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Architect says design panel that judged Marine Gateway project hampered by conflicts, lack of community plan

January 3rd, 2011 · 73 Comments

Okay, with this letter from architect Nigel Baldwin, a former Urban Design panel member, to city councillors, the langorous Christmas season is now officially over.

Mayor and Council, City of Vancouver

Marine Landing: End of Term Report

Three months ago various groups and individuals from the Marpole neighbourhood and the broader community, including me, appealed to Council to initiate a proper planning process for Marine Landing (formerly known as Marine Gateway).  I believed it essential that this work be completed before approving unjustified development projects which at close to 6 FSR and 350 feet are almost twice as dense and twice as high as anything built outside the central core of Vancouver, and twice as dense but four times as high as any new development proposed elsewhere in the Cambie Corridor Plan.

On December 15, I attended the Urban Design Panel workshop where progress was reviewed.  Noting that a class of UBC design students managed to prepare a vision for a sustainable future for the City as a whole during their fall term, I had high expectations for what our world-renowned planning department could produce for a single neighbourhood centre in the same period.  I came away very disappointed both with what was presented and with the constrained and conflicted review it received.  I left with the following impressions:

  • That the City has missed an ideal opportunity to address the central issues affecting the neighbourhood.  It has failed to do the hard work necessary to generate and evaluate alternate forms of development, to come up with the most sustainable plan for the centre.  We are instead expected to accept uncritically the expedient solution − that is, the developers’ proposals changed only cosmetically in the last three months − and to be placated by faint hopes of future street beautification.
  • That the Urban Design Panel, by allowing architect members with declared conflicts of interest to appear to dominate and/or suppress the critical discussion of built form, has lost its credibility as an independent commentator serving the public interest on Marine Landing issues.  Since the community can no longer rely on the only effective court of second opinion built into the City’s planning and review process, it has little choice but to work outside the system to get its message across to Council.
  • That, given the vested interests in play, I heard a surprising amount of comment from Panel members critical of the broken process that has got us to the present impasse.  The glimmer of hope I took away is that the City might at last listen to this commentary, considering its sources, and finally lead us towards a better resolution for development at Marine Landing.

On the issue of freedom from conflict, the Architectural Institute of BC’s Bulletin 65 requires architects serving on design panels “to act according to standards of unbiased credibility…ADP members must disclose any involvement in an application being reviewed or any other personal or business relationship that might constitute or be perceived as a conflict of interest.  They must (my emphasis) withdraw from the meeting and refrain from any statement, discussion or evaluation of the merits of that application or the parties to it.”

At the beginning of the 15 December meeting, the Chair of the Panel declared that three of the four architects present, including himself, had conflicts of interest; each of them being members of firms with rezoning applications in the Marine Landing neighbourhood currently in process or shortly to be submitted to the City.  The Chair advised that, because the meeting was a workshop not requiring a vote, it had been decided that all three members would remain as active participants in the meeting, believing that the City would benefit more from their commentary than relying only on a single non-aligned voice for architectural comment. There was no public discussion as to whether the Chair should be passed to a Panel member not having a conflict of interest.

I have no reason to suppose that the architects in question had anything but the City’s best interests in mind when agreeing to participate.  They were, however, in an untenable position, since their clients’ interests and the public’s were likely not in perfect alignment, and neither staff nor the public would ever know for sure whose interests they were representing.

The two current rezoning projects creating conflicts were duly presented by their architects; both large, reputable firms carrying significant weight in the profession and the community.  In one case the presentation was made by a different member of the firm, in the other by the Panel member himself, who presented not only his scheme but also aspects of the post hoc urban design justification belatedly developed for the Marine and Cambie “intersection”.  He vigorously defended both in the subsequent discussion period.  When the sole non-aligned architect on the panel, well known for his teaching work, questioned the form of development proposed − asking whether importing downtown building typologies into Marpole was the right thing to do − the applicant-cum-panel-member dismissed his concern by saying that consideration of other forms of development would be merely an academic exercise at this stage.  The non-aligned architect stated his concern more forcefully in his formal comments, and at least one other panel member voiced similar concerns.

In addition to noting the lack of alternative forms of development − which would normally form an essential part of a professional planning process − several Panel members raised concerns over the scope and thoroughness of planning work to date.  One panel member felt that the area under review should be wider than just the immediate redevelopment sites at the intersection (the public deserving to know the City’s broader built form intentions).  He also felt that the planning process should locate neighbourhood facilities such as a library and local retail (a telling comment from a member of the firm whose project contains 97% of the retail space proposed for the area in the form of a 210,000 square foot off-street mall).  The applicant-cum-panel-member called for the City to show some leadership in the planning process.  Others present referred to the current stage of work as “mitigating damage” and “damage control”, not phrases usually associated with a well run planning program.

In his verbal summary of the Panel’s comments, the Chair did not mention any of the concerns expressed over built form or process.

Clearly the Panel’s deliberations did not meet the AIBC’s expectation of “unbiased credibility”.  There are a total of six architect members on the Panel, three of whom I believe to be free from conflict on this item.  With better meeting scheduling, the City could have ensured that it had three independent architects to comment, but it chose to proceed with minimal independent and maximum conflicted architectural advice.

We will never know how the discussion and commentary would have developed if only independent architects had participated.  We will never know how a non-aligned chair would have weighted the commentary in his/her summary or if the minutes (not made public as I write this) would have had a different emphasis.  Since the Panel can now be seen to have taken a position that it needs to defend, a position based on potentially biased opinion and strangled debate, any future Panel support for − or even the absence of criticism of − urban design or rezoning proposals in this neighbourhood will be suspect.

While UBC students developed a vision for the City’s future, the City spent its time agreeing to a name change for the Marine and Cambie area and having the developers’ consultants prepare a conceptual public realm plan with vague promises for themed public art, street furniture and maybe eventually better access to the river.  These gestures in no way substitute for a proper and complete neighbourhood centre plan.

By sending only the schemes proposed by the three developers actively working around the Marine and Cambie intersection for review by the Panel at this stage, the City has shown it has no intention of responding to the direct request from the community for consideration of alternative forms of development.  It is hard not to conclude that the City has never wavered from a Council-initiated intention to bully through the approval of two or three unprecedentedly dense projects prior to the next election, putting short-term political ambition ahead of the long term future of our City.

In the past, by providing independent, credible advice, the Design Panel has often been a key player in resolving conflicts over urban design issues in the City.  Because the Panel has here failed to avoid the appearance of bias, the public can no longer rely on its advice with respect to the development of Marine Landing.  With the community’s last hope of having its concerns heard within the system now extinguished, unless the City swiftly initiates a genuine, first-principles plan offering real alternatives, I predict the New Year will see an ugly and public confrontation between the City and its residents over developments in this neighbourhood.

Nigel Baldwin MAIBC FRAIC

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Day

    “And this is how Nigel will find out, few months down the road, the balance of his reward points as a result of writing publicly to this Mayor and to this Council, other than… anonymously.”

    Knowing Nigel for more than a decade, I knew he would just tell them critics to shove it. And good for him!

    Few years back I’ve witnessed Architect Bing Thom addressing a packed conference room, full of people interested in finding out how the new Director of Planning is going to be selected. The panelists laid down the requirements, the qualities, the ‘fox and hound’ conditions needed in order for one to land the job.

    After a few speakers clearly described qualities and requirements that someone could easily be confusing with those found in alien species, or in some sort of comics superheroes, Bing stood up, approached the microphone and said (to the best of my recollection): ”You are all aware that we spent almost two hours here talking about some third level Bureaucrat’s job!? “

    Boy, he was right! In the end, the ‘selection committee’ came up with Brent ‘who likes to hear himself talk’ the Calgarian, the sophisticated import from over the Rockies.

    I get Nigel. He’s had enough. Only unfortunately for him, he addressed his letter to the wrong people.
    If this was in Havana, Cuba, this Mayor and Council would be the High Ranking Party Officials, Fidel could be anybody’s guess, Nigel would be Amaldo Ochoa, and his letter would be his written confession. Ochoa had the choice of not wearing a blindfold and he was in charge of his own execution. I know, crazy!

    Well, Nigel, good luck with that though. Knowing Ballem’s addiction to micromanaging, she’ll most probably want some part of it. This lady…trigger happy!
    It doesn’t look good. Any way you look at it. As per Nigel’s… be prepared for endless nights of talk, talk, talk…in Brentanian style. Vision listening, Penny execution, Sadhu resting, Reimer twitting, Jang psychoanalyzing, Chow clowning, Carbon ranting, Gregor eff-ing, Dale laughing, Tim questioning, Geoff fuming, Raymond pretending, Suzanne passing out, Ellen covering her ears.
    But don’t quote me on that!

