Ned Jacobs: Say no to Rize Alliance rezoning at Kingsway and Broadway

Theproposed Rize Alliance development, with its 215-foot tower on 10th Avenue and 118-foot high-rise on East Broadway, is a project utterly out of scale and character with the neighbourhood, the existing zoning, the design guidelines (maximum height of 70 feet), and the recently approved Mount Pleasant Community Plan. For a host of reasons, it has been decisively rejected by the community.

At a public open house on January 17, a senior planner for the City of Vancouver admitted that managing the automotive traffic generated by this project would be “very challenging”. That’s planner-speak for a traffic nightmare. Trucks and cars would access the block-sized project from narrow Watson Street—an important bikeway and pedestrian route, especially at peak times when it provides a pleasant alternative to Main Street’s noise, fumes, and congestion. (The Residents Association Mount Pleasant has an analysis of traffic implications.)

The ultra-high densities proposed for this site are supposedly justified by its location at a major transit hub. But the assumption that surface transit on Broadway will be augmented by a subway is far from certain, and given TransLink’s funding woes, probably a decade or more away. And because this hub features not two but three intersecting transit, truck, and commuter arterials—Broadway, Kingsway, and Main Street—the proposed density (a floor-space ratio of 5.55) is very problematic. Density close to transit is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can be a very bad thing. Here it will be an obstacle to efficiently moving people and goods in safety and comfort through the neighbourhood, city, and region. The spinning of this proposal as “transit-oriented development” is greenwashing. It’s not green.

One of the most distressing aspects of the Rize rezoning has been the public process. The developer provided erroneous and deceptive renderings and 3-D models that drastically misrepresent building height and proportions. Shockingly, city planners not only allowed these to be displayed; they even included the most blatantly false rendering in their report to council.

The superimposed computer model on the right (at the top of the article), based on the architect’s dimensions, accurately depicts building height and proportions. The erroneous rendering on the left drastically compresses the vertical dimension, making the project appear far less formidable. The shadows (depicted at midday to downplay the impacts) would also be far longer than shown. This apparent attempt to mislead the public amounts to a tacit admission by the applicant and city planning staff that the plan is unsuitable and unsupportable. Shown this evidence, staff acknowledged its accuracy, but have not yet explained how or why a false depiction was put on public display and included in their report.

When the tower was reduced from 26 to 19 storeys, city staff promoted it to the community as a 27 percent height reduction. That’s also false. Because ceiling heights were increased—which will also inflate the cost of the units—the actual reduction was about 11 percent. At the same time, the height on Broadway was increased, greatly worsening shadow impacts. To top it off, the developer has displayed an inaccurate and misleading 3-D model that includes nonexistent towers on nearby sites!

The possibility that highly trained planners would not have quickly spotted these discrepancies is extremely remote. In my view, there needs to be an investigation.

The staff report and recommendations were rushed to council only a few days after the January 17 open house without consideration or incorporation of public input. That doesn’t surprise me because the feedback forms were a charade. City staff responded to intense questioning at that event by admitting they had already decided to recommend the project as presented. It has subsequently been determined that 80 percent were opposed and 16 percent in favour. Without misleading depictions, support likely would have been virtually nil.

This project offers nothing in the way of affordability—not even purpose-built market rentals. Everything about it says high-end condos. A paltry community amenity contribution of $6.25 million has been proposed to be used somewhere in the area for purposes to be determined sometime in the future by staff and council. Based on this farcical process how can area residents have any confidence that they will have a voice in how it is spent?

The Rize would plunge the sidewalks, shops, and windows on the north side of Broadway into shadow much of the time, one of several ways it violates the Central Broadway C-3A Urban Design Guidelines. The towering overhang would cramp the narrow sidewalk on the south side of Broadway, resulting in an extremely unsatisfactory pedestrian zone. In terms of urban design, livability, affordability, traffic, respect for existing neighbourhood assets, and “place-making”, the Rize is the pits.

In rejecting this application, council needs to send a clear message to this developer—and the entire industry—that false information and depictions will not be tolerated. Conversely, if council approves this application it will signal that substandard planning and design will be rewarded, while deception will be condoned and even encouraged.

