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.