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    In the context of the discussion in the previous string about whether or not the use of pseudonyms is called for, let’s recap what one of the most talented architects practising in our city today has to say about the state of urban design & community planning at Our Hall:

    1. “That the City has missed an ideal opportunity to address the central issues affecting the [Marpole] neighbourhood.  It has failed to do the hard work necessary to generate and evaluate alternate forms of development…”

    2. “We are instead expected to accept uncritically the expedient solution − that is, the developers’ proposals changed only cosmetically in the last three months − and to be placated by faint hopes of future street beautification.”

    3. “[Architects of the Urban Design Panel] … were, however, in an untenable position, since their clients’ interests and the public’s were likely not in perfect alignment…”

    4. “[A] lack of alternative forms of development − which would normally form an essential part of a professional planning process…”

    5. “[A]ny future Panel support for − or even the absence of criticism of − urban design or rezoning proposals in this neighbourhood will be suspect.”

    [In my assessment, doubts now extend over the entire surface of our city].

    6. “[Placating gestures by the developer] … in no way substitute for a proper and complete [Marpole] neighbourhood centre plan.”

    7. “It is hard not to conclude that the City has never wavered from a Council-initiated intention to bully through the approval of two or three unprecedentedly dense projects prior to the next election, putting short-term political ambition ahead of the long term future of our City.”

    [It worked in Nanaimo and White Rock—to name just two—so why not here?]

    8. “Because the [urban design] Panel has here failed to avoid the appearance of bias, the public can no longer rely on its advice with respect to the development of Marine Landing.”

    9. “[U]nless the City swiftly initiates a genuine, first-principles plan offering real alternatives, I predict the New Year will see an ugly and public confrontation between the City and its residents over developments in this neighbourhood.”

    Let me pull a quote from Michael Seedlig in the previous string:

    “In the current blogging era, it is interesting to speculate what might provide a comparable forum for debating our future. Twenty years from now what will be the reference point to measure our accomplishments? The scattered and somewhat random nature of internet communication makes it difficult to get a large part of the population to focus and debate the future of our cities.”

    Michael Seeling 15 in

    http://www.francesbula.com/uncategorized/2011-hoping-for-a-year-of-productive-change/

    Here’s my prediction for the New Year: The Times They Are A-Changin’.

  • Bobbie Bees

    I think Vancouver would look rather spiffy if we had a building like the Shangri-la on each and every corner. Think about it, we could have glass enclosed walkways between each building.
    The streets could be solely for the use of street cars.
    Specific blocks could also be used to house labour camps, production facilities and food farms.
    We could do interesting things with the buildings such as allow unique glass colouring treatments to each tower.

    This I think would be a grand vision for Vancouver.

  • I prefer not to be the odd man out but certain truths need light of day.

    Question: are we put on this earth to be popular? Or to attempt to make a very bad situation a little bit better? I know my response and accordingly I have no delusions.

    I fear this conversation is coming on a half century too late: nothing but a massive catharsis can budge us now from our complacent, over weaning need to be polite and popular, and our need to be accepted within the writhing mass.

    The architectural profession, despite, or maybe because of, its rules and regulation is more culpable than any other local quasi-regulatory design body: reams of rules and regulations, apparently un-enforced, un-enforceable and ignored. Who the hell cares!

    Good for Nigel for finding the jam to speak up. But where has he been this last decade of brutalism?

    Where, indeed, was his wife, Patricia, when she was in a position to make a difference? Do they only chafe at complacent, unqualified regulators when their own ox is gored?

    I become very impatient with quasi urban design “experts“, whom I have know and observed for years, adopt an avuncular never-was, never-will-be anti-hi-rise, never-was nostalgic populism in what appears to be a aggressive, disguised as cool, need to control the conversation rather than enlighten.

    Avuncular condescension should be recognized for what it is!

    Our neighborhoods are Vancouver’s one great asset and they are at stake. Forget nostalgia, forget bull-shitting over stars, or books read or Google tourism, forget obsessing over one, and only one, building type.

    Look closely at what is possible . . .

    http://members.shaw.ca/rogerkemble/5.dtes/dtes/dtes.html

    . . . do not copy. Be inspired.

    I have faith in our Bula-bog-istas . . .

    Listen to professionals who have not sold out, if such exist, and know of, and practice what they preach.

  • PPS . . .

    Let’s see now the once sublime Marpole neighbourhood at the Marine and Cambie intersection will be crowded out by the workings of . . . errrr . . . renowned architects Busby and Cheng!

    Their work is supposed to be within the context of the world famous green and sustainable city of Vancouver.

    Green! Sustainable! I need refer to my COD. Indeed, I ask, are they speaking in tongues or just abusing the language?

    All rules and regulations have been followed . . . stat!

    Brobdingnagian, El Monstruo come to mind!

    Glory be! Now the neighbours, may carouse their privatized High Street secure within the looming protection of . . . errrr . . . world class whatever . . . sipping their chai trying to ignore an unrestrained cacophony of decibels and soot from the . . . errrr . . . not so sublime . . . passing traffic.

    Oh yes, and by the way, the AIBC has rules, green, sustainable, of course, and in-house pretty girls galore policing us all . . .

  • I commend Nigel for speaking out. I’m in general agreement with the concerns expressed in his letter and am pleased it has been reproduced here for a broader public viewing.

    While I have great respect for both the architect (Busby) and the developer (PCI) for the subject development application, I do not believe this proposal should be approved in its current form. While I support the need to significantly increase densities and heights along the Cambie Corridor, I find it very difficult to support this proposed height and density.

    From discussions with the developer, I am aware that he has been through a complex and extended planning process with staff who initially opposed any significant departure from the industrial zoning for this site . At the request of the planning department, he has prepared a number of different plans, some which he believed in and some which he didn’t.

    The overall density has been justified on the grounds that this will be an important transit node, and higher densities are appropriate from a ‘sustainability’ perspective….and the height has been justified since a portion of the site cannot be developed due to the design and siting of the SkyTrain station, and this is an important ‘gateway’ to the city.

    For those who have not seen the plans, and wonder what this discussion is all about, let me put it this way. One of the proposed towers is approximately twice the height of the 18 storey Langara Gardens towers at Cambie and 57th. (I know this property well since as a consultant to Morris Wosk, I obtained the rezoning approval for the 4th tower in the late 80’s.)

    I understand that the calculation of density is complex and depends on which portions of the site are included as the basis for calculation. However, a 6 FSR is the density of many of the residential tower developments along Georgia Street.

    While I suspect that some readers may not fully understand Nigel’s concerns re: the objectivity of professional architects serving on the Urban Design Panel (UDP), as a registered architect, and former member of the Urban Design Panel (on two occasions) and a three term member of the Development Permit Board Advisory Panel I can fully understand and support his concerns. They should not be ignored.

    In conclusion, in some respects, I hesitate to comment on this matter since I fear some may think that I am speaking out for ‘political’ reasons. However, be that as it may, this is an extremely important planning decision since it could serve as a benchmark for future rezonings throughout the city, away from the downtown. I therefore urge the Mayor and Council and senior city staff to carefully consider the concerns Nigel is raising, and take a step back from the processing of this application.

    While it is important to consider Marine Landing within the context of the immediate area, it is also important to consider what heights and densities we consider appropriate for other transit nodes along the Cambie Corridor and around the city. While I have criticized the generally low level of density around most stations in the past, I do worry if densities above 3 FSR and heights above 200 feet are going to become the norm in the near future.

    This application needs as much public attention as that about to be given to the heights and density of buildings in the downtown. This discussion will resume on January 20th when Council considers the staff recommendations to increase heights in a number of locations.

    I would therefore urge everyone concerned about the planning future of the city to pay attention to this particular proposal, and the concerns that Nigel has raised.

  • Yes Michael, “I hesitate to comment on this matter since I fear some may think that I am speaking out for ‘political’ reasons.“.

    You most definitely leave me with that impression.

    The urban development world is, as is the financial world, suffering an upheaval of Biblical proportions.

    To me your supplications ring of self serving cool and narcissistic nostrums.

    You represent yesterday’s over cooked hamburger meat, off menu for the self-ware and dietary cautious.

    I have no doubt your acolytes will come out on me all guns blazing.

    But I also know I am right and many on this blog agree with me, albeit, lacking the courage to speak out.

    We are in a forming embryo, a new paradigm, that will take, perhaps, a decade to germinate.

    You are not a part of it.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Issues of self governance by the profession notwithstanding, Baldwin’s strongest points go beyond density and height, Michael.

  • Morven

    I have read the contributions above. I have one radical suggestion.

    Create the Vancouver equivalent of a planning inspectorate, a concept quite familiar to UK residents.

    Why?

    For one, the ordinary citizen may quite confused even angered about the seemingly arbitrary and capricious manner in which large development proposals appear and the labyrinthine manner in which planning decisions are made (I am merely a concerned citizen, not an architect).