If this dysfunctional eyesore and view-blocker is approved, it will serve as a monument to the decline and fall of community planning and urban design in Vancouver. We must not let that happen! I urge residents of Mount Pleasant and every Vancouver neighbourhood to express your opposition to the Rize at the public hearing, which is scheduled to begin on the evening of February 27. (For information and helpful tips on speaking to council, see the RAMP website.)

Ned Jacobs, an urbanist and planning critic, lives in the nearby Riley Park neighbourhood.

Comments (55) Add New Comment
"An erroneous rendering"
Inside the trade there is no such thing. The reality is that most renderings are contrived to suit whatever it takes to flip it.
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Dunsmuir's Ghost
Hear hear!

Why do they keep padding the pockets of developers to destroy neighbourhoods. How much money are they going to make from this. I don't believe for a second they have any interest in the neighbourhood. Why can't rich people live in rich neighbourhoods instead of destroying those of low-income people? When will it stop?
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Joseph Jones
One point to complement this cogent summary of the nastiness that Rize proposes for Mount Pleasant.

The "planning" for this shameful project proceeded in backroom parallel with development of the Mount Pleasant plan – and in no honest relationship with it.

This is precisely the scheme the politician-developer-planner axis used to deliberately blockbust Norquay (1900 single-family properties, hundreds of acres) with the 22-storey tower now being built at Kingsway and Nanaimo – just two months ahead of the start of planning for Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre.

Take your choice: Believe that Vancouver has a legitimate planning process or drink some KoolAid.
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Ripley
Even in Vancouver - a supposedly progressive city full of people who care about the environment - people want to prevent new housing from being developed just steps from five separate buses (and a 7 minute walk from two train stations!). Crazy.

It's even nuttier that the author can complain about affordability while calling a community amenity contribution of $6.25 million 'paltry'. That's $25000 per unit, and developers aren't
exactly generous souls who will just absorb that cost without passing it on to the buyers.

As for the price of the condos, it shouldn't be surprising that new units go to the rich in a city without enough housing! The answer to a housing crisis is more housing in central areas, not less - opposing this project is essentially saying "No thanks, I want the rich to bid up prices on other housing instead of buying a condo here".
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Andrew
This public hearing is really the most significant debate over the future of Mount Pleasant in a generation. Will a 222 foot glass tower set a precedent as the first of many in the area? This kind of development is a vicious circle. Speculators move in, increase land prices, taxes go up, small businesses close and long time residents have to move out. Many artists, students and low and medium income people have made Mount Pleasant their home. Shame on planning for letting this proposal get so far. It's time to stand up at the public hearing. Sign up and speak to save Mount Pleasant. Many people worked together in stopping the Casino expansion last year, numbers work, be counted.
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Jon Petrie
Its taken me awhile to absorb how massive the project is thanks to the misleading image in the City's report and the absence of comparison figures or drawings in the main body of that City report. The proposed 19 storey Rize tower is about 22% higher than the existing 18 storey tower at King Edward Village (1408 Kingsway) and more than twice as high as the community center and apartment complex at 1 Kingsway and 7th -- p. 5 of (1) gives proposed height of Rize as 215' --1 Kingsway is 105' per p 3 Appendix D of (1) and the Prince Edward Village tower is 176.2' (53.7 meters) and 18 storeys per (2).
(1) http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20120131/documents/p5.pdf (2) http://www.emporis.com/building/king-edward-tower-north-vancouver-canada
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By the numbers
@Ripley

How much money are the developers making on this one?
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Thinkitout
This is major stuff going on here. It will be interesting to see if any of the mainstream papers or civic bloggers pick up and discuss the story BEFORE the public hearing. That would be a surprise. Watch for it.
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TheProfessor
Glass towers are not green, they have the poorest energy efficiency of any type of construction. They require air conditioning in the summer due to the greenhouse effect and heating in the winter due to glass’s poor thermal efficiency. They are ugly and sterile. The joints in the glass panels only last 10-15 years after which the leaking begins.

