Frances Bula header image 2

Density around SkyTrain or industrial land?

July 22nd, 2009 · 14 Comments

Amid the deluge of reports coming to council this week and next is an interesting one that essentially poses the question to council on what to do about the site that PCI has bought next to the new Southeast Marine Drive SkyTrain station.

It’s been an article of faith among people committed to building sustainable cities that density should especially be built in around SkyTrain stations. (Watch out Cambie people, it’s coming to your neighbourhood someday.)

PCI is offering the city a challenging choice — should it allow this project, which is exactly the kind of density that should go in around these stations, or should it turn the project down because it is partly residential density that PCI wants to put on industrial land.

My friend Jeff Lee over at the Sun wrote about this as well on his blog, emphasizing the drive to save industrial land. But, I have to say, the sense I get from city hall is that there’s a lot of interest in encouraging dense developments next to all the stations along the Canada Line.

We await the next chapter

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  • It’s a very interesting dilemma. High-density mixed-use communities are the key to sustainable communities, but industrial uses are never considered in a mixed-use scenario. The best solution I’ve seen to date was the winner of the wild card category in FormShift Vancouver, where the roofs of industrial uses were the lawns and parks of residential towers above. And of course mixed industrial/residential neighbourhoods aren’t unheard of – I grew up in the centre of Waterloo, Ontario, where large factories for Seagrams, Labatt and Globe Furniture (all now gone) were all within a stone’s throw of our homes, and never a concern. The mix of the right industrial uses and good neighbourhood design is the key.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Colin, you just addressed exactly why there is such a concern. All those places are now gone in your example, wether because they weren’t compatible with residential or wether the prices were driven up as residential is more profitable making it uneconomical for industry, the end result is that industry left.
    I agree this proposal will be tough for the city, if it were on the NE corner instead it would be a no brainer, but I beleive the city needs to stick to it’s guns on this one.

  • Bob

    Let’s keep in mind the industrial uses that are right next door to this proposed site: the waste transfer station and a city works yard (that operates until 1am). Placing residential next to that might be stretching the concept of mixed-use?

  • Brent Toderian

    Hi Frances, thanks for posting this. A few quick clarifications – First, Council’s decision isnt between density around stations vs preserving industrial land. There would be density either way. Rather it’s about what kind of density it should be, south of Marine Drive. The Cambie corridor work program would expect a dense mixing of uses (including residential) at Marine and Cambie on the north side of Marine Drive, which is outside of the Industrial area and separated by the Marine Drive right-of-way, and dense mix-of-uses on the south side as well….but staff recommend excluding residential on this side of Marine Drive, for the reasons noted in the report and Jeff’s article. There would still be density, but it would be office/retail/entertainment density, and not more residential density on that side of the road given residential impacts on industrial land and uses. The over-all “node” across the 4 corners would be very mixed, but the recommendation is nuanced because of the concerns around industrial land. From a “ridership density” perspective, its interesting to note that office generates 4 times the transit ridership per sf than residential.

    Second, to Colin, I too was a fan of the Formshift wildcard winner….but note that the tower in the proposal wasnt residential, it was other forms of job and cultural space, which was a big part of why the submission won.

    Thanks as always to all for their comments. Council has a tough decision tomorrow.


  • shepsil

    As per riverfront lands going from industrial to residential. It has been suggested around the world in the last year, that with increasing transportation costs, barging on rivers will likely increase. There was a comment from our own local habour authorities as well to that effect. That barging containers up the river from Delta Port, avoiding roads, would be a logical way to go.

    Maybe having skytrain stations on the waterfront is just the modern way to bring together different modes of transportation so that they become the transportation hubs of the future.

    Certainly, Richmond may hold that kind of promise with water, the airport, skytrain and roads all in rather close proximity. Fast ferry to the island anyone?

  • Frances Bula

    Thanks for the notes, all. But Brent, isn’t the problem that the proposal you have in front of you is for residential on the south side? That does present a dilemma.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Frances, you are correct the current proposal is on the south side and includes residential. Looks like PCI is trying to entice council by offering to install exhaust fans at the waste transfer station which will improve air quality for all neighbours, as well as including a rental tower which the current coucil greatly desires. Should be very interesting to see if coucil chooses the planning dept recommendations or sides with the developer.