    As I understand the function of the planning inspectors in the UK, it is to act as an arbiter of conflicts of interests between communities and individuals and reconcile economic, environmental and social priorities. In other words they are akin to a planning appeal court not beholden to special interests. It’s aim – improve the planning system not hinder development.

    I am not confident that the city planning department is capable of fulfilling the role of a planning inspectorate.

    Might this idea fly?

    I trust the architects among us will at least entertain the idea and not bristle at the idea of public accountability.
    -30-

  • Bill McCreery

    Nigel is to be commended for taking a clear, reasoned position on this important urban development issue. Thank you.

    Of particular importance here are his comments about “… the lack of alternative forms of development − which would normally form an essential part of a professional planning process −” and Panel members “… concerns over the scope and thoroughness of planning work to date”.

    Representatives of the concerned Marpole residents group were told in the Fall there would be a hold put on the processing of the spot rezoning applications at Marine and Cambie and that a mini-neighbourhood planning process would be undertaken. This has not happened. In fact, nothing has happened except that the Planning Department fell all over the Marpole community’s suggestion to change the name of this ‘transportation node’ to “Marine Landing”. This was an obvious ploy to placate the community and stall for time.

    In the meantime the only urban design / planning which has been done has been by the developers architects. I did not attend the DP workshop, but did attend a show and tell session where the developers’ architects presented their ideas about how this part of this neighbourhood in Vancouver should be planned. This included such dubious strategies as creating some kind of axis from the north westerly site with something happening on the north easterly property. Unfortunately the Canada Line and 6 lanes of traffic happen to be in the way and they will not be moving anytime soon.

    What’s really happening is, as Nigel succinctly says:

    “… the City has shown it has no intention of responding to the direct request from the community for consideration of alternative forms of development. … the City has never wavered from a Council-initiated intention to bully through the approval of two or three unprecedentedly dense projects prior to the next election, putting short-term political ambition ahead of the long term future of our City.

    It is clear that this planning process is badly broken. It’s not just the mechanics of the process, but its integrity of it as well. This includes not just the integrity of the Design Panel, but the entire planning process. All citizens of Vancouver should be concerned about what Nigel has said because while mechanics can be fixed, but when the integrity of the process is in question that is of far more concern.

    As M. Villegas has said:

    “… Baldwin’s strongest points go beyond density and height,…”.

    It also should be kept in mind that what is happening in Marpole is also happening in various ways right across the City. The very essence of what has made Vancouver such a special place is being threatened.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    As in an earlier thread on “view cones” I urged the professionals architects here–and all the interested amateurs!–to come together to put together a planning and development vision that takes into consideration the unique aspects of each neighbourhood in Vancouver. What a concept: visioning our town in 10, 20, 50 years!

    Further, I suggested that this project be undertaken with the direct input of each
    commuity, in workshops and info sessions. (We might make application to the Vancouver Foundation for funding, so no worries about the time and effort needed).

    I am not against being in direct competion with the planning department at City Hall, who appear to be nothing more than “rubber stampers” for whatever political party du jour is cozying up to the developer crowd. It is apparent to me that that part of the bureaucracy has no interest in serving the people who pay their salaries. They are bullied and beholden to their political masters.

    That the Urban Design Panel is larded with architects who have a direct interest in the development of Marine Gateway/Landing (gee, thanks CH staffers! That must have taken months of meetings and an avalanche of e-mails to-ing and fro-ing between you as to how to finesse that name change through!) is a puke making disgrace.

    I further note that Nigel Baldwin states that the design undergrads at UBC have already completed such a project. Please kids, I implore you: don’t look to local governments for a future job—those are places where your dreams go to die a sad, horrible death.

    It is also clear to me, in talking to professionals in the commercial and res building sales/leasing sector, real estate lawyers and yes, developers themselves, that these developments are built mostly to satisfy demand from outside this country. The global investor class demands stock/safe haven in which to park their lousy, underperforming US dollars.

    This has nothing to do with city building. Any old piece of overheight/over density piece of crap will suffice, as long as there is more of it.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    PS Can someone please tell me when the next meeting on Marine Landing is to be held. Can’t find on City Hall website.

  • Jo-Anne Pringle

    I am one of the founders of the Marpole Area Residents Alliance (MARA). We formed in June 2010 to address development issues in Marpole, and to further the call for Community Wide planning for our neighbourhood – something that is much needed in our neighbourhood. Our working group has put in countless hours and have been genuine in our dealings with City Planners, developers and architects. We have rallied our community and we keep them informed of all Rezoning Applications and development information for all areas of Marpole.

    Relating to today’s thread – Marine & Cambie; Our group has been focussed on encouraging residents to participate in helping to shape the major change coming to Marine & Cambie. We know that change is inevitable – so it’s important that folks participate. Our group pushed for the developers to plan cohesively at Marine & Cambie so that one off developments that have no relationship to one another could be avoided. To that end, we put together planning points gathered from input we have received, and we pitched a concept and new identity for the Marine & Cambie intersection so that it becomes a place rather than just being viewed as a pass through – we have suggested that this place be “Marine Landing”. As a result, we have seen a cooperative group effort by the developers to create a public realm design for Marine Landing, and we have seen a significant redesign of PCI’s Marine Gateway – MARA is pleased with the return to the two residential tower formation for their proposal, but we want to be very clear that we are not in support of the current height or densities proposed for PCI, James Cheng or Wesgroup’s proposals. We have asked, but have not received any criteria that substantiates the heights or densities for that intersection.

    We have asked repeatedly for our community to be presented with options – options for built forms at Marine & Cambie, and options for improving the Marine & Cambie intersection for both traffic and pedestrians. Unfortunately options have not been presented, and we believe they will not be forthcoming.

    Most folks in Marpole expected development to take place at the Marine Drive SkyTrain station -and there seems to be strong support for the addition of residential, shops and services at Marine & Cambie. We have not heard attendees at workshops, neighbourhood meetings and Open Houses for Marine & Cambie asking for four storey walk-ups, but the message is clear that the heights and densities of the towers proposed is not considered appropriate for this area.

    It was evident early on and is still very evident now that the main criteria for development at the SkyTrain is:

    a.) To develop quickly. We have been told that the speed of development is to take advantage of the investment in rapid transit. But the reality is, we can take the time to plan all of the stations right, and still take advantage of the investment in rapid transit. The SkyTrain isn’t going anywhere – it will still be there when the ducks are lined up properly. One developer told us that it would be better to take advantage of the investment in transit sooner rather than later. But sooner rather than later is a desire – not a need.

    b.) The SkyTrain has become an excuse to put up a series of towers without proper justification for the densities or heights, which will provide zero sensitive transitions to the residential area, and that will add further congestion to an intersection that is already near maximum capacity.

    Many newcomers or visitors to Marine Landing (Marine & Cambie) will use the SkyTrain, cycle or walk – – but many will not.

    Proper consideration is not being given to the fact that:

    – Marine & Cambie is now a major bus interchange, with buses having challenges now trying to get out onto Marine Drive;

    – the area along Marine Drive from Manitoba to Main has been designated for Highway Oriented Development – HOD’s attract vehicles from its customers and require large trucks to deliver its products; how does an HOD in an alreaady traffic congested urban area, alongside a TOD further a green iniative;

    – Marine Drive is a designated truck route; in addition to regular roadway traffic, there is at least one semi trailer every 30 seconds or so, on Marine Drive, in either direction

    – Marine Drive is the main access and travel route for the City of Vancouver’s waste transfer trucks.

    In discussions with the City Planners, we have said that if the intersection can’t be improved, then we should not be looking at adding densities (and commercial that is so large that it will rely on pulling patrons in city wide) that will make the intersection worse. Marine Drive and Cambie (and beyond) backs up daily, with dozens of vehicles in all directions, idiling every few minutes.

    If you take a close look at the plans, even for just Marine Gateway, with their two towers of residential, one office tower, major grocery store, major drug store, eleven movie screens, main stream restaurants and cafes, a daycare and a huge amount of medical/dental space, you can easily see how continual traffic jams will likely happen on almost every light change. Parking will be accessed from Yukon Street (east side of Marine Gateway), the only entry & exit point for both residential, office and commercial users. Yukon was not built to handle heavy traffic flow. Users of Marine Gateway requiring parking, will have to contend with City of Vancouver Waste Transfer trucks as well as the buses that use Yukon to get to and from the bus loop at the SkyTrain (and the latter will have to contend with more vehicles). On the other side of Marine Gateway, there are the buses that travel on Cambie Street and those that travel west on Marine Drive they also use the Marine & Cambie intersection. There is only one block between Cambie and Yukon – so that portion of Marine Drive is quite short.

