Rize responds to city's rezoning conditions with major design changes to its Mount Pleasant project

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      More than a year has passed since Christopher Vollan and his colleagues at Rize Alliance Properties Ltd. went through one of the most controversial rezonings in recent Vancouver history.

      Over coffee at Kafka’s Coffee & Tea near the corner of Main Street and East Broadway, the youthful-looking vice president of development can look out the window toward the 53,560-square-foot site that his company started assembling in 2005. And he’s here to explain a multitude of design changes to Rize’s $140-million mixed-use project on the southwest corner of East Broadway and Kingsway.

      “We actually divided it into five separate buildings, each with its own character, and went through a brainstorming visioning session to figure out exactly what that meant for contemporary expression in Mount Pleasant,” Vollan tells the Georgia Straight. “That’s probably the biggest step. The second is that we deleted the second-floor commercial [space]. That was 32,000 square feet.”

      He says the adjustments came in response to city council’s conditions for rezoning, as well as from a great deal of community input at a marathon public hearing, which featured 139 speakers. Vollan explains that the elimination of the second-storey retail podium is intended to satisfy council’s demand to reduce the amount of shadowing over Broadway. As a result, this section of the development will be 9.15 metres lower, ensuring that the Lee Building remains the tallest structure on the block.

      In addition, a controversial loading dock that would have taken up a huge portion of Watson Street has been reduced to 12 metres. Vollan says that a much larger loading bay will be placed in the underground parking lot at a cost of $3 million to the company. This means that Watson Street can be fronted with retail stores, ensuring it remains pedestrian-friendly.

      Vollan acknowledges that a second-floor retail component would have made the project more appealing to financiers. However, by removing this “double-height storey”, Rize could squeeze three extra floors into the residential tower without changing the overall height. As a result, he says, the latest version includes 336 units, up from 241.

      “We have 92 two-bedrooms overall, which is actually a very high proportion,” Vollan says. “Call it family-focused more than investor-focused.…We’re getting end users versus investors.”

      In a statement issued early on July 17, Stephen Bohus of Residents Association Mount Pleasant took exception to the changes, calling it a “huge amount of estra density dropped in the middle of an established neighbourhood”.

      “Not only is the planned neighbourhood food coop no longer in the picture, but over 34,000 square feet of commercial space where it would have been is also gone,” Bohus stated.

      Initially, Rize planned a 32-storey tower on the site. By the time the company filed its rezoning application for a mixed-use development, the tower had been reduced to 19 storeys.

      Vollan concedes that many residents felt that the development was too “boxy”, so over the past year Acton Ostry Architects has tried to address this concern. Legally, the project will be under the control of one strata corporation. But there will be different addresses on the site and different colours on the exterior of each connected “building”.

      For example, he says, the tower at the corner of Kingsway and East 10th Avenue is inspired by an Italian hill town, with a series of different-coloured panels, capped by trees on the roof. The Kingsway block will be in black tile, whereas on East Broadway, Rize plans a “contemporary interpretation of the Lee Building” with brick mosaic. Vollan says there will be lighter, more colourful panels along Watson Street.

      “I think adding a completely different style for each building makes it look smaller and more individual,” he says.

      On East 10th Avenue, the new plan calls for angled townhomes and a “pocket park” with orange AstroTurf. It’s one of several unusual design elements that have been added by PWL Partnership, a Vancouver-based landscape architectural firm.

      “There’s a water feature to mark the old Brewery Creek…and they found this chainlink fence that you can custom-twist into a tattoo shape,” Vollan says.

      The company has other projects on the go, including Wave, a two-tower 471-unit development at 104 Avenue and 133 Street in Surrey. In that city, the approval process was far less cumbersome than in Vancouver. The project is two blocks from where Surrey is building its new city hall.

      “Our rezoning there took 10 minutes,” Vollan says with a smile.

      Rize will unveil its design changes at an open house today (July 17) from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Church at the corner of Main Street and East 13th Avenue.


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      Jul 17, 2013 at 9:34am

      Hey Vision, are you listening?

      I've voted exclusively for you over the past 3 elections. Between this catastrophe and the BS you are trying to pull on Commercial you have lost my vote.

      Gregor ruining two of the most important neighbourhoods in East Vancouver while he buys a multi-million dollar townhouse on the beach in Point Grey...

