City staff deem 16-storey tower proposal for Kingsway Rona site 'too tall'

Jan 14 2019, 9:05 pm

Planning staff with the City of Vancouver have asked the proponents of the redevelopment of the former Kingsway Rona store property to go back to the drawing board.

Up until early spring 2018, Cressey Development and Rositch Hemphill Architects were working on a plan to redevelop the 1.5-acre site at 1503 Kingsway — framed by Kingsway to the south, Dumfries Street to the west, Fleming Street to the east, and a church to the north — into a 16-storey mixed-use redevelopment.

There would be an apartment tower at the site’s corner of Kingsway and Dumfries Street, with the first two levels dedicated as commercial space. The other areas on the site would be purposed for four buildings with townhouses.

The proposed form and density would have been similar to the nearby King Edward Village complex.

The site at 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Colliers International)

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

Looking northeast at the former Rona store property from the intersection of Kingsway and Dumfries Street in Vancouver. (Google Maps Streetview)

A pre-application public open house, ahead of the start of the formal development application process, for the immediate neighbourhood, was held by the developer on April 5.

But curiously, as it turns out, the proposed 16-storey height had been rejected by City staff a week prior to the open house, with staff requesting the project team to amend their design afterwards.

A chain of emails and preliminary designs between March and August 2018, uncovered by a Freedom of Information request, performed by an unknown party, provides an exceedingly rare glimpse of the amount of communication and direction proponents of a major development project can receive from City staff prior to a formal application submission.

“We confirm that you should distribute your density better and lower the tower significantly. A height relaxation for a 16-storey tower cannot be supported,” reads one of the emails from City staff to the developer.

“As a general strategy, note that to consider the height relaxation by Planning, it will only come as a result of maximizing the density across your site (provided there is an excellent urban design performance). We consider there is still room to accommodate the density from the proposed upper levels of the tower both on the northern portion of the site.”

A frustrated member of the project team reacted to this rejection with a terse email: “This is the most maddening process. I am speechless.”

By the developer’s account, the open house went relatively well, with eight respondents stating they did not support 16 storeys, seven respondents stating they supported 16 storeys, and seven respondents having no opinion on the height.

Based on the written feedback from open house attendees, most of the concerns with the project related to traffic and the loss of views, specifically for condominium tower residents of King Edward Village.

Modified June 2018 design with 12-storey height

Subsequent revisions to the design made by the architect over the following months show a shorter 12-storey building with a six-storey base and terracing above, townhouse incorporation at the base of the taller building, and active commercial uses along Fleming Street.

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

June 2018 version of the possible concept for 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Rositch Hemphill Architects / Cressey Development)

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

June 2018 version of the possible concept for 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Rositch Hemphill Architects / Cressey Development)

This third design envisioned 167,557-sq-ft of total floor area, with 144,100-sq-ft of residential space and 23,557-sq-ft of commercial space. The project’s floor space ratio density would be 2.5 times the size of its lot.

In response to the changes, a City planner said: “The tall building should reduce its bulkiness and exhibit a clear vertical expression. While responding to context, this should be achieved through massing sculpting and not by cosmetic exercise.”

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

June 2018 version of the possible concept for 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Rositch Hemphill Architects / Cressey Development)

It was also noted that high livability standard policies, such as private outdoor space and high-quality materials, should be followed, and there should be a greater focus on landscaping and mini-plaza design. A higher environmental design standard of Passive House was also suggested.

The exact current status and progress of the proposal is not known; no formal application has been submitted at the time of writing.

As the proponents were attempting to achieve their project scope with a development application, they were limited by the site’s existing zoning restrictions. Conversely, a rezoning application from the outset may have resulted in the desired outcome.

When the Rona store closed in 2016, the assessed value of the property was pegged at $22.8 million. Its latest assessed value, according to BC Assessment’s 2019 roll, has more than doubled to about $46 million.

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

June 2018 version of the possible concept for 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Rositch Hemphill Architects / Cressey Development)

1503 Kingsway Vancouver

June 2018 version of the possible concept for 1503 Kingsway, Vancouver. (Rositch Hemphill Architects / Cressey Development)

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