    There is also a fantastic opportunity to take a closer look at south of Cambie Street – the Fraser River. The SkyTrain lets out just above the Fraser River, which provides a very unique opportunity. We have asked and even challenged the planning department to allow for creative planning for the areas on Cambie Street south of the SkyTrain and along to the Fraser River. Other countries have been creative and innovative when it comes to multi-uses in industrial areas. Vancouver could take this opportunity to show leadership in generating green-industrial spaces and layered uses. The lumber mills and heavy industry moved off of the Fraser in this area many years ago. With the existence of the SkyTrain and the desire for Vancouver to be the Greenist City, Planners and City Councillors may be missing a huge opportunity to explore and investigate potential new ways to use this space, by making it more usuable for the community, the city and still satisfy the need to create job space within the city limits.

    The Urban Design Panel stated that they didn’t see the big picture for the Marine & Cambie area. We agree that a bigger picture needs to be created, a bigger vision – a bigger Plan.

    City Planning indicated that Council wants planning for Phase II of the Cambie Corridor wrapped by the end of February 2011. After I met with a City Councilor, they weren’t certain that Council had laid out that timeline. So our question is, as it has always been – why are we rushing?

    What is it that we truly want to achieve by increasing density? Are we trading one green benefit off for another? By putting scores of people under one roof, we may reduce household emissions and optimize household energy use, but by over-densifying both with residential and commercial, and increasing vehicle traffic in an area that cannot aborb any more efficiently, are we not then forcing the increase of harmful vehicle emissions? If Vancouver is truly looking at a green agenda – should we then not be looking at the overall effect- and optimizing and balancing each green aspect properly – which might mean less density for each development, respectively reducing the increase in vehicle traffic from each new development while still creating a sustainable walkable, skytrain-able new neighbourhood centre.

    Instead of just looking at increasing density, and determing the level of LEED standard, perhaps we should be looking at what level of green we as a city wish to achieve. This can only be done by looking at the big picture – and weighing it all accordingly.

  • Michael, Lewis and Bill you all have this measured avuncular tone . . . to me you all sound predatory . . . you want something and I do not like it.

    Look at the city. It is not working. Be altruistic for a change . . .

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Morven 10, since you bring up the point of how things are done in our mother land I thought to include a link to the English Partnerships Urban Design Compendium 2000 which argues for high density quartiers with human scale.

    http://www.urbandesigncompendium.co.uk/public/documents/UDC1FULL.pdf

    The English Partnerships are a creation of the Deputy Prime Minister’s office, as far as I can make out, and their “urban code” (i.e. the Compendium) is offered as guidance for municipal projects seeking funding from Westminster.

  • What I’ve seen of the proposals so far did seem to be grotesquely out of scale, to my untrained eye.

    That said, I do have to question the assumption implicit in Jo-anne’s post, that commercial development and increasing car traffic go hand in hand, even when that development is placed at a major transit hub.

    This assumption seems easily disproved by the example of Downtown, which has seen increased growth by almost every measure, yet has decreasing car traffic despite only very mild policies in place to restrict car usage.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “What is it that we truly want to achieve by increasing density?”

    Jo-Anne Pringle 14, Marpole Residents Association

    Good report. One the line I’ve quoted above, you should be clear that what is at stake is not “increasing density”—we could do that by building Art Cowie rows down the length of the Cambie corridor.

    Rather, what is at stake is more like—What is it that we truly want to achieve by [increasing density] building towers?

    I encourage your neighbourhood group to get a hold of some urbanists (or maybe an apocalyptic horse) & model alternate forms of development.

    See if you can’t come to the same realization we did preparing our entry for FormShift two years ago now… That we can double the current population of Vancouver simply by building Art Cowie-type buildings along the arterials using only those lots that today have single family houses.

    I think it crass to suggest that neighbourhood people should do the lifting of professional experts. However, until such time as we have a process in place where “local knowledge” can be mined successfully to do a proper urban design plan for Marpole, Mt. Pleasant, etc., maybe local groups can show by their efforts that the “alternate forms of development” Nigel Baldwin is calling for don’t require rocket scientists to identify.

  • Jo-Anne Pringle

    @Mark 17 – sorry my post was becoming too lengthy so I only gave the summary of Marine Gateway – but there is much more to the intersection – there are two active Rezoning Applications in at Marine & Cambie and two more expected to come on-line.

    My reference to the increase in traffic isn’t in strict reference to just the commercial portion of Marine Gateway – (although I did isolate the Marine Gateway project just as an example re: jams and traffic flow interuption), Gateway itself proposes two residential towers (200 ft and 300 ft), an office tower and a large amount of commercial.

    – directly across the street, James Cheng is proposing two residential towers (200 ft and 300 ft) with street level work live units and some commercial/retail,

    – and immediately beside (on the eastside) of the James Cheng proposal where Marine Gardens affordable rental housing now sits will eventually be replaced with some towers as well as the replacement of the affordable housing portion;

    – on the west side of Cambie, Wesgroup is considering a 270 ft residential tower, a series of townhouses and a daycare. Those projects are all immediately at Marine & Cambie.

    This past summer City Planning did up a document called the Draft Urban Design Framework for Marine & Cambie which showed 8 towers. Then, if we look out at the other sites that wish to redevelop in addition to what we know for Marine & Cambie, such as the Pearson Hospital lands just 10 blocks north on Cambie Street at West 59th a future SkyTrain station, they would like to relocate the YMCA to that site, add residential towers, some retail and rebuild the hospital. Pearson Hospital began a planning program in 2009, which has since gone on hold, but there are still active discussions taking place. Add all of this up – that is a lot of densification for this area, which will without doubt bring new vehicle traffic with it. The City agrees that the intersection at Marine & Cambie is at near capacity now – so we are asking them to take a serious look at how how the roads and neighbourhood will be affected by adding that much more body heat. (and don’t forget the destination travellers who don’t live in the immediate area who will come to buy groceries, use the drug store or go the movies at Marine Gateway or who will pass through Marine & Cambie to go to the new big Canadian Tire/Marks Workwarehouse just a few block east on Marine). It’s already a well travelled road, we are just asking them to look at how much more we can realistically add to it – and allow that information to help inform their decisions).

  • Jo-Anne Pringle

    @Lewis- thanks for your suggestions. We have gotten a hold of a well know Vancouver Urbanist and several architects, all of whom basically echo your comments and share concerns about Marine & Cambie. We have taken our concerns/comments/suggestions directly to planning and we have not been offered any built form options, only towers. We know that density can come in other packages – but we aren’t seeing them! For some reason the push is on for towers at Marine & Cambie.

  • Bill McCreery

    Planning is abrogating their responsibilities in the Marpole instance as they have in other neighbourhoods (West End, Norquay, Mt. Pleasant, etc.). It is the Planning Department who MUST set the rules and they are not. The developers are on fishing trips, as Michael has suggested, and are being encouraged by Council. 6 FSR, 300’+ buildings are completely unjustified in this location and will do a great del of damage to the Marpole community.

    To give you an idea of just how big 1 of the 4 corners of development will be I have done an overlay on the east and west elevations of the Marine Gateway proposal of the 12 storey Centennial Towers building at 70th and Marine (interestingly, it’s called that because it was a spot rezoning built in the 1967 Centennial year – TEAM stopped spot rezoning when we were elected in 1972). I will send them to Frances. Perhaps she may be able to post them. Michael referred to Gateway being twice the height of the Langara Gardens towers. It is also 3 times the height of the Centennial Towers.

    Nigel has suggested in the past that 3, not 6 FSR might be a better fit at this already congested intersection assuming all other aspects, not the least congestion and Canada Line over-crowding, can be dealt with. I have agreed and now Michael seems to be saying he has some kind of comfort with 3 FSR as well for location such as Marine and Cambie.

    It’s time for the Planning Department to stand and be counted. Tell us, and tell the developers what do you think the correct density and heights are for this location. Your professional duty is to to not be silent, but to show leadership in this instance. By your silence you are agreeing with what is being proposed. Is that the case?

    You may be having a difficult time doing so because to my knowledge you have not done the work required to make those independent determinations. I would be delighted to see that you have, but I need to see what you’ve done to be so.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “… we may reduce household emissions and optimize household energy use, but by over-densifying both with residential and commercial, and increasing vehicle traffic in an area that cannot aborb any more efficiently, are we not then forcing the increase of harmful vehicle emissions?”

    Jo-Anne Pringle 14

    “Add all of this up [other sites along Cambie]– that is a lot of densification for this area, which will without doubt bring new vehicle traffic with it.”

    Jo-Anne Pringle 19

    Jo-Anne is articulating the reasons why I see towers outside the downtown peninsula as sprawl pure and simple. Which goes in the opposite direction to Mark’s post:

    “That said, I do have to question the assumption implicit in Jo-anne’s post, that commercial development and increasing car traffic go hand in hand, even when that development is placed at a major transit hub.”