      Reminds me of another Point Grey mayor we had all those years ago.

      Randy Chatterjee

      Jul 17, 2013 at 9:35am

      The community demands a new public hearing before Council for this hugely changed project.

      Lewis N. Villegas

      Jul 17, 2013 at 10:20am

      As a member of the Mount Pleasant Plan Implementation Committee I led the group in a self-directed workshop that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can add all the density in Mount Pleasant required by the 2040 Regional Growth Strategy by doing "gentle"intensification on 12th Avenue and Fraser streets with 4-storey row houses and apartments.

      If it is NOT about density, then what is it about? By rezoning commercial land to high-yield residential condos Mayor and Council is spiking housing prices in Vancovuer. For what?

      Nobody believes this behemoth is more sustainable than 4-storey houses and apartments. So, why is Mayor and Council spiking housing prices in Vancouver?

      Alan Layton

      Jul 17, 2013 at 12:13pm

      Lewis N. Villegas - 12th Ave and Fraser St has many houses and small mom 'n pop businesses, depending on what section you are talking about. The intersection between the two streets is all houses. Did you ask the home and business owners how they felt about your plan? I would sooner have a taller building in an compact area than to destroy a neighbourhood with low rises.

      Lewis N. Villegas

      Jul 17, 2013 at 1:45pm

      I think the residents of the houses would disagree with you Alan. The feedback I receive from neighbours in places where we have implemented this kind of planning process is very strong and very positive. We typically get standing ovations at open houses. Neighbours prefer that if new development is going to take place, it take place incrementally with a scale and massing that is sympathetic to what is there already. Towers shadow and block our view of the sky in streets and backyards. They get built all at once, in a style that completely contrary to local traditions. Our Mount Pleasant study took into consideration exiting historic building and apartments. We were not "razing" 12th Avenue or Fraser. We were trying to make the street livable and the neighbourhood walkable. Our approach plants trees in medians and pinches traffic down to 15,000 vpd. We welcome growth as the engine of change. Not massive redevelopment with no sense of place or connection to the existing community.

      Jon Petrie

      Jul 17, 2013 at 2:41pm

      Charlie Smith writes: "Vollan acknowledges that a second-floor retail component would have made the project more appealing to financiers."

      Does Charlie Smith really believe this ?

      Doesn't he know that residential is more valuable than 2nd floor retail at this location and that Rize has increased its residential component by roughly 32,000 square feet as a result of scrapping its low market value 2nd floor retail space ?

      Victor Shu

      Jul 17, 2013 at 3:06pm

      Why does no one defend the human rights of Kerrisdale residents who live in the shadows of monster towers?

      Jon Petrie

      Jul 17, 2013 at 9:20pm

      An email from the City of July 10th states: "The City of Vancouver is hosting a Community Open House on this application [the latest Rize proposal] ... July 17th." I just came from this City sponsored "Open House." The addition of 95 units to the proposal -- from 241 to 336 (see the Courier article) is not mentioned on any of the placards at the open house, nor the big increase in the number of parking places. And the large wooden model of the central Mount Pleasant showing the proposed Rize tower at 10th and Kingsway also shows a high building that does not exist and that has not been approved at 11th and the east side of Kingsway. This high building in the model distorts significantly the impression of the neighbourhood for which the Rize tower is proposed.
      The City when hosting any developer's presentation has a duty, in my view, to ensure that all relevant information is presented fairly and that the models used represent reality. But I guess that's too much to expect of a City that falsely claims that one of its symbols, a Gastown electric clock, is run by steam. (For a few pages documenting that last statement search >Petrie steam clock scribd<)

      Alan Layton

      Jul 18, 2013 at 7:50am

      Lewis N. Villegas - you get standing ovations from people who are going to be forced to sell their houses and businesses, probably for below market value? Are you sure those agreeing with you aren't the ones who's views aren't going to be affected by a taller development elsewhere?

      Nancy Shanas

      Jul 18, 2013 at 10:16am

      I quite like the changes the developer has made to the public realm and I appreciate their approach to bringing down the height of the building.

      PWL's imaginative approach to the public realm will make this development a destination for me an my friends when we want to shop or enjoy a coffee in the neighbourhood.