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An open letter regarding the use of design-guidelines, and the proposed down-zoning of RT lots in the Grandview Woodlands Plan

 

To Mayor and Council,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our concern about the proposed downzoning of RT ‘outright’ density that is included in the Grandview Woodlands plan.  Our concern is both for this specific plan, and for the problematic thinking underlying it that has implications across the city.

As architects, designers, and planners who are involved in RT duplex-zoned housing projects across the city, we understand that the policy shift is aimed at reducing the rate of character-home demolitions, but we feel that this proposed approach (reducing FSR from 0.6 to 0.5) is taking the city in the wrong direction; it fails to address some of the underlying problems, may have unintended consequences, and it overvalues character retention in the face of other priorities like affordability and carbon-footprint reductions.

Our understanding of the problem is that many home-owners are choosing the ‘outright’ path with full demolition not because the FSR is too high (0.6) but because the conditional path (including the path which allows for an infill dwelling) is entirely too onerous, exclusionary, slow, and extremely frustrating to deal with.

We believe that the level of design micro-management required by the conditional RT development process is reflective of Vancouver-in-the-1990s (when much of the policy was developed) but it is now badly out of date. By contrast, the RS-1 (single family) zone has been updated multiple times to include basement suites, lane houses, one storey lane houses, and now passive houses – and there are many lessons from RS that should be brought to the RT neighbourhoods.

The context + character approach has had its successes in years past, but many of us in the industry now believe that the ‘low hanging fruit’ – the exemplary character buildings – have, at this point, largely been retained and upgraded and what we are doing now is a superficial exercise in re-constituting low quality examples of pre 1940s homes.  At the same time it is taking 2x to 3x as long to navigate the permitting process when compared to RS, and for all of that effort there is generally less housing being provided. The burden of the current RT process, is – we believe – contributing to the stagnating population numbers in the GW plan area and creating an undue burden for home-owners with RT properties. The city’s policy favours a static approach to ‘character’ that unfortunately comes at the expense of abundant, affordable and energy efficient housing.

Given the intense housing constraints facing us, we believe our approach to ‘heritage’ and ‘character’ needs to be revisited. We believe that ‘heritage’ is a living concept that includes both tangible and intangible elements, and that the purely aesthetic approach to heritage retention ignores many of the key elements of living ‘heritage’ that are often more important than a specific architectural style or time period.

To those ends, we reject the idea of lowering the outright density allowed in RT, and instead would propose a process to review and update the city’s conditional zoning requirements.  Possible updates to the RT zones might include:

  • allow outright 1&2 family homes and multiple conversions to be created without the need for a development permit or conditional guidelines
  • allow an outright density similar to RS zones (0.86)
  • allow either strata infill dwellings or non-strata laneway houses on all RT lots

We support the ongoing maintenance of a robust heritage registry, and we support the inclusion of exemplary blocks or small districts. We would hope to see “carrots” offered for rehabilitating quality character homes in the form of cost and density bonuses instead of the “stick” of downzoning that is being proposed.

Many of us are involved in character home rehabilitation, and we would like to see ongoing support for those types of projects, but not in the form of penalties or checklists.

As the city struggles with both the affordability and climate crises, we need to adapt to the times.  Our collective heritage is rich and diverse and deserves an updated approach to planning.

Thank you,

  • Allison Holden-Pope – Principal, One Seed Architecture
  • Bruce Carscadden –  Principal, Carscadden Architects
  • Bryn Davidson – Principal, Lanefab Design/Build
  • D’arcy Jones – Principal, D’arcy Jones Architecture
  • Geoff Baker – Co-founder, Westcoast Outbuildings
  • Irena Hoti – Designer, Irena Hoti Designs
  • Khang Nguyen – Principal, Architrix
  • Mac Hartfiel – Principal, Bower Design Co.
  • Marianne Amodio – Principal, Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio
  • Matthew Halverson – Associate, Urban Arts Architecture
  • Neal Lamontagne – Urban Planner
  • Shaun Smakal – Landscape Architect
  • Shirley Shen – Co-founder, Haeccity Studio Architecture
  • Siobhan Murphy – Urban Planner & G.W. Resident

 

This letter was curated by the Dynamic Cities Project.
www.dynamiccities.org