    Mark Allerton 17

    For me, there is a world of difference between developing in a tower zone, about 2 square miles large, and developing Metrotown-like “nodes” on the Canada Line.

    I agree that there will be trips that arrive by transit. And some of it will be surface transit, not just Canada Line. However, there will also be a large component that will drive from their homes and duke it out for road space and parking.

    The way around this is to plan at the scale of the quartier—the full catchment area for the station, rather than the lots on the four most immediate corners. Spreading out the density generates pedestrian trips, rather than create new automobile destinations.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Marine Landing does sound better then Marine Gateway. The project has evolved over a a few drafts and the current proposal is certainly better then the original. It’s still too much density and too much height though, as are it’s neighbouring proposals. Perhaps something at ~20stories could be intergrated into the neighbourhood at an FSR closer to 4.0.
    The Marpole Safeway site seems to have done a good job of consulting with the area and adjusting their proposal significatly. Hopefully there is still hope for Marine Landing and friends.

  • Ron

    I think one of the problems with indcresing density at the transit nodes is that you ave to tip-toe around the issue of displacing (redeveloping) single family homes.

    If there’s a target number of residents for each transit station ode – you either build low and spread out or tall and concentrated.
    The former doisplaces many single family houses. The latter does not.
    While residents of single family homes may cry foul over a building shadow, they’d raise a bigger stink if they were displaced in favour of medium density projects.

    Hasn’t anyone noticed the absurdity of increasing desnity along the Cambie Corridor – but only on the lots fronting the major arterials? – it’s all aimed at preserving the single family homes on the blocks behind.

    All of the other sites – Gateway, the Cheng site, the Petro-Canada site (Wesgroup?) or the existing multi-family buildings behind the Cheng site (as well as Oakridge Centre) are historically consolidated building sites.

    It’s “opportunitistic redevelopment” – redeveloping a site that has already been consolidated so that singe family homes are not put at risk.

    And remember, the densification of arterial streets was already planned long before the Cambie Corridor program and Canada Line came about.

    There really should be a bull’s eye of development around each transit station (like Kerrisdale was built up around the interurban stop at 41st Ave.) , but politics and the preservation of the single family home (in the blocks behind the main streets) are preventing it and forcing development to remain trapped on sites fronting the arterials or on historically consolidated sites.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    There seems to be a consensus of sorts forming around the net density of 3.0 FSR (floor area = 3x the site area).

    The 3.5 storey houses that we designed for FormShift were 2.0 FSR.

    Those “alternate forms of development” as I am sure Nigel Baldwin is well aware deliver real density.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “It’s “opportunitistic redevelopment” – redeveloping a site that has already been consolidated so that singe family homes are not put at risk.”

    Ron 24

    You missed Michael Geller reporting here last summer that the single family lots along the Cambie corridor were in great demand and flying off the table to join one consolidation scheme or another.

    The human-scale hi-density project avoids the additional cost of land assembly being imposed on housing. More from Ron:

    “There really should be a bull’s eye of development around each transit station (like Kerrisdale was built up around the interurban stop at 41st Ave.) , but politics and the preservation of the single family home (in the blocks behind the main streets) are preventing it…”

    That’s a nice story, but it won’t pencil out. Your “bulls eye” is our “quartier”. We calculated that intensification to 2.0 FSR along the arterials alone would be sufficient to provide threshold levels to support BRT/LRT and would achieve two additional goals:

    (1) Support a doubling of the population city-wide; and

    (2) Release sufficient land to the right-of-way to make possible a revitalization of the arterials to implement BRT/LRT (reducing vehicular volume or taking cars off the road in the process); plant continuous rows of trees for oxygen, trapping air born particulates, and greening; and build local access lanes against the frontages to further ameliorate fronting residences against high traffic volumes.

    Marpole, Mount Pleasant, and the rest, are not being given “complete” or comprehensive alternatives in urban design.

    As Baldwin put it:

    “[Placating gestures by the developer] … in no way substitute for a proper and complete [Marpole] neighbourhood centre plan.”

  • There seems to be a consensus of sorts forming around the net density of 3.0 FSR (floor area = 3x the site area)“.

    Oh no there is not! No were in this conversation do I see a consensus. How dare you make such a self-serving assumption!

    The 3.5 storey houses that we designed for FormShift were 2.0 FSR.” NOT!

    Let it go Lewis. Your obsessions are for your coffee break . . .

    Marine Landing alias Marine Gateway. Why the name change? Gateway I see, but landing implies either a boat landing or aircraft: either way I see it not. The change is not immaterial: it tells of a manipulation of our perceptions: not a good start.

    The built form profile says it all . . .

    http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cambiecorridor/public/phase2/pdf/10nov/marinelanding.pdf

    This profile describes an aberration.

    What is a neighborhood? First and foremost it is not a replication of whatever star architects or foreign planners or objects of pretty pictures of distant place that meets their fancy.

    The traditional village neighborhoods we admire and spend money to see in distant lands usually are the economic convenience of authoritarian landed gentry who need minimal shelter for their hired hands.

    The village was, once, centered ’round the communal pump, in a green space, for the village wives to congregate and gossip while lining up for the days supply of fresh water.

    That village green is now a curiosity enhancing real estate values in contiguous dwelling units.

    Marine Landing boasts a High Street. High street is a very English term denoting common land: Marine Landing High Street is not common land.

    Jo-Anne, your group obviously want the best for their neighborhood and “have gotten a hold of a well know Vancouver Urbanist and several architects, all of whom basically echo your comments and share concerns about Marine & Cambie.

    Jo-Anne I would be very cautious. Fortunately I do not have a dog in this fight and can speak freely. All these experts come with prejudiced personal agendas. Their wants are not your wants.

    Great cities, London’s Tower Hamlets, Paris’s Montmartre, Mexico City’s Coyoacan and Buenos Aires San Telmo, to name a few, were all subsumed after they first grew their own character. All developed incrementally over decades, even centuries.

    Unfortunately Marpole has not had the chance to grow a character accordingly you are vulnerable to whatever snake oil salesman come running down Granville.

    Furthermore do you and your good neighbours really know what a good Marpole village neighbourhood looks like? Do you know what you want?
    May I suggest, first priority, stop this monstrous imposition on your neighbourhood. Then start planning incrementally.

    Work towards a varied and appropriate building technology appropriate to the economic, cultural and social conditions of the time.

    Work towards an integrated network of connections: high-speed connection to the airport is important for harassed businessmen but it should not consume your space. Views are important, too, but street level amenity is more important: work on trade-offs such as this.

    Most important we need to keep that industrial land for jobs to keep the kids solvent when they eventually leave home.

    Don’t be fooled by experts: you see avuncular predators frantically at work here. They have their own agenda that may or may not coincide with yours. All of them are hostage to various fashion whims.

    As for Nigel and Patricia, if they were so important that they had no time to pay attention to your community when they had the chance, as latter-day wanna-bees they aren’t much use to you now.

  • Jo-Anne Pringle

    Just for clarification: there is no name change at Marine & Cambie – but there was an introduction of an area concept, a theme and an identity – which is Marine Landing – early settlers originally landed in the neighbourhood now known as Marpole via the water.

    We created the concept and planning document in an effort to encourage cohesive planning at Marine & Cambie. Marine Gateway is still the name of PCI’s proposal at Marine & Cambie. James Cheng’s proposal does not have a name yet, nor does Wesgroup’s. This is a cut and paste of the introduction we sent to developers of Marpole when we provided them with the Marine Landing document:

    “Members of the working group of MARA (Marpole Area Residents Alliance) had the opportunity to meet with Brent Toderian and Jim Bailey last Wednesday (November 10th). We presented Brent and Jim with copies of a document that we created entitled: “Marine Landing” The Community Area Surrounding Marpole’s Urban Dock.

    This document includes planning points for Marine & Cambie, as well as the proposal of a new concept for the area.

    The members of the working group of MARA spent a large number of hours collating the various ideas and input that we have heard at community meetings that have taken place in Marpole since June of this year as well as input that we have received directly from residents. While most of these planning points relate to the Cambie Corridor and the Marine & Cambie area, some of them relate to the bigger community of Marpole overall.

    We have also proposed a concept for the Marine & Cambie area. At present, that space is an intersection. In the future, that intersection is expected to be a community place. This place, should have an identity and a theme, which will in turn give the area a new personality. We bounced around many concepts and finally decided that one that ties directly into the heritage of Marpole was most suitable. Our concept is “Marine Landing” and a more detailed description is contained in the Marine Landing attachment. But basically the idea is that Marine & Cambie be recognized as “a place” not just an intersection, which will grow to one day potentially include refined proposals such as Marine Gateway at Marine Landing, etc.

