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What do zoning rules really allow for controversial developments? A discussion

April 22nd, 2012 · 83 Comments

I’m reposting this detailed comment from Lee Chappelle, a former property-use inspector with the City of Vancouver, about the Rize development because his post analyzes a key point in its approval. A number of councillors and staff said that the site at Broadway and Kingsway would have been allowed a 150-foot building without a rezoning. Lee says no, below here, and says why.

I’d like to hear others weigh in on the technicalities of this, because this is an issue that has been controversial in other rezonings, especially the West End. I’m not sure I understand the technicalities myself.

In the past, when I’ve seen zoning guidelines that say the limit is X, but that staff has the discretion to go to X + Y feet if the building meets certain community criteria, I have always understood that to mean — the guideline is not really X but it’s much higher. The discretionary part is simply aimed at giving the city and community much more control over anything higher than X to make sure it fits into the neighbourhood. That’s why I never bought the West End protesters argument, which seemed to be that nothing higher than about three stories could ever be built there again. (Hyperbole on my part, I realize, but that’s essentially how it came across to outsiders.)

Now I see this same argument. Any experts?

Here’s Lee’s commentary.

I am a resident of Mount Pleasant and former Property Use Inspector with The City of Vancouver charged with enforcing the City’s Zoning and Development By-Law.

I would like to respond to the remarks made by Councilor Meggs, Yardley McNeil and echoed later by the Mayor in a statement to the press.

The mayor issued a statement shortly after the vote reminding the public the developer could have built a 150-foot building—instead of the 215-foot tower—without having to go before council. This originated from Councilor Meggs’s leading question from the Council meeting, to which the rezoning planner Yardley McNeil responded, “That’s correct..”

It is in fact not correct, just another example of City councilors and staff making it up as they go along to suit themselves. The following is the relevant section from The City of Vancouver Zoning and Development By-Law:

C-3A District Schedule
4.3 Height
4.3.1 The maximum height of a building shall be 9.2 m. (30 feet)
4.3.2 The Development Permit Board may permit an increase in the maximum height of a building
with respect to any development, provided that it first considers:
(a) the intent of this Schedule, all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council and
the relationship of the development with nearby residential areas;
(b) the height, bulk, location and overall design of the building and its effect on the site,
surrounding buildings and streets and existing views;
(c) the amount of open space, including plazas, and the effects of overall design on the
general amenity of the area;
(d) the provision for pedestrian needs;
(e) the preservation of the character and general amenity desired for the area; and
(f) the submission of any advisory group, property owner or tenant.

The applicable “guidelines” as mentioned in 4.3.2 (a) to which this development would have had to comply under C3-A is The Central Broadway C3-A Urban Design Guidelines, The relevant section of that document is on page 54, where it clearly defines the parameters for maximum height on this site. As you can see, a 150 foot building could NOT be built here without a rezoning, which is directly in contradiction with one of the City’s core arguments when approving this project. It would have to descend down from the Stella building at 12th and Kingsway (126’) toward the Lee building at Main and Broadway (78’), so it could only be about 100’ at the outside, and the street wall on the south side of Broadway would be restricted to 30’ not 118’ as the Rize street wall is currently planned along Broadway. In other words, this was an outright LIE, a fitting endplay for a process that has been fraught with manipulation and deception every step of the way. Unfortunately these details are fairly technical so it has been quite simple for Council and staff to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Incidentally this and much more relevant information was brought out at the public hearing however it is obvious that Council either was not listening or doesn’t care.

Lee Chapelle
Mount Pleasant



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