While I may be out of town and unable to attend, if I am here I intend to address Council on this proposal since I fear Vancouver City Council and the planning department may be ruining the DTES with their good intentions. Let me explain.
Atira, a very caring non-profit development group, is seeking a rezoning to develop a new building with a mix of 60% social housing and 40% rental housing on the former United We Can site at 33 East Hastings. Great you say. The site has been a bit of an eyesore for many, and there's a need for social housing and rental housing in the neighbourhood. Atira, led by Janice Abbott wants to do good and has done good in the past.
The architect is Perkins and Will (formerly Busby Associates) a highly regarded firm of architects. For three decades I have been a friend of Peter Busby and an admirer of much of his firm's work. So what's my problem?
I have two main problems. Firstly, I think the building, at 14 storeys and an 8.1 FSR is too big for this heritage frontage along Hastings. You can find the rezoning package here:http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/33-41ehastings/index.htm
The links to other renderings are here. I will let you also be the judge as to whether I am right with this concern.
Secondly, I worry that if this building, with its mix of 60% social housing and 40% market rental housing, is approved, it may become Council's prototype for the future DEOD. This is the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District portion of the city which comprises a 40 block area of what many consider to be the heart of the Downtown Eastside. I have written about this concern in previous posts and in a Vancouver Sun op-editorial. http://www.gellersworldtravel.blogspot.ca/2013/10/my-vancouver-sun-op-ed-criticizing-city.html
The report from staff notes that the building is slightly over the maximum permitted height of 120 feet and a 60% increase over the permitted FSR. They note the applicant claims a building of this size is required if it is to comprise 60% social housing and 40% rental. (I should add that in this particular case, the rental housing may be converted to ownership housing in 15 years.)
Now, some might question why I, a longstanding proponent of taller and denser buildings, should be worried another proponent's building height and bulk?
I do so because I think the building, and the 120 foot discretionary height limit established for this heritage strip is inappropriate. I would add that the building's overwhelming scale is exacerbated by the proposed 8.1 FSR which is 60% larger than the 5 FSR, (which is a very significant FSR) established for the area.
While I think the building is too large for its site, in this case, I will reluctantly side with the irresistible force (Atira's proposal). I have told this to Janice Abbott. I do so on the grounds that the application has been in process for a considerable amount of time, with the support of staff and the Urban Design Panel, (although I would welcome the opportunity to debate with the panel whether this really is a good urban design for this particular heritage streetscape.) Moreover, the staff report notes the project may have funding from BC Housing (not surprisingly to some) and the Street-to-home Foundation. It will fulfill an important need in the community.
However, I do hope that Council's approval of the project, (and it will be approved), will not mean this shall be the model for the future of this neighbourhood. While there is a need to improve or replace the disgusting SRO accommodation in the area, there is also a need to regenerate the area with a broader mix of housing, including ownership housing, in building forms that really respect and complement the heritage character of the area.
Finally, in writing this post, I hope other architects, planners, housing experts and commentators will take a look at this and other forthcoming proposals for the DTES.
I would also urge more people who care about this neighbourhood to study the well-reasoned submission by a coalition of inner city organizations which I previously posted on my blog http://www.gellersworldtravel.blogspot.ca/2013/10/the-future-of-dtes-submission-of-inner.html which makes an excellent case for a broader mix in the neighbourhood, and an emphasis on mid-rise, rather than high-rise buildings in this heritage area. (A 14 storey building is NOT a mid-rise, in my professional opinion.)
As I wrote earlier, I worry that a further concentration of social housing and rental only housing will reinforce this area as a ghetto. I don't think this is fair to the many residents who live there, especially those who are not on welfare or other forms of social assistance, and I don't think it is right for the city as a whole.
I would welcome your thoughts. You can post here, or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to those who read this far!