    We hope that you will find our document and suggested concept helpful when each of your teams are designing your respective proposals.”

    ———————————

    And this is a cut and paste from the first page of our document (some formatting might be lost on this blog):

    Marine Landing
    The Community Area Surrounding Marpole’s Urban Dock

    In the early days, communities were built along the water’s edge and people and goods were delivered to those communities via boats, docking at landings. Those communities in fact, were the earliest forms of Transit Oriented Development.

    Today, people in Metro Vancouver can easily travel around from community to community via our modern form of transportation, the SkyTrain. Marpole in South Vancouver is home to the Marine Drive SkyTrain station – Marpole’s new urban dock. With the station geographically located just north of the Fraser River, that immediate influence should be reflected strongly in all development and emerging changes for this community area.
    It is intended that one day the Marine & Cambie area will play host to a number of developments bringing with it new homes, new residents, and new businesses all centralized around the SkyTrain station.

    The successful redevelopment of this area requires us to recognize its connection to an existing residential community and provides an opportunity to acknowledge its historical relationship to the river.

    Development at Marine & Cambie, built at a “community-scale” will recognize its relationship with the existing residential neighbourhood. And the evolution of transportation and one of its landing places in particular, gives rise to a new identity for the Marine & Cambie area. “Marine Landing” an identity that also gives this area a new vibrant personality, while reviving some of the community’s heritage.

    While a gateway is point of entry – a landing, is a place of welcome and introduction.

    Done right, the community area of “Marine Landing” will welcome new residents and visitors
    and give a lasting impression of how a metropolitan city can grow while staying true to its smaller city charm and origins.

    ————————————————–

    Fellow bloggers, I’m sure there will be many comments on the above – but remember, we are a group of residents racing against time and against those with big budgets to further their proposals.

  • Well Jo-Anne you and your people have obviously invested a lot of mojo into your Marine Landing.

    Good for you but I still thinq you could do better.

    You are clearly capitulating on the basic monstrous form: your kids wont thanq you for that.

    On a not so trivial point, Busby used a curve at street level on his Wall thingie. What is his aversion to curves at Gateway? As an enclosing device curves can have such a humanizing effect, especially on the High Street.

    Your concept of Marine Landing is just more and more lined up, ticky-tacky, three storey walk-ups with a cottage roof.

    You have open industrial land to work with. Platting may take any form. So why stay with the lined up street fronts? A few curves would work wonders for real estate.

    Where, too, are the pedestrian closes? Where are the walking vistas? Where is the village green focal point for kids to play as Mummie gossips? Where are the places were kids can get into trouble?

    Oh this is just a concept eh! Well be careful. Bad design has a habit of folding in, when no one is looking, as work pressure and cash advances pile up.

    Are there any jobs in Landing?

    And important I suppose, for you and the kids, when they grow up, are all those exchanges yiu will have to make to get to work in Surrey: or maybe Abbottsford.

    Or why not just hop in the car: just a little bit more soot and pong wont make any difference.

    Sorry to be the grunge but I suspect I am the only one who knows what I am talking about in this conversation.

    Too bad your neighbourhood is just more of the same and such a catchy name too!

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Jo-Anne, I think your group has done some good things:

    “While most of these planning points relate to the Cambie Corridor and the Marine & Cambie area, some of them relate to the bigger community of Marpole overall.”

    Whatever the tools needed for a successful urban code, this is most definitely your site.

    “We have also proposed a concept for the Marine & Cambie area. At present, that space is an intersection. In the future, that intersection is expected to be a community place.”

    Here I would beg off. Intersections are often thought of as “places” and “nodes”, but case studies tell quite another tale. The most famous case was the next major intersection after L’Etoille (Arc du Triomphe) as one exits Paris—Voonie will have to keep me on the straight and narrow here. For the first decades of the 20th century this was the focus of much attention, competitions, etc. And the poor modernists were up against one they would not win. Regardless the scale and the monumentality of the proposals, the scale and the volume of the multiple lanes of traffic even in those days proved overpowering.

    Was it Bill McCreery or someone else that pointed to the improbability of crossing six lanes of traffic to get from one side to the other? Whether it is Cambie or Marine, if it will take 5 minutes just to get across two lights, then it’s too long to work. However, the concept of the landing comes at the urbanism from a much more productive angle:

    “The Community Area Surrounding Marpole’s Urban Dock”.

    In Vancouver we are well familiar with the attraction of the water’s edge as the defining place. So are Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and countless other places. History is always a good place to start defining the sense of place. The reason is that where you have places in Marpole (we should say South Vancovuer) that were settled in the 1900’s, you will find traces of a place built with walking or human scale in mind. In our day, that’s urban gold!

    There is another bit of history that you don’t mention, and that I did not see when I perused the City’s document one day last summer. What is the origin of Cambie Street?

    Surely, it is the same Beaux Arts movement that was informing goings on in the western flank of Paris. What is the history of Queen Elizabeth Park, and role did it play in shaping the most distinctive aspect of Cambie—the bend around the park? I owned a house in Marpole, and I know first hand that the platting in South Vancouver is different from Vancouver proper. The long blocks orient north-south, and something of the intention behind this platting can be appreciated coming over the Oak Street Bridge from the south.

    Of course, Oak is a misunderstood thoroughfare suffering from all the same problems as the other high volume streets in our city. I would encourage that your group identify BRT/LRT implementation routes as a transportation strategy, and as a way to tame high traffic volume streets. Following on Patrick Condon’s observations, plan to rebuild the BC Electric network on existing R.O.W.s. First as Bus Rapid Transit, and then when additional capacity is needed as Light Rail Transit (on the surface).

    This approach should also be taken on Marine, and the north side of the Oak Street Bridge should be de-commissioned as ramps, and the core for a quartier should be designed to locate in that area.

    Keep in mind Nigel Baldwin’s assertion: “[U]nless the City swiftly initiates a genuine, first-principles plan offering real alternatives, I predict the New Year will see an ugly and public confrontation between the City and its residents over developments in this neighbourhood.”

    The concepts I have mentioned, along with many others for which we have taken up too much space already, are some of these “first principles”. These are the generators of the one thing that is most lacking in all our neighbourhoods—an urban environment of sufficient quality to support social functioning.

    The place for that, the social space in our neighbourhoods, should be the street and the square.

    In the mad panic to a Brave New World we forgot all about that and turned a back on the dirty, filthy street. Time to turn back. Bringing life and bustle to our streets, and building neighbourhood squares, is the right way to make high density neighbourhoods thrive. Except in a very few and very special places, people power—not towers— make places work.

  • Jo-Anne, I think your group has done some good things:” Well Lewis best we have distance between us.

    some good things” You are being over patronising for reasons only you know but your advice does not further the cause of Marine Landing, nor indeed potential city quartiers in general!

    1. The orthogonal grid layout is banal and, give raw land, unnecessary.

    2. Look to Champlain. The orthogonal surrounding plat has been ignored in favour of organic curves, cul-de-sac and humane places.

    Yes Landing does not have the latitude of space to articulate, but, please this plat is too rigid.

    3. Public space has been allotted a central green space but that space is bisected by a very intrusive elevated CL: a no place place.

    4. Building typology, as shown is, conjecture. Use of form to articulate space however seem to have slipped the notice of Jo-anne’s planners: too bad.

    5. No attempt has been made to mitigate an interface between Busby’s and Cheng’s brutal chunks and the neighbourhood. A gradual phasing of form/height is lost.

    No doubt in time the debate will cool, the neighbours lose interest and the city bureaucrats take over, quietly ignoring all that has transpired and mira just another place to buy a mortgage.

    If the city can get away with Mount Pleasant it has carte blanche to somnambulate forever.

    Now, I have said my piece. I have imposed my ego, albeit not as cool and manipulative as some, and it is time to leave this sorry demonstration of a town lost to the clammy hand of orthodoxy.

    Just another opportunity lost . . . QED.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “Perhaps something at ~20stories could be integrated into the neighbourhood at an FSR closer to 4.0. The Marpole Safeway site seems to have done a good job of consulting with the area and adjusting their proposal significantly. Hopefully there is still hope for Marine Landing and friends.”

    Joe Just Joe #23

    Joe But-Not-Less-Than-3.9-FSR Just Joe… Do you have examples of 4.0 FSR buildings that work in neighbourhood settings? Can you link us to drawings of the Marpole Safeway (Granville & 70th)? Will they be any different than the drawings for the Arbutus Mall redevelopment? Or that other old Safeway site on Knight & Kingsway?

    Joe, are you proposing that we should “… expected to accept uncritically the expedient solution …” as Baldwin put it?

  • What I want to know is why is the height and density for the PCI project so high? Is it because of the project economics? Did PCI pay so much for the site that anything less than the proposed density will not work?

