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Rize tower public hearing: Chapter 1 reveals developer originally pitched a tower of 340 feet

February 28th, 2012 · 33 Comments

A quick resume of last night’s festivities at the first stage of the public hearing for the Rize project at Kingsway and Broadway, which includes five buildings altogether, one of them a 19-storey tower.

This is a hearing that many think historic for a lot of reasons. This hearing will set the stage for how development will unroll in other Vancouver communities that feel they have a historic or unique character they’re trying to preserve and who expect developments, which they’re not completely opposed to, to integrate into that fabric in a way that complements the existing buildings.

The hearing didn’t really get underway until 9:30, since two hours were occupied with debate over a new tennis bubble at Jericho. As a result, the audience heard almost exclusively from city planners and the developer and his representatives, with only one of the scheduled 181 speakers heard from.

It’s starting tonight again at 6 p.m.

It’s clear there are strong feelings running. The clerk noted that the city got a petition with 635 names supporting the project and another two petitions, with 2,116 and366 names respectively, against it. Letters seemed to be evenly split. Public forums have indicated more opposition than support, ranging from60 per cent opposition to about 80. Surveys of the neighbourhood has indicated opinions are more evenly split.

The crowd got some new information from the city’s urban-design expert, Scot Hein, about the history of the project. A lot of people were aghast when the project originally emerged in the public consciousness as a 26-storey tower two years ago. But Hein said the developer originally came in pitching a tower that was 340 feet tall and 7.5 FSR.

(Note to newbies: FSR stands for floor-space ratio and it’s used to determine how much space can be built on a site. Most single-family houses are allowed .7 FSR outright, which means they have as manysquare feet in the building as is equivalent to 70 per cent of the lot’s area. A house on a lot that is 33 x 120 gets to be 2,700 square feet in however many stories allowed, which is 70 per cent of the lot’s area of 3,960 square feet. A building of 7 FSR on a lot that is 20,000 square feet gets to have 140,000 square feet.)

“We were dismissive of that,much too aggressive and ambitious,” said Hein, as he showed visualizations charting how that building would compare to other buildings in the area at that height and then the lower ones that the developer pitched successively: 279 feet, 246, and its current 215, with an FSR of 5.5

While Hein likely meant that to show how much the city had pushed back against the developer’s original proposal, I have a feeling that what this likely demonstrated to many of the opponents in the crowd was that the developer came in looking to get as much as he could possibly get away with, with no ear at all for the community discussion that was going on at the time where people kept saying over and over they wanted something that fit in with the character of the neighbourhood.

Even though the project has been scaled down, I know there are many who feel that it all started wrong. Instead of the developer really listening to what the neighbourhood was saying before doing anything, they believe, developer William Lin came in with an idea of what he wanted first and has scaled it down grudgingly to try to lower the community pushback.

There were some interesting arguments made by architect Mark Ostry, who talked about how the form of the project is designed to reflect the building character of two very different streets in Mount Pleasant.

The two sides of the project that face Broadway and Watson (the little alley that has a street name and is a legacy of Mount Pleasant’s old small streets with working-classhouses) are lower, with a height that echoes Mount Pleasant’s defining building almost kitty-corner, the Lee Building.

The 19-storey tower, on the other hand, is parked on top of the podium at the 10th and Kingsway corner, part of a line of modern condo buildings that have gone up along Kingsway in the last few years.

What was less convincing was the pitch from Lin and Ostry that this will help the city achieve green objectives, by putting density at the intersection of major transit routes and the plea that Metro Vancouver needs to find some place to house 40,000 new residents a year.  I know from lots of experience that people are not going to accept what they think is bad and inconsiderate design just to allegedly save the planet.

What was even less convincing and extremely boring and irrelevant was the squabbling that is going on over the way the building has been computer-rendered by the architects, the city, and Rize opponent Stephen Bohus. Architect Russell Acton used up 10 precious minutes of my life on this earth talking about how Bohus’s revised renderings of the building (that show it as much larger and as ominous as a freighter) are skewed because of their used of multiple vanishing points in the perspectival approach, margins of error, and more. Bohus then used up another 10 minutes accusingly noting that the clouds don’t match in the renderings by the architect and the city, along with other similar earth-shattering details.

A shame this is what kicked things off, as I think the renderings are irrelevant. As anyone who’s gone beyond Grade 5 art class knows, you can make buildings or people look bigger or smaller depending on whether you look up or down at them and various other tricks. The people who support this building don’t support it because they’ve been hypnotized by a rendering. And those who oppose it also don’t need a rendering to convince them that the project is more density than they’re prepared to swallow.

Here’s hoping everyone moves on to more relevant arguments tonight.

For myself, I’m hoping to learn what it is the community actually agrees that it wants in the area. I talked to two people last night after the meeting ended at 11:30. I couldn’t get an answer I could understand from either one of them about what the community did agree to. I’m sure they thought I was exceptionally stupid (one just walked off in exasperation) but I really can’t understand at this point what they think they agreed to.

Do they think they said buildings can only be built to the existing zoning? (30 feet, under certain conditions) Did they agree that some of the already built-up parts and the arterials could take higher densities than that? Did they agree, as planners keep saying they did, that three sites could POTENTIALLY be considered for greater height and density if there were sufficient benefits to the community? (Some seem to tell me yes; some seem to tell me no, not really.)

This is going to be a difficult hearing for everyone involved, because you can see some rights and wrongs on both sides. But both sides are also engaging in some off-putting hyperbole to sell their cases.

Here’s hoping there’s more rational discussion tonight. And perhaps the audience could learn some manners. I’m sure residents of this city would be shocked if city planners booed them or laughed out loud at anything they tried to present as fact or carried on as though they are evil manipulators bent on ruining the city. So why they think it’s okay to boo, heckle, and jeer city planners — decent people who are trying their best in a difficult job — is beyond me.

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