Shannon Mews rezoning approved by Vancouver city council in a 6-4 vote
Early this morning, the Vision Vancouver-controlled council approved the rezoning of Shannon Mews over the objections of scores of neighbours, as well as the COPE and NPA councillors.
Around 2 a.m. after a marathon public hearing lasting over three nights, residents were unable to convince a majority of civic politicians to scale back Wall Financial Corporation’s application. The company sought to more than quadruple the number of housing units on its four-hectare site near the corner of Granville Street and West 57th Avenue.
“We’re delighted with the councillors’ decision and this opportunity to create a great development for the city and for the immediate neighbourhood,” Wall Financial Corp. president Bruno Wall told the Georgia Straight in the council chamber shortly after the vote. “We look forward to working with city engineering staff to mitigate any of the traffic concerns.”
Bruno Wall expresses his satisfaction with the council vote.
In August 2010, Wall Financial applied to increase the number of units from 164 to 891 on the historic site, which includes a Beaux-Arts mansion, Italianate gardens, and a heritage perimeter wall developed in the early 20th century by sugar baron Ben Rogers.
People living in the tony single-family neighbourhood quickly mobilized to fight the proposal. Wall Financial scaled it back to 735 units, and staff requested a further reduction to 706 units. Wall told council at the start of the public hearing that he accepted this number.
Buildings will reach nine storeys and, according to staff, 1,300 people will live on the site after it’s built out. One of the area residents, UBC professor Gary Hewitt, suggested during the hearing that the number will exceed 1,500, based on the proposed housing types.
Wall promised that 187 units will be rental for 60 years, and another 15 will remain rental for 20 years. Currently, all 164 units on the site are rental.
Potential profits discussed
In response to a question from COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth, Wall revealed that his company seeks a 15 percent rate of return on the cost of development, whether it’s at Shannon Mews, downtown, or in Surrey.
Bruno Wall and Brent Toderian discuss profits and community amenity contributions.
Planning director Brent Toderian added that his department considers 15 percent as a “reasonable developer profit”. He said that on top of this is the profit on construction, which is not factored into calculations to determine community-amenity contributions in return for higher density.
At this project, the city would recapture 75 percent of increase in land value to pay for community-amenity contributions. “So there’s an additional profit in there for the developer as well,” Toderian said.
Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, who introduced the motion to approve, acknowledged that he heard numerous concerns from area residents about the proposal. They included: height, density, traffic, crime, access, upkeep, the process, whether or not it conformed with the Arbutus Ridge/Kerrisdale/Shaugnessy community vision, the owner’s failure to maintain the site, the lack of transit, EcoDensity, the democratic process, whether the proposal was a done deal, whether people can actually trust council, some discrepancies in the traffic report, construction disruption, high-rise development, and the phasing of the project.
“All these things, I think, are important to deal with,” Louie said before voting in favour. “I am satisfied at this point that staff have explained that much of this can work within this context.”
Raymond Louie and Heather Deal explain why they favour the rezoning of Shannon Mews.
Louie mentioned that he’s interested in looking carefully at mitigating the impact of construction on the neighbours and trying to reduce the traffic impacts, possibly by exploring whether some commercial development could be included in the purely residential project.
Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said she was voting in favour in part because the developer is creating a park and opening up the site for public viewing.
COPE councilor David Cadman, on the other hand, voted against the application after citing concerns expressed by heritage advocate Michael Kluckner that the proposal was “not green”, “not smart”, and was going to become a “car-captive site”.
Cadman saved his most withering criticism for the project’s impact on traffic. It will include entrances and exits along West 57th Avenue and along Granville Street.
“When I look at somebody coming north on Granville—because there currently is no left turn on 57th—people are going to look for ways from the middle lane going north of trying to turn on 58th, 59th, 60th, 61st in order to get into their place on 57th,” Cadman said. “That’s bad enough because there’s a school and a playground there. But when I think of when people come out of the driveway on Granville Street and try to either get out and get into the northbound late across three lanes of southbound traffic or cut into that driveway across three lanes of southbound traffic, this is an accident waiting to happen.”
Later, Cadman added: “I don’t think we’re treating the roadspace of Granville wisely. It’s just plain dangerous.” His colleage, Ellen Woodsworth, also voted against the proposal.
Cadman’s remarks came after many residents cited their concerns about traffic. In two presentations near the end of the public hearing, Simon Ng and Hewitt urged council to pay attention to this issue.
Resident Simon Ng talks about his dream of owning a house, followed by Gary Hewitt’s detailed denunciation of the traffic impacts.
Another resident, Jeffrey Lee, told council that his home on Adera Street shares a wall with Shannon Mews. A four-storey building with floor-to-ceiling windows, large patios, and a rooftop garden will be only 38 feet away from his property line, whereas there are minimum 79-foot distances between buildings on the Shannon Mews site.