    Is the city encouraging higher densities in order to share in the land lift and thus finance community amenities for the area?

    Are the higher densities being proposed and supported because this is what is considered appropriate in terms of ‘sustainability’ and reduced impacts on climate change?

    Or are these considered the appropriate forms for the ‘new Vancouver’?

    These are not intended to be rhetorical questions. I really want to know, because on the face of it, having worked in planning and development in this city since 1974, I don’t understand why the proposed height and density is being considered.

  • ps. If the answer is that the extra height and density is necessary to support the STIR rental housing, then I would say eliminate it. The potential benefits are not worth the planning impacts in this instance.

    Similarly, if the amount of condominium development is necessary to support the proposed amount of office space, then I would say reduce the amount of office space, and condominiums accordingly.

    In other words, yes, it is desirable to have new retail and condominium development in this location. If some office can be added, that would be nice. Rental Housing? You don’t have to do everything…(and please don’t tell me you have to have rental because that’s the ticket to get approval from this mayor and council).

    What’s most important is to achieve a high intensity development that is appropriate to this new gateway transit oriented site, but not so high that it no longer fits in with a reasonable long term plan for the area and surrounding neighbourhoods. This is what concerns me.

  • Morven

    Michael Geller # 34

    Fascinating questions.

    But they all beg the one question.

    The question?

    Is the role of Council and it’s unelected officials in the planning department to act as enablers for the development industry or act as dispassionate upholders of the public interest and community values (and as a bulwark between the community and the developers)

    I have a very uneasy sense that the public and community interest now has few defenders at city hall – and we all will be worse off.
    -30-

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    I’m with Morven—Baldwin answered all of Michael’s rhetorical questions…

    The one about land lift is dealt with Tax Increment Financing in non-tower zones.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Michael 33.

    Excellent questions. I will try to shed as much light as possible on this murky subject.

    1) What did PCI pay for the site? That would normally not be a fair question but, perhaps here it is. Why? The site was originally owned by the Province (ICBC); I suspect it was sold to Translink for the station and the bus loop; the developer must have some sort of arrangement with Translink to share the proceeds from the redevelopment. What is that arrangement?

    2) There has been very little information about money required for what community amenities to date; the developer originally suggested they pay for mitigating the transfer station smells (something they need to do just to sell the units, so it’s not an amenity); the community has been asked during the planning meetings what their priorities were for community benefits, the Park and School Boards have not been asked as far as I know. The City needs to be “transparent” about what their expectations are for this property.

    Maybe you’re right. By the time you add up the developer’s land cost + Translink’s cut + amenities, this is an expensive bit of real estate.

    There is also precedent from Norquay and the Cambie Corridor to suggest the City is prepared to bump density to get it’s hands on amenity dollars.

    The big question that needs to be asked here as well as in these other neighbourhoods, is this what should be driving neighbourhood planning? I say no.

    3) Using high density development to achieve sustainability is an equally murky exercise. There are many ways to achieve density, and then, what is an acceptable level of density to achieve both sustainability and neighbourhood liveability? These options are not on the table as Nigel has pointed out. They should be.

    This Council has demonstrated in other endeavours that, although on the surface they have a sustainable objective, in total they are adding to the early demise of life as we know it on this planet. If this is their purpose here, IMO it is equally simplistically off-base.

    For instance, how much more traffic can this intersection handle? They are proposing to put a mini-downtown on a road system consisting of ONE intersection and NO by-pass routes. Aside from the driver frustrations (ask the bus drivers right now) and the reduced neighbourhood liveability, what about all that extra carbon footprint?

    How much additional capacity can the CL handle? As I’ve already found, they don’t know because they haven’t done the studies. We do know the system is operating at +/-95% capacity for extended rush hours every day already in year one. Richmond, Surrey Whiterock Delta are all growing and feeding into this system. Two more stations are planned at 57th and 33rd with substantial employment numbers, 41st has 10 unbuilt, approved towers to build, the Broadway transit line connector… Where does it end? This Council doesn’t know because they specialize in simplistic solutions.

  • Morven

    Lewis Villegas # 16, 35

    Thanks for your kind comment.

    Tax increment financing has many merits as a policy option. It also has many disadvantages.

    I think it fair to say that TransLink, MetroVancouver and the provincial government have covetous eyes for the flow of funds from Tax Increment financing as short term financial solutions. That I have no issue with as all three organizations are not directly involved in the development industry.

    But I do have an issue with the perception of potential conflicts of interest when the City of Vancouver sees itself as an enabler and participant in development proposals through tax increment financing and at the same time acting as the arbiter of the public interest.

    So why insert out-of-character development proposals into the equation when the city may well be a beneficiary as well as a participant?

    Conflict of interest? Perhaps.

    But perhaps a bit of transparency and accountability from the current Council is in order lest we jump to the wrong conclusions.

    After all, the city’s track record in direct real estate development is not stellar.
    -30-

  • Joe Just Joe

    RE Lewis #32

    If the Cambie corridor will be seeing density at ~3.0FSR along it’s stretch I do not feel that a boost to ~4.0FSR at a major node is out of line, 6.0 would be but 4.0FSR would appear reasonable if depending on it’s form.

    RE Bill #37

    If you beleive that the Canada Line is really at 95% capacity today then you would want to see this.

    http://www.translink.ca/en/About-TransLink/Media/2010/June/Addressing-Canada-Line-capacity-questions.aspx

  • Ron

    You missed Michael Geller reporting here last summer that the single family lots along the Cambie corridor were in great demand and flying off the table to join one consolidation scheme or another.

    The human-scale hi-density project avoids the additional cost of land assembly being imposed on housing. More from Ron:

    “There really should be a bull’s eye of development around each transit station (like Kerrisdale was built up around the interurban stop at 41st Ave.) , but politics and the preservation of the single family home (in the blocks behind the main streets) are preventing it…”

    That’s a nice story, but it won’t pencil out. Your “bulls eye” is our “quartier”. We calculated that intensification to 2.0 FSR along the arterials alone would be sufficient to provide threshold levels to support BRT/LRT and would achieve two additional goals:

    (1) Support a doubling of the population city-wide; and

    (2) Release sufficient land to the right-of-way to make possible a revitalization of the arterials to implement BRT/LRT (reducing vehicular volume or taking cars off the road in the process); plant continuous rows of trees for oxygen, trapping air born particulates, and greening; and build local access lanes against the frontages to further ameliorate fronting residences against high traffic volumes.

    Does “along the corridor” mean only those lots fronting Cambie Street? If so, why not develop 2, 3 or 5 blocks away from the arterial?

    Why be satisfied with what is “sufficient” to support a BRT or LRT? The Millennium Line probably pays its operating costs with it’s current level of ridership – is that “sufficient”?

    Is that to support the single family homes behind the arterial (and at the same time forcing development into the Fraser Valley and its accompanying environmental impacts) by maintaining lower “livable” densities closer to the downtown core? Look at Paris – it must have 6-8 storey building as far as the eye an see (viewing from the Eiffel Tower) – now compare that to Vancouver.

  • Bill McCreery

    JJJ 39.

    Who said the proposed 3 FSR boringly marching for no particular reason along Cambie was acceptable. IMO it’s not.

    There are better ways to determine desired densities in an urban context. This planning department should start to use them. You, I and interested others chatting over coffee is hardly the way such decisions should be made either (and I am not saying your or my opinions are not valid, as opinions they are, but there are better ways to do it).

    I am familiar with that Translink info. It’s PR fluff. I’ve asked them and the City Planning Department for their station by station catchment / system capacity studies. They don’t exist. So, the Planning Department’s methodology for determining densities at individual stations is no better than yours and mine over coffee above. That’s called ‘by guess and by golly’ planning with the emphasis on the ‘by golly’ part.

    We need to see real answers to the questions being asked here.

    @ MG 34.

    You said “If the answer is that the extra height and density is necessary to support the STIR rental housing…”

    The original 187 (?) STIR units were reduced to 32 (?) RENTAL units in the last proposal. I’m not sure what the next proposal has (will have). I have suggested to the City that one way of getting the density down to some acceptable level is to start with the fact that the developer is no longer providing the STIR units. But, based on my rough calcs that will only get it down to +/-4.6 from the existing 6.05. That’s not enough. Nor IMO at this stage, with the incomplete info we have, is 4.

    Another interesting thing to look at when trying to figure out who and what is driving the density numbers is that the developer only reduced their density a tiny fraction while they all but wiped out the STIR units. They spent no doubt several tens of thousands of dollars on that revised design. Why? It’s an awfully expensive way to negotiate but, it may be what this process is reduced to and is all about.

    Come to that, it sure would be nice if the City PD could tell us what is the process is being used to determine the densities and heights which will impact this neighbourhood for the next 100 years?

