.

This may prove to be the lock-off suite's greatest advantage: It serves the most extremely under-served gap in British Columbia's expensive urban rental markets.

In Vancouver, newly built or recently renovated one-bedroom apartments in walkable neighbourhoods rent for about $1,200 a month. Basement suites fetch $750. And a bug-infested room in an aging residential hotel runs to almost $600 a month -- if one can be found.

This leaves students, artists, and other young singles priced out of the market. It also serves as a profound disincentive for the province's tens of thousands of mentally ill and frequently addicted citizens to better their lives: After all, why undertake all the hard work of getting clean if, years later, one is going to wind up shelling out $600 a month to live in the same sort of residential hotel that one lived in on welfare?

A clean, modern suite -- even a miniscule one -- for between $525 and $750 a month is precisely the grail sought after by thousands of single Vancouverites, including many in what Richard Florida calls the Creative Class.

"It's not necessarily affordability in the sense that most people use the word," Geller said of the UniverCity lock-off suites. "But it created a housing choice that would not otherwise have been provided."

10 ways of creating affordable housing

My 10 solutions would create government challenges

Michael Geller, Special to The Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, June 13, 2009

The need for more affordable housing choices in our communities is growing. For many years, housing in Canada was subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. However, since the mid-1990s, federal support has dwindled significantly, and provincial subsidy dollars have generally been targeted to those in greatest need. As a result, an increasing number of people are either poorly housed, or paying too much for accommodation.

A meeting 14 months ago outside an empty lot on Vancouver's Hastings Street illustrates the multi-dimensional quality of the affordability challenge. On the left is Wendy Pederson. On the right is Michael Geller. She's a Downtown Eastside community leader, an advocate of low-cost housing and opponent of 'gentrification,' symbolized by the lot, still empty today, behind them.

Photograph by : Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

While we wait for the federal government to put in place a national housing strategy, below are 10 creative ways for municipalities, developers and community organizations to increase affordable housing choices, especially for seniors and families with children. However, they will require changes in government policies and regulations, new forms of housing and tenure and interesting new partnerships.


While new developments require resident and visitor parking, many parking bylaws are outdated and result in more spaces than necessary. By reducing parking requirements, we can significantly lower the cost of housing, while at the same time reduce greenhouse gases and congestion. Reduced parking standards could also facilitate new affordable housing developments on under-utilized parking lots.


Small laneway cottages at the rear of single family houses could offer new affordable housing options without significantly altering the character of a neighbourhood. In the U.K. and other countries, laneway homes are sometimes known as ''mews housing'' or ''granny flats.'' Vancouver is attracting international attention for its proposed zoning bylaw changes that if approved, would permit small rental units ranging in size from 500 to 750 square feet along rear lanes in designated single family neighbourhoods.


Basement suites in single family houses provide a significant amount of affordable housing. However, by allowing basement suites in new townhouse developments, we can create another affordable housing choice. Units could be accessed both from the street and within the unit. Similarly, apartments could have second or third bedrooms designed as ''lock-off suites'' offering affordable housing and ''mortgage helpers.'' Think of them as basement suites in the sky!


All over the world, people own townhouses which are not part of a condominium. However, this form of housing has not been offered in Metro Vancouver due to a myriad of municipal regulations. Many people would prefer to own a row house without having to pay monthly strata fees. After all, why should someone who least can afford it pay someone else to cut his grass?


By dividing a 50-foot lot into two lots with smaller homes, we could increase the housing choices in our neighbourhoods. We should also build semi-detached houses, triplexes and even small six-plex apartments.

We should also start building smaller homes. Many of us grew up in three bedroom homes with less than 900 square feet. We should start building them again


One way of reducing the cost of housing is to build it in the factory. There are many potential applications for modular housing, including laneway cottages, infill apartments or housing that can be relocated like school portables. B.C. has some of North America''s most successful modular factories. We should be making better use of them in our province.


While most people either rent or own a home, other forms of tenure can reduce the cost of housing. These include ''shared equity,'' a hybrid form of ownership; ''rent to own'' programs; and ''life tenancies or estates.'' The latter offer the right to use or occupy real property for one's life, at a lower cost than conventional ownership.


By leasing public lands to community developers, municipalities can provide ''workforce housing'' for police officers, firefighters, emergency personnel and others who want to live in the community in which they work. Resale controls can ensure that the housing is kept affordable over time while serving those for whom it was originally intended.


An effective way to create more affordable housing is through partnerships amongst the public, private, and third or non-profit sectors. There is also an emerging "fourth sector:" private companies prepared to build community housing for reasons other than profit. Examples include faith-based groups wanting to build on a religious facility parking lots, and companies prepared to build employee housing.


To encourage more rental and other forms of affordable housing, municipalities can offer incentives such as density bonuses, reduced or deferred fees and development levies or simply ''fast-track'' reviews.

Municipalities should also begin to pre-zone land to increase the supply of multi-family sites, and simplify the approval process.

There is also a need for all of us to address neighbourhood opposition to ''affordable housing.''