Lee noted that his neighbours across the street will also face this building, which won’t be covered by trees. “All the occupants from the proposed building will be staring into our back yard—at least every single day of the year,” Lee said. “The invasion of privacy and damage to our quality of living is in the extreme.”
Jeffrey Lee says the development will rob his privacy.
Despite the objections from the residents, Toderian said that his department still supported the proposal. In his closing remarks, he told council that staff have added a condition to add more trees along Adera to address residents’ concerns.
Planning director Brent Toderian offers his closing remarks at the public hearing.
George Chow, who isn’t seeking reelection, was the only Vision Vancouver councillor to vote against the rezoning. He said that he wasn’t troubled by the 1.6 floor-space ratio. However, he objected to the massing of buildings on the site, saying it wasn’t appropriate for the neighbourhood.
“The residents are not saying ”˜no development’,” Chow pointed out. “What they’re talking about is some kind of development they can live with.”
NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton said she wouldn’t support the project because it’s too car-oriented. In addition, she stated that there’s more density on the site than is required to preserve its heritage.
She also expressed regret over the the loss of the castle-and-out-buildings approach favoured by Heritage Vancouver advocate Richard Keate. This would have put the historic mansion at the centre of everyone's attention and was, according to Keate, something that architect Arthur Erickson strived for when he designed townhouses on the site.
Moreover, Anton described the Granville bus as “terrible”, which will add to traffic problems. “It’s too slow; it’s too cumbersome,” she said. “People will use their cars to drive a few blocks.”
That prompted a blunt rebuttal from Mayor Gregor Robertson, who voted in favour. He said that the city wants “transit-oriented development”.
“I’ve heard people say the bus service sucks, but you compare the service on Granville—the four- to six-minute headway during rush hour—to the transit service around the region,” he said. “You need a reality check if you think that sucks. This is a good bus service compared to what most of the region has.”
Vision Vancouver councillors Tim Stevenson, Geoff Meggs, and Andrea Reimer also voted in favour (their colleague Kerry Jang was absent).
Stevenson and Meggs each said that they objected to Kluckner’s presentation, which argued that Wall Financial should have built high-end low-rise buildings to maintain the heritage character of the site.
“He wanted an enclave for the rich,” Stevenson declared. “I was just thrown by that remark.”
Stevenson added that the Vancouver Heritage Commission supported the proposal.
Concerns about city-developer news conference
Prior to the vote, a spokesperson for the Arbutus Ridge/Kerrisdale/Shaughnessy community visions process, Sheldon Zelitt, condemned the city's handling of the rezoning application.
"ARKS is concerned about the disconnect between high public feelings on this proposal and the apparent lack of place that public feeling has in staff and council's deliberations," he said.
Then, he said Toderian had "spoken openly of injecting a bias" in favour for those citizens who were too shy to speak to council. This occurred even though more than 90 percent opposed the project in an anonymous ARKS survey.
Next, Zelitt zeroed in on a media briefing that Toderian conducted with Wall at Vancouver City Hall earlier this year.
"The city manager states that the rationale was alleged misinformation in the press, including suggestions of corruption, which they took seriously, but has yet to cite those press reports, including after several requests," Zelitt said. "Without other views present at the press conference, a perception of corruption was actually created. Council might want to have taken steps to dispel this view."
He went on to say that the city manager and planning director have cited a legal relationship between the city and the proponent, which "enables" such news conferences.
"But no legislative basis has been cited for any such relationship, again after several requests," he added. "The community questions whether this places the city in perhaps an adversarial relationship with respect to the community."
Zelitt suggested that this action damaged the city's credibility.
Stevenson later asked Toderian about this prior to the vote. The planning director replied that the city uses media briefings to clarify misinformation on complex exercises. He cited EcoDensity and the metropolitan core jobs and economy study as two examples.
"It is at least unusual in the context of a regular rezoning," he conceded. "Certainly this is not a regular rezoning."
Toderian then explained that there was confusion in the community about the relative roles of the developer and staff.
"And I think communication staff's concern was that if the media asked questions about the application—and if staff were answering questions about the application—that could be perceived as staff proposing the application," Toderian said. "It might make it look like it was our proposal, which of course it wasn't. So I think the intent was that the developer would be there to clarify information about the application; staff would be there to clarify information about the process, particularly the enhanced process."
Brent Toderian discusses why he held a joint news conference with Bruno Wall.
Toderian never explained why journalists from only five print-media outlets were invited, and none of them worked for any Chinese-language newspapers.
He said that in hindsight, the attempt to improve clarity about the roles might have had the opposite effect.
"It probably made our jobs harder," he admitted. Toderian added that he probably wouldn't want to do this again.