    Based on the principle of openness and transparency that this administration is supposed to be committed to one would have thought such standards would have been trotted out at the beginning so everybody knew the rules. Apparently not. The developers doesn’t seem to and they have a lot of money at stake.

  • Morven

    Bill McCreery # 41

    I have enjoyed these contributions.

    It is almost as if the reigning city planning philosophy is to take a geographic hub, insert a very large, out-of-character development in the hub, then watch as developers pile in to recraft the community.

    It may be innovative, it may be profitable for the city but is it planning and is it fair to communities to indulge in such draconian planning measures.

    Please tell me I am wrong and that this is all a carefully managed program of urban renewal.

    Yes or No?
    -30-

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Morven 42. Likewise. It would be wonderful to be able to harness the brainpower and creativity here from all sides within a constructive city building framework. There have been, and no doubt will continue to be many worthwhile concepts, strategies, priorities, etc. which could be of great benefit to the City.

    Sadly, yes.

    Your choice of the term “urban renewal” may have been deliberate but either way, you are no doubt aware that the term has come to represent what not to do if you’re trying to crete healthy communities.

    If so, again, yes.

    What do others think?

  • gasp

    Morven #35. Your question is very important, i.e.,

    “Is the role of Council and it’s unelected officials in the planning department to act as enablers for the development industry or act as dispassionate upholders of the public interest and community values (and as a bulwark between the community and the developers)

    I have a very uneasy sense that the public and community interest now has few defenders at city hall . . . .”

    Unfortunately, your sense is shared by many who have had the misfortune of trying to deal honestly and forthrightly with this and recent councils.

    The problem is that the Planning department has been instructed BY THESE COUNCILS to act as enablers for the development community rather than to act as dispassionate upholders of the public interest and community values.

    So long as elections for City Council are financed by LARGE UNREGULATED donations from developers and others who don’t give a damn about the public interest or the community’s values, the City will continue to bulldoze away with its overdensified here and there mega-developments regardless of whether or not they’re in the public interest.

    The only way that citizens have to try to ensure City Council acts in the public interest is through their votes, since there is no effective oversight of the City’s actions by any other independent agency or government body.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “Does ‘along the corridor’ mean only those lots fronting Cambie Street? If so, why not develop 2, 3 or 5 blocks away from the arterial?”

    Ron 40

    Great questions. I just picked one.

    The issue is sustainable intensification, which I see as being incremental. Do it on a lot by lot basis, on specially designated zones:

    i. Move one step at a time

    ii. Deal with the places showing the greatest need for revitalization first.

    iii. Use urban intensification as a tool for regeneration.

    The arterials are high volume streets in need of revitalization, including traffic calming and reduction of vehicular loads at peak periods. Can we shape intensification to do that? Yes, but it will take a comprehensive vision and a coordinated approach.

    Our “internal streets”, on the other hand, are in better shape. Intensification there might take place in future decades.

    Your image of the view from the Eiffel tower in Paris can be instructive if we compare it to the view from an imaginary Eiffel tower erected somewhere in London, near Regent’s Park perhaps.

    Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, and the buildings look all more or less alike. The buildings in London also share a great many characteristics in common. Yet, as a city London is a bit of a glorious mess. For example, it takes London cabbies 2 years to “acquire the knowledge” because town planning was left in private hands—a truly organic process full of gnarls and clogged arteries. Not so the Napoleon III-Hausmann plan of Paris, some 45 years more modern than the platting of Manhattan, believe it or not (1855 vs 1811).

    Yet, there is a fly in the ointment of the Parisian Maisonette (that 6 to 8 storey building type that dates right back to the first Napoleon). It grew to occupy the entire city block, and it came to rely on interior light shafts and mean and narrow courtyards to supply air & light to the windows on the rooms that orient inwards. Looking out on the trees, cafes, straight and wide boulevards everything is fine. Open the windows looking in the other direction, and you can hear all the goings on at the neighbours two, three, and more levels up.

    The London house is only 3.5 storeys above the street. The interior of the block is dug down one level below the street so that the garden façade is also at grade but 4.5 storeys high. Each house is 0.25 chain wide, or 16.5 feet. When the gardens measure 35 feet or more, and are surrounded by 8 foot high garden walls, the experience of the rear yard can be very private and satisfying. The 1 : 2 : 3 proportions of the enclosed space may play a part in that.

    Obviously, London houses fewer people per square km at 3.5 storeys above the street than Paris at 8.0 storeys. The English rely on their great transportation system to move people about and deal out the density on a more palatable spread. The privately owned street network was in such a state that when it came time to solve the problem, they bore down and found fantastic geological conditions (at least north of the Thames).

    Is this not the very nature of the problem that confronts us: How much is too much?

    How many people do we want to house per square k.m.; what is the role that we see for public and for private transportation; and what do we want the resulting quality of our urban environment to be like?

    As Nigel Baldwin points out… we don’t know because we have not done the work.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    I tried to avoid a blow by blow discussion of Michael Geller’s questions (#33), so thanks Bill McCreery for taking it on.

    However, I feel that the Michael 33/Bill 37 discussion missed the key point: Is this any way to govern ourselves? Isn’t the right way forward to plot the full build out or intensification of the neighbourhood in question in full consultation with the neighbours and the city at large?

    Baldwin:

    “That the City has missed an ideal opportunity to address the central issues affecting the neighbourhood.  It has failed to do the hard work necessary to generate and evaluate alternate forms of development…”

    I don’t see the problem as density. What people are looking for is a higher quality result in the urban environment around our front doors, front door yards, roof decks and back gardens. Vancouverites don’t mind density, I think we don’t even mind social mix. But we abhor the kind of urban wastelands we have created in the arterials.

    Why should that put us in a bind? Why do we appear unready to listen to people in the neighbourhoods ready accept density, but rejecting towers?

    Why do posts here keep tripping on that same fact: we say density when we mean towers; and we appear to mean towers when we say density?

    Baldwin again:

    “It is hard not to conclude that the City has never wavered from a Council-initiated intention to bully through the approval of two or three unprecedentedly dense projects prior to the next election, putting short-term political ambition ahead of the long term future of our City.”

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “Tax increment financing has many merits as a policy option. It also has many disadvantages.”

    Morven 38

    I find it difficult to come across anyone willing to talk TIF, good or bad, much less voice an opinion. So, let’s let everyone in on it first.

    Tax Increment Financing means that the municipality realizes that growth is taxed by the square foot (land lift profits notwithstanding). So, except for the $1 million per tower, or so, the rest of the finical equation looks the same:

    Equivalent numbers of density pay equivalent amounts of property tax in perpetuity.

    TIF takes a bite from the first 10 or 20 years of tax paid by new neighbours, and allocates it to projects in that community (the other option is to simply drop the moneys into general revenue).

    Well crafted TIF programs have a sunset clause. The kinds of projects that TIF would fund are the kinds of “improvements” that might attract more development (i.e. a quicker build out). These could include paying for urban codes, charrettes , participatory planning & urban design; building bike lanes and BRT/LRT guideways; and buying land to redevelop as squares in the hearts of the new quarters.

    There is a long list of “we can’t afford to do that” at our municipal halls. TIF might help hose them down, and put the spotlight instead on a few critical issues for creating urban codes as blueprints for sustainable growth.

  • Lewis….”Baldwin answered all of Michael’s rhetorical questions… ”

    Lewis, as I wrote, these are NOT rhetorical questions.

    I agree entirely with those who say the role of the public sector should be to properly zone land, not enable developers to build what they want. However, the art of planning is balancing architectural concepts with economic realities and community aspirations.

    In this case, I worry that either the economics, or some notion about ‘sustainability’ are driving building froms and densities. The resulting form and density is not appropriate in my opinion.

    But we are not going to resolve the matter here.

    So my advice is for the proponent and the city to book the Robson Square theatre so that we can have a presentation of the various schemes, a response from planning department and the nearby community, and a good face to face discussion on the justification and merits of this application, within the context of the Cambie Corridor planning studies.

    I would also like to hear a thoughtful discussion on other planning considerations related to transit oriented development around the city, including building heights, densities, and view cones.

    It is not realistic to expect these conversations to take place in a Council Chamber as part of a Public Hearing. Let me repeat. It is not realistic to expect a good discussion to take place at the Public Hearing. The Council Chamber is too charged a political environment.

    I would therefore again urge the city to initiate some discussions outside of the Chamber on these very important matters. Frances, you would make a good moderator!

    A

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    It’s an old trick, Michael. We’ve been doing magic tricks around here with the kids over the Christmas season. The box is always empty, there is no magic ball in the cup, the coin is not in the hand.

    It really is the content of what is said, not what is said about it that maters.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    CORRECTION: … and old rhetorical trick…