Vancouver city staff gave a strong endorsement last night to a contentious rezoning application in Mount Pleasant.
On the first day of a public hearing for Rize Alliance's bid to build a large mixed-use project on the southwest corner of East Broadway and and Kingsway, several city staff explained why they felt the application deserved council's support.
Rezoning planner Yardley McNeill pointed out that the Mount Pleasant community plan identifies three sites in the neighbourhood where rezoning proposals are encouraged: Kingsgate Mall, the IGA site on Main Street, and the Rize property.
"It's important to note that a significant goal of the plan is to retain the existing character in the area while permitting a select series of sites to redevelop through the rezoning process," McNeill told council. "The plan specifically mentions this site as one of the three larger sites strategically located within the area where higher densities and greater building heights should be considered. The plan does not, however, describe the maximum height or density for this site."
McNeill explained that Rize has applied to rezone its site from C-3A (commercial) to CD-1 (comprehensive development) to allow for a series of buildings that would include 241 strata-title housing units and a two-storey commercial podium with a green roof and urban agriculture for building occupants.
"To facilitate greater traffic flow, a new left-turn bay will be installed on Kingsway so traffic can turn onto westbound Broadway—a movement that is currently prohibited," McNeill said. "With respect to the 10th Avenue bikeway, the proposal is to make 10th Avenue flow one way, except for bicycles, which will reduce car and truck volumes and limit adverse effect on the bike path."
McNeill and senior urban designer Scott Hein each told council that Rize redesigned its project twice in response to criticism from the neighbours at community open houses.
Hein noted that the first proposal included a 340-foot tower and a 7.5 floor-space ratio. The final proposal now before council has a 215-foot tower and a floor-space ratio of 5.55.
"We anticipate no building taller [in the neighbourhood] under the auspices of the plan," Hein said.
Later, he suggested that this will be the tallest building in the area for the next 100 years.
McNeill acknowledged that there is still considerable opposition in the community, with 80 percent expressing a negative opinion at a January 2012 open house. However, she also said that of 425 pieces of written correspondence received up until completion of a council report, 51 percent were in support. Another 92 comments flowed in after that point, with 59 percent in opposition.
"Comments received as part of a staff-advertised public meeting showed consistent opposition to the project," McNeill said. "However, the comments that have come in as a general public feedback over the course of the rezoning process show a closer relationship between opposition and support."
The developer has offered a $6.25-million community amenity contribution to the city. McNeill told council that $4.5 million would be directed toward a cultural use within Mount Pleasant, with the remaining $1.75 million going to an affordable-housing fund. This would be added to other funds to eventually create an affordable-housing project in Mount Pleasant.
"All residents have emphasized a desire to have these amenities stay within the Mount Pleasant area in order to benefit local residents," she said.
City planner Peter Burch told council that one of the "over-arching principles" of the Mount Pleasant community plan is to recognize the neighbourhood as a "hilltown that slopes up to the Main, Kingsway, and Broadway area".
A key component of the plan, he said, is to create a cultural district north of Broadway at Main Street, which would retain existing cultural spaces, such as the Goh Ballet building, and add new space for the arts.
"New development will be encouraged south of Broadway along Kingsway, including the Rize Alliance site," Burch said. "New development should lead to the creation of more housing, more units close to a future transit station, the prospect of site improvements including more open space, improvements to the existing built form, more customers for local business, plus contributions to public benefits, like support for the cultural district north of Broadway."
Later in the meeting, the city's director of transportation, Jerry Dobrovolny, described the Rize property as "an ideal location for additional density and for additional jobs as well".
"There has been a lot of discussion about future rapid transit, but even today, there is five major bus routes there," Dobrovolny said in response to a question from Coun. Geoff Meggs. "It's a situation where you don't need a schedule. You simply go out and grab the next bus and it takes you to SkyTrain or along the Broadway corridor. So even with the existing transit levels today, it's an ideal location."
William Lin, president of Rize, said his company bought the first portion of the site in 2004 because he felt that Mount Pleasant would be a "critical area to accommodate Vancouver's growth".
"The demand for homes is growing as demonstrated by another project council approved last year: Marine Gateway," Lin said. "To date, Marine Gateway has received approximately 8,000 registrations of interest for approximately 400 new homes, showcasing the great demand for housing on transit corridors. Vancouver will continue to grow. A project like this will continue to make our city one of the most livable in the world."
Rize founder William Lin speaks to council about the demand for housing.
Architect Mark Ostry expanded on this theme in his comments to council, noting that 40,000 people move to Metro Vancouver every year.
"Metro Vancouver will need to house one million more people over the next 25 years," he said.
Ostry suggested that given the Rize project's proximity to major transit corridors as well as the highest residential and employment densities in the region make it "ideally located for an increase in density to support and encourage future growth and motivate anticipated transit investment in the Broadway corridor".
Architect Mark Ostry says the form of development aligns with the community plan.
Prior to the public hearing, neighbourhood activists raised a red flag over a supposed misleading architectural rendering of the project, which purportedly makes it appear smaller in scale than it actually is.
However, Ostry's partner, Russell Acton, took exception to that interpretation. He claimed that when the perspective lines were extended in the citizen's analysis, three vanishing points appeared on the left where he would have expected to see only one. On the right-hand side of the citizen's analysis, five vanishing points appear, whereas only one would be expected.
"One can't help but wonder what margin of error is associated with the assumptions regarding the height of the camera and the location of the multiple vanishing points, which are presumably used to locate the citizen's 3-D model in the context photo," Acton told council.
He pointed out that the renderings were not part of the rezoning documentation that was presented to the city.
Acton also cited "anomolies" in the citizen's model, such as a Waves coffee shop projecting onto Main Street and Pings Café hovering directly above East 11th Avenue.
"It tells us the making of architectural renderings is a bit more of an art than a science, and a fairly complex one at that," Acton said.
The only community activist who spoke to council was Stephen Bohus, who tried to make the case that the renderings were important in assessing the impact of the Rize project on the community.
At one point, Coun. Kerry Jang criticized the citizen's rendering for "building over a car" and for providing an image of a "floating building".
Stephen Bohus focuses his presentation on computer imagery.
Bohus held his ground and later maintained that a community liasion group wanted no buildings taller than six storeys, whereas Rise is proposing a 19-story structure.
The public hearing is expected to resume tonight at 6 p.m. in the Vancouver council chamber.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.