  • Ummmm . . .

    Brent, probably not a smart move to bring up Formshift.

    As for the DENCITY “Wild card”!

    By any stretch it did not meet the basic competition requirements: i.e. C of V’s Eco-density requirements and climate change policy. Not to split hairs but wasn’t that what the comp was all about?

    This is not about picky – picky this is about the fundamental understanding of mixed use and environmental good manners within that context.

    DENCITY wasn’t the only disappointment!

    Indeed if anything good came out of the competition it exposed the prevailing lack of understand, extant in the local design/planning fraternity, of what those requirements stand for: an opportunity to learn. Don’t miss it . . .

    As for PCI. Their proposal seems not to understand the dichotomous nature of integrated mixed-use relationships. We are still taking one isolated function here . . . another there.

    So Colin tells us, ” I grew up in the centre of Waterloo, Ontario, where large factories for Seagrams, Labatt and Globe Furniture (all now gone) were all within a stone’s throw of our homes, and never a concern.” I’ll bet his neighours thought otherwise.

    Mixed use means mixed use and the only restrictions should be incremental scale, design, transmissions of odors, noise and toxicity.

    Perhaps VPD has yet to arrive at that level of sophistication . . .

  • Ah, I missed that Brent, you’re right, there is no residential in that proposal. And as many have said, residential near a waste transfer station, as is the situation here, makes no sense.

    There are only certain types of industrial that will work with a residential mix – Seagram’s and Labatt’s in Waterloo were one of those. No, the neighbours didn’t mind – we hardly knew they were there because they were quiet and contained. Of course, being the old brick and stone factories they were, they were also much more beautiful to look at than most anything industrial built today.

    Very interesting note that offices generate 4 times the transit rides – I don’t think many people know that…I sure didn’t.

  • Tessa

    Wait. According to Brent, there is no industrial planned for the south side, that it’s going to be office or commercial. That’s an equal destruction of industrial lands, isn’t it? That seems confusing to me.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “as many have said, residential near a waste transfer station, as is the situation here, makes no sense.”

    It makes about as much sense as proposing to put a condo tower next to the Sun Yat-Sen gardens.

  • Easy move the “waste transfer station.”

    Point: residential next to industrial within the context of “Mixed use means mixed use and the only restrictions should be incremental scale, design, transmissions of odors, noise and toxicity.”

    Then, mira, no one has to drive, bus of bike to work . . . Colin says its okay nad he should know . . .

  • MM

    Right now, this is one of the biggest problems that this city is facing but no one is talking about.

    As you mention in your article, soon buyers would be complaining about garbage trucks and noise, and next thing you know the trucks are driving 25 km out of the city to some under used piece of land.

    If you look at downtown, the city is making a big mistake in allowing too many condos in the downtown core. It has inflated the price of office space in downtown 10 fold. Now there are only banks and lawyer firms in the downtown core. Residential development needs to happen in the biggest, most valuable and most under utilized section of Vancouver – DTES. But the city and government are afraid to tackle this issue.

    I worked in a Surrey industrial park for 4 years, coming from the Westend. And each year the reverse rush hour was getting longer and longer. Our transportation network is not built for suburban industrial parks. If you try taking the bus or skytrain eastward, your travel time doubles once you leave the city – not too mention the carbon footprint because people get tired of waiting an hour for a bus in Surrey and finally just drive their car.

    Twenty to thirty years ago the industrial zones were well defined in Vancouver. Most operations moved from Burrard Inlet to remaining spaces on the Fraser River. Now the Fraser River will be the next zone of development. But where are those idustries supposed to go. And I know that condos may look better than industry. But the last time I checked, no one could aford a condo without a job.

  • Handful

    Excellent comment MM.

    I live downtown and consider myself lucky I only have to commute to north Burnaby to my light “industrial” engineering job – ironically in product development with technology to reduce pollution. Almost every employee at my office lives in Vancouver or North Van. We can’t locate in Vancouver if we tried (our business doesn’t make noise or odours but does require actual manufacturing space and machinery – surely the neighbours could find something to complain about.)
    The note about 4x the transit use is generated by commercial development is telling. It would sure be visionary to actually put some jobs around rapid transit nodes or I suppose we could just scrap the idea of people working in vancouver and go all condo resort.