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.