So why build them? Glass towers are cheap cheap cheap and thus maximize developer profits. Consider the cost saving between a brick wall and a sheet of glass. It’s all about money. Any suggestion that this type of building is green is absolute nonsense.
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Hobo Pete
Ripley said " and a 7 minute walk from two train stations!." At some point you should visit the neighbourhood and walk from Kingsway and Broadway to either of those two train stations... If you can make it to either on foot, in under 15 minutes while maintaining some level of presentability upon arrival I will buy you lunch. Clearly you have expanded the misleading scale of the renditions to the surrounding area.
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WendiG
This could go a long way to explaining the sudden disappearance of Brent Toderian..handily just before this story broke...Hmmm?
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Ben
"This is major stuff going on here"

Further, I would like to hear what the AIBC has to say about such questionable ethics of it's members. Whether encouraged by the Developer or not, the Architect has produced misleading documents that clearly stretch the boundaries of responsible practice. Hard to believe it would be an oversight. If it is remind me not to hire those guys to build for me.

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R U Kiddingme
This thing is being built in my backyard and I am kinda for it.

Rize intrigues me not because I want the evil, fur-wearing, top-hatted monocled capitalists to become richer but because an influx of residential owners in the area might draw more actual businesses in and accelerate the exodus of the crackheads.

I've been staring at empty storefronts on Broadway between Main and Fraser for the entire decade I have been here. There have been some improvements - Seb's was amazing to get nine years ago, and this year someone fixed up that awful corner store and opened the SOL shop.

So I welcome a high end user base in principle. This does not mean that I know anything about the expansion rate of glass tower joinage, like y'all.

Of course I also worry about getting priced out of the area myself. However, I am consoling myself with the thought that Rize's rich people will be amply balanced out by the 8 stories Bodum press of adult and youth addict housing that the city is putting up at Fraser.
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Cam
Question: How many people that can afford $500k condos take transit?
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Urban Forageur
I expected a more balanced, nuanced and insightful analysis of the proposed development, instead we get RAMPant NIMBYism spouted like hateful rhetoric, nice one Ned, thanks for such biased and one sided coverage and for missing the whole dynamic of the relationship between City Council, the community, and the developer. And for the record...small businesses close when they have no business, when an influx of new residents move into an area, business actually increases ( DUH!). What kind of small business on Main would not want to see more folks shopping on the street, and by leveraging the development for rental units and social housing, you mitigate the gentrification process associated with purely market rate 'for sale units' as proposed by council.

In all seriousness, the proposed site is the idea location to add a higher density of development to the area, and the proposed plan ( from the developer) actually was right in line with the Official COmmunity Plan, it was the City Council that is pulling the strings. For example, the developer wanted social housing units, rental units, and 6.5 million in community amenity contributions on site, including artist studios, a community kitchen facility, public art and furniture, rooftop garden spaces; characterizing the contribution as paltry is misleading and just flat out wrong. It is the city council that had nixed all those contributions, instead asking for the cash contribution and saying that it will be used on community amenities down the road, and that the city will pilot a project to find 10,000 square feet of artist studio spaces... why not let the development go through as proposed ( in line with community plan!!!) and create the 10,000 square feet of artist studios, among other amazing amenities for the community, in a timely manner so that we are able to enjoy them before we are old and grey. The developed WANTED rental units and social housing, it is the city council that is going against the official community plan.

Ned, you paint the developer with a tarred brush but fail to acknowledge how council has basically shoehorned the development into something that does not fit the OCP and is forcing the developers hand in raising ceilings heights and reducing density.

"A dysfunctional eyesore and a view blocker", wow thats a whole lot of nimby rhetoric and fear mongering, you claim to want sustainable communities but refuse to acknowledge that density is required for this to be achieved, we can't all like in nice single family homes in riley park and feel entitled to a view of the mountains. Your colours really show here Ned, as the RAMP puppet you truly are.

Seriously, we need to get real. Folks all want to live in Mount Pleasant, and we can't all do that in single family homes, I know we have all lived in cramped expensive basement suites just to be on Main street, a development of this size ( if it includes the proposed rental units) will alleviate some of the pressure on the housing market in the area, bringing rents down in what is a landlords market. Adding density in this area is the sensible and in the long run, sustainable way of growing our community.

Ned, you say that council and the community must send a clear message to the development community? How about the community sending a clear message to council...that we genuinely want rental units and the community amenities proposed..rather than empty promises and condo's for sale.