One way might be to revisit controversial projects after a number of years and document community attitudes. Recently, I visited a seniors' apartment building I developed 15 years ago in Vancouver's Oakridge neighbourhood. I wanted to take some new photos, but it was difficult since the building was almost completely hidden by trees. When I spoke to people in the neighbourhood, most were quite positive and unaware of the earlier controversy.

No doubt similar stories can be told about other affordable housing developments around the region. Even group homes and ''half-way houses'' that once generated considerable opposition are today well established and accepted in their communities.

In conclusion, by being open minded and working together, we can significantly increase the supply of affordable housing without reliance on senior government subsidies. I like to think that when the going gets tough, the tough get creative! Let's all start now.

- - -

Michael Geller, architect, developer, university administrator and occasional Vancouver Sun contributor, prepared this commentary from an address he gave to a community forum examining ways to increase affordable housing choices on the North Shore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nude Cycling in San Francisco

Since we are all taking a new interest in cycling around Vancouver, I thought you might enjoy these photos that were sent to me of cyclists in San Francisco. I somehow feel that if these cyclists wanted to cross the Burrard Street Bridge, they would not have any trouble getting motorists to give way. But of course, in Vancouver they would all have to wear helmets!

Now, I think this could be a great way to encourage Vancouver motorists to support more bicycle lanes. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I disagree with many 'view cones'

Like most Vancouverites, I support the need for many public views around our city. And having just seen the view study Open House (which is foolishly labelled A CAPACITY STUDY), I agree there is a need for a comprehensive review of the existing view cones. However, I cannot agree with the way the city is going about the process.

More specifically, people are being asked to comment on whether they support a particular view cone form a STATIC VIEWPOINT. This may have been fine 20 years ago, given our limited ability to simulate a dynamic viewpoint, but this is not the case today. Before judging the appropriateness of the view from the mid-point of the Granville Street Bridge, one should check out the view 50 yards along. Give us some moving pictures! No budget to do this? Then wait until there is some money. Otherwise, the process is flawed.

But do it soon. Because right now, any redevelopment of the St. Paul's Hospital site would be significantly hampered by a very tiny...almost infinitesimal vertical view cone slot. That's why some changes are required. Meanwhile many important public views, especially at street-ends are not always protected.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Downtown Capacity & View Corridors Study

Today, the city of Vancouver is holding an Open House to review the appropriateness of the View Corridors that were established 20 years ago. I will be attending today...because I personally believe there is a need to review the current view corridors. Now, it is not that I am opposed to view corridors....I do support them. But I do not necessarily support a very narrowly defined view corridor to the Lions from a particular point along the Granville Street Bridge. Did you know that's one of the protected views?

The underlying thesis seems to be that this study is being done to allow increased capacity, and in turn allow higher buildings that will allow the city to extract more amenities from developers. Quite frankly, I am opposed to this philosophy. We should decide on what is the appropriate form for the times, and fund amenities separately. It is simply wrong to always marry the two. I am opposed to taller buildings in Chinatown and the DTES for the same reasons.

Attend the open house!

Purpose of Study

The purpose of the study is to review the Council adopted heights limits and view corridors affecting the study area and recommend changes, if appropriate, to achieve additional development capacity. The intent is to identify possible modifications while still achieving the objectives underlying the current height and view corridor policies.

Why are we reviewing the View Corridors & Height Limits?

The downtown peninsula has a limited amount of land for development given its geographic boundaries. Downtown development is also limited by City policies governing building height, building size and protected public view corridors.

In October 2008 Council requested this study to review heights and protected views in the Downtown and to seek ways to increase the development potential. The additional development potential can help to achieve the amenities generally funded through development such as parks, heritage revitalization, affordable housing, and cultural facilities.

The study will determine which views the public values most, and work to preserve those views, while possibly altering others. Council will consider these changes to protected views and the implications for future public benefits in late 2009.

Zoning commission defeats modular housing project; cigar bar to open downtown on Nort

I recently came across this headline from a West Texas newspaper. It sums up the attitudes of many US communities. Affordable modular housing? Not in my backyard....but a cigar bar? Hey partner, that's alright!

A proposed 93-unit housing development met a storm of opposition Monday and was rejected by the Midland Planning & Zoning Commission by a unanimous 6-0 vote.Neighbors Sarah Andre, Sharon Humphreys, Richard Brantley and Laura Robinett gave a variety of reasons why they opposed ST Ventures' "Hillcrest Acres" project north of Midland Drive between Princeton and Cuthbert avenues with Robinett saying, "I don't know how you can sugarcoat a trailer park, but that's pretty much what this is."

With some 60 spectators watching at City Hall, Brantley presented a petition he said had the signatures of 135 Midlanders who did not want the project's 20 acres changed from one and multiple family dwelling districts to "Planned District for a Housing Development."

Commissioner Galen Gatten said before moving to deny the application that he disliked the population density the plan entailed. Royce Watkins was absent.

Round Rock developer Don Tardy said the modular homes project would have been largely financed with federal tax credits.

In other business, the panel approved Joe Dunham's application for a special use permit to sell beer and wine in his "Cigar Frogs" bar at 216 N. Main St.

90 units on 20 acres...and he disliked the population density the plan entailed!