Contentious townhouse decision illustrates need for overall Granville Corridor plan

Last week, I awoke to the news that city council had voted 7-4 to reject the rental housing proposal at 4575 Granville St. next to a hospice. While pleased, I was not elated like others, given the urgent need for rental housing, and time and money devoted to the failed application.

The applicant was rightly disappointed, as was the late Morris Wosk in June 1990, when city council rejected a proposal he and I submitted for three towers at Langara Gardens, creating an additional 280 rent-controlled apartments.

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There was a serious rental housing crisis at the time, and our proposal had the support of the Urban Design Panel, the director of planning and certain aldermen.

However, community opposition was very loud, orchestrated in part by a senior city hall planner who was concerned the new development would block his bedroom’s view of Mount Baker.

Three decades later, council has approved a much higher density Langara Gardens plan for 2,100 homes that will dwarf the four existing 18-storey towers.

Returning to Granville Street, while some councillors expressed concern about affordability, Jean Swanson voted against the motion, in part, because the owner would get a huge increase in value if the property was upzoned.

Would she have opposed Banting and Best’s discovery of insulin in the early 1920s because they too would make money from their invention?

While I expected the mayor to support the rezoning, I was surprised by Coun. Christine Boyle’s vote since I thought she would be sympathetic to the hospice’s concerns. But I owe her an apology since I missed her remarks at the public hearing, which she subsequently set out in a thoughtful, caring online editorial.

 

 

Like Boyle, I too hope we will see future rental housing proposals elsewhere along Granville Street and in Shaughnessy. However, before council considers more spot-rezonings, we need an overall Granville Corridor plan and design guidelines.

Ten years ago, the city approved a three-phase planning program for the Cambie Corridor. A comprehensive plan with detailed planning guidelines was prepared for each portion of the street, and dozens of applications came forward to replace aging bungalows with six- to eight-storey apartment buildings and townhouses.

While the resulting designs and character may not be to everyone’s liking, Cambie Street has become a dense, urban street. Redevelopment is now extending into surrounding neighbourhoods.

Granville Street has always had a different character than Cambie Street. While it does not have a central landscaped median, it is lined with green ribbons of trees, hedges and gardens.

A new Granville Corridor Plan should retain this overall character by allowing mansions to be subdivided into suites and additional infill housing, while other single-family properties are redeveloped with apartments, townhouses, and stacked townhouses.

However, city hall should improve the approval process for Granville Street and not repeat the process used along Cambie Street.

There, rather than simply require development and building permits, the city insisted that every application go through a separate rezoning process.

This resulted in considerable effort and costs for applicants, city staff and council, not to mention unnecessary, lengthy delays.

For Granville Street, the city should prepare an overall plan, and then expeditiously approve development permits for applications if in accordance with the plan.

The same should happen along the West Broadway Corridor.

As recently reported in the Courier, a developer has proposed another rezoning for the former Denny’s site at Birch Street. I say “another” since a 2018 rezoning increased the permitted height from 12 storeys to 16 and floor space ratio from 3.0 to 7.07 for a secured rental housing project. The latest proposal is for 28 storeys and is in response to a new moderate-income rental housing program that allows spot rezonings.

Many neighbourhood residents, architects and planners are concerned the latest proposal is out of scale with its surroundings and should not be approved, especially in advance of an overall plan for the Broadway Corridor. I agree.

While there is an urgent need for affordable rental housing, there is also a need to plan for a beautiful city. Spot rezonings that increase density in the name of affordability need not always be supported.

After all, sometimes big can be too big.

@michaelgeller

geller@sfu.ca

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