I expected more from such a outspoken advocate for sustainable communities, instead we get one sided coverage and blatant mis-information, skewing public perceptions.
Shame on your Ned, join us in the 21st century for an enlightened discussion of the facts, rather than your RAMP fear mongering and bold faced nimbyism. @ Ripley, I am glad someone see's the truth behind all the carefully spun lies.
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Martin Dunphy
Urban Forageur:

Sigh.
It's a commentary, not a news story.
Please look at the heading at the top of the piece.
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Mount Pleasanteur
Urban Forageur:

In your haste to defend the developer, you ignored the author's key arguments. Nobody cares whether it was Rize or the city planners who dropped the ball. The point is: this is a half-assed project that addresses one problem, while creating several more.

I've been to these presentations. We all want density. But if we're going to significantly change the zoning restrictions and rip apart the fabric of an historic neighbhourhood, we want something amazing—even iconic—to build around. Not something you'd see in Yaletown or (frankly) any other hastily redeveloped urban area. The people who want this for their neighbourhood aren't NIMBYists. They're urbanists.

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iheartmtpleasant
EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO SEE A PRE-ENACTMENT OF WHAT PEDESTRIANS AND CARS WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH IF THIS BUILDING GOES IN, MEET AT NOON AT KINGSWAY AND BROADWAY THIS SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25!

Urban Forageur: as you are pointing out what you think are flaws in Ned's argument, i find quite a few in yours. for one, market price rental units (the original STIR units that Rize included in their renderings...and may I add that city council admits that STIR failed miserably) are NOT social housing units. there was never a plan for social housing units to occur in this block. secondly, maybe you should look up what RAMP stands for: Residents Association of Mount Pleasant. a public and open community, not a small group of people trying to dictate what the community needs are. it's quite the opposite. RAMP has listened to the general community and the general community doesn't want the building as is.
lastly, go to europe some time, they have very high density but in mid-rise and a much more pleasant form. too bad we are such slow learners over here. you'd better live in a glass tower downtown after saying all the pro-tower stuff you've said!
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Urban_Citizen
I think there are two issues here. One is related to whether the current Rize proposal is right for this site - that is for affected residents to comment on, and for Council to decide.

The second issue should be more clear-cut: Can the public have confidence that accurate information is being provided to Council and for public consumption in the reports that are prepared by the planning department? Based on the information presented here and the "squashed rendering" included in the story (as well as my own experiences reviewing other reports) it is fair to conclude that the planning department should be doing more to vet the information submitted by applicants. The public needs to be confident that planning staff are acting objectively and that accurate project information is being presented.
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Adin
Urban Forageur... The developer never wanted nor proposed social or subsidized housing or anything remotely similar.. they only proposed STIR units. These were MARKET RENT price units ($2.25 per sq. ft. per month) $1500 for a 1 bedroom cannot be considered subsidized or social housing. Officially this proposal now includes NO Rental units and NO artist space.

As for the influx of people increasing business. Perhaps, but you've missed the whole point of land values increasing and property tax for independent businesses going up. You're not very realistic yourself if you think that 200 more people will add enough business to all of the surrounding businesses to address their potential tax increases.

I dont see anything NIMBY or RAMPant about RAMP. They have helped the community clear the mis-information by the Architect. I have talked to many people in the community who are totally in favor of a density higher than 3.0FSR. But simply want to see a development that respects the neighborhoods scale, character, traffic and walkability... Simple economic theories of supply and demand do not work and anyone who thinks solving affordability is that simple is naive.

The whole point is that our community can do MUCH MUCH better than this sorry excuse for architecture. I'd like to see the developer develop something with only one floor of retail, with smaller store spaces (to encourage independent businesses), take away a full 1.0FSR grocery store they plan to put on the second floor so that there is less traffic impact and build something that fits the scale of the area. Sure, build it with a bit more density than whats allowed, support the idea of a transit oriented development and make a few dollars while you're at it...just not this! I'm not a NIMBY nor are my fellow neighbors. We just won't settle for something that has such disregard for the community feedback we all spent hours on.

BTW: Why didn't you attend the community Open houses and speak up... You and others such as Ripely are all talk online and you hide in public. Its almost as if you dont really want to include yourself in the community. And the official numbers from the last Open house have been posted on the Cities website, 80% where opposed and 4% undecided that leaves you in the minority.
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