Saturday, March 9, 2013

City rejects seniors housing application

Naoibh O'Connors story in Friday's Vancouver Courier has got me thinking.

The thrust of the story is that given the significant community concerns over the proposed six storey building form, and staff concerns that rents (around $5,000/mo for full service high end congregate housing which includes meals, activities, etc.) are not affordable, the project has been rejected. 

However, reading between the lines, I got the impression that if units were more 'affordable', the six storey form might have been supportable.

This raises some interesting questions.

While I am very supportive of the creation of affordable housing (indeed, I even chaired a roundtable on Building Form and Design for the Mayor's affordable housing task force ) I will worry if we start to approve building designs that might not otherwise be deemed acceptable from a planning point of view, just because they are affordable.

I also worry when City Hall starts to determine what is 'affordable'. Affordable for whom?

As Pacific Arbour's Peter Gaskill correctly notes, while $5,000 per month rent might at first seem very high and 'unaffordable', when you consider that the rent includes meals, activities and a range of services in a very attractive environment; and potential residents are likely selling a $1.5 to 2.0M home, the project is indeed 'affordable'; at least to those seniors who are selling a single family house they no longer want to keep up. And believe me, there are a lot of such seniors in Dunbar and Kerrisdale.

Now as for the acceptability of the six storey building height, I would offer two different perspectives.If the proposal is to rezone just these lots but nothing else, then the building is probably too high, considering the subject properties and adjacent lots are currently zoned for single family housing.

However, since that the Stongs site to the north is likely to be redeveloped at around six storeys (something that I do support) I think a five or six storey building on this site could fit in, if the surrounding properties were also rezoned and allowed to redevelop over time at a 'transitional' height of 3 to 4 storeys.

In other words, a spot rezoning that more than doubles the height on this one site is probably wrong, regardless of whether the rents are deemed 'affordable' or not affordable.  However, if the properties to the east and south, and along the wesgt side of Dunbar were also planned for a more modest increase in height, then this proposal could be a suitable and much needed addition to the community.

Finally, as Peter Gaskill noted, if the rents are not affordable, people won't move in! Rest assured City Hall, most developers only build things that are 'affordable'!


Jonathan Baker said...

The decision was right because it reflected the wishes of the neighborhood which favored the land use and even a substantial increase in density to 4 stories.

It perversely based the decision on an improper ground. The courts have long held that zoning should be based on land use. It should not be based on the user or the user's income. This has been called "people zoning." The City can of course zone for affordable housing but that is a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say the planners or politicians who tell them what to do didn't have a clue what they meant by affordable.

Since the City has an almost absolute right not to rezone the difference at this stage is academic. But they should have addressed the physical planning issue as to whether they were prepared to allow all buildings to go to 6 stories.

A policy of continuous spot zoning is a hallmark of bought politicians.

Jonathan Baker

Michael Geller said...

Jonathan, thanks for this. I'm remnded of a conversation decades ago in Committee Room No 1 when Council was considering creation of a zone where only rental housing will be permitted.

I'll always remember someone turning around from the front row and whispering to me and my colleagues. "If this gets approved, I'LL BE LIVING IN THE RENTAL ZONE!"

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Giving a building heigt ONLY in terms of "stories" is way too imprecise. Floor to floor heights may be 22 feet or 10 feet. And the mechanical room may be obtrusive or low profile and is not counted as a story. (Also a building may be X stories high but viewed from the street if the last storey is well set back, the building can appear to be X-1 storeys high.)

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