I offer you a moment of truth.
Seven minutes from Meeting #29 of the Little Mountain Community Advisory Group, or as Ned Jacobs describes it: “a key point in a meeting between the CAG and the planners when the question of who is calling the shots was asked, but not satisfactorily answered.”
(see full text below)
Moments like these often end up defining an entire process.
It remains to be seen, what happens at City Hall next week.
Commentary on the Little Mountain Community Advisory Group Policy Statement, by Ned Jacobs:
June 21, 2012
In many respects, the Little Mountain Community Advisory Group (CAG) statement and recommendations are consistent with those of planning staff, but they differ in regard to overall density and building heights.
Planning staff have recommended that density in the range of 2.3 to 2.5 gross FSR be considered. This may not seem excessive, compared to net FSR figures for some recent high-density proposals for a single building or a city block, but the Little Mountain site is greater than 15 acres and will include streets and public plazas, which limit the overall ground coverage to about 40%.
For a variety of reasons specific to this site and its context, as well as the place and functions of the Riley Park neighbourhood in the city, the CAG concluded that density up to about 2 FSR was appropriate, but are willing to contemplate the risks of accommodating density up to 2.2 FSR to achieve key public amenities, or 2.3 FSR on condition that the additional units are non-market to increase social housing on the site. A target of 20% social housing is supported by both the City and the CAG, but cannot be achieved unless the province is willing to subsidize construction of at least 65 non-market units in addition to the 234 units they have committed to replace.
2.2 FSR is 50% greater than what could be achieved under the approved Community Vision Directions, which would limit building heights to 4 storeys and about 1.45 FSR. The difference between 2.2 and 2.5 FSR is significant: nearly 200 units, equivalent to about three 8-storey apartment buildings or at least one additional storey on each of approximately 20 buildings in the site plan. It would likely necessitate accommodating parking and traffic impacts from at least 150 additional cars, and put further strain on already stressed amenities and services. The CAG considers 2.5 FSR to be excessive, and highly problematic.
The CAG studied several existing high density large-site developments in Vancouver. In regard to the Olympic Village, at 2.6 FSR, the CAG concluded that the combination of building heights and ground coverage resulted in an overly canyon-like environment, not well suited for a family-oriented development. Arbutus Walk, at 1.9 FSR, was more comparable to the Little Mountain site in terms of neighbourhood context. CAG participants appreciated the human scale and diversity of housing types, which includes rowhouses, but thought that some of the green space is underused and might have been better utilized as floor space, while reducing the height and massing of an overly dominant building.
In regard to building heights, planning staff recommend that most of the buildings range from 4 to 8 storeys, with up to two buildings of 12 storeys. The CAG recommends that the majority of buildings be in the 4 to 6 storey range with no building greater than 10 storeys (or 100 feet) in order to preserve high quality public views to and from Queen Elizabeth Park, reduce shadowing, and provide better transitions of scale to the surrounding neighbourhood. There was little public support at the open houses for buildings over 9 storeys. The developer, Holborn Properties, is asking Council to amend the staff recommendations to permit consideration of one 14-storey building to provide “punctuation.” It also seems doubtful that Holborn will ne willing to provide the full complement of Development Cost Levies (DCLs) and Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) on the market units and, when it comes to rezoning may balk at the recommendation that all 234 replacement social housing units be built in the initial phase of construction.
Many CAG participants have a strong sense that the City’s “Little Mountain “planning team” is not actually comfortable with the density (up to 2.5 FSR) that they have recommended, but are responding to directions from “higher levels” within the administration. If these directions are in fact coming from the Mayor and/or powers that be on City Council, this is a problem because it means that professional arms length between our planners and our elected officials has been compromised. It was rumoured that on several occasions Planning Director Brent Toderian considered resigning because parts of some planning staff reports had been rewritten in the office of the General Manager and sent back with the expectation that he would “sign off” on them, and that Toderian’s discomfort with this was a major factor in his being fired “without cause.” One CAG member questioned whether the LM density recommendations are “circular”, meaning that the decision-makers are instructing staff in regard to recommendations, presumably to create the appearance that staff supports those decisions. Here is a link to a 7-minute video segment (by documentary film maker David Vaisbord) of a key point in a meeting between the CAG and the planners when the question of who is calling the shots was asked, but not satisfactorily answered. littlemountainproject.com
Ned Jacobs is a founding member of Riley Park/South Cambie Community Visions, Community Advocates for Little Mountain (CALM), and a participant on the CAG.
Observer + Participant
The Little Mountain Project