City of Vancouver rejects 11-storey tower next to future Arbutus Station over height

Mar 2 2021, 3:43 pm

A proposal to replace the Shell gas station at the northwest corner of the intersection of West Broadway and Arbutus Street with an 11-storey, mixed-use building has been forced to go back to the drawing board over its apparent excessive height.

Recently published minutes for the City of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board (DPB) show the application at 2103 West Broadway was rejected during the regulation review meeting on February 8, 2021.

This is a significant decision as it is exceptionally unusual for the DPB — a panel of city bureaucrats — to reject an application. The last rejection was in 2017 when the board rejected the controversial 105 Keefer Street project in Chinatown, which is now a matter of the court, and prior to that, there was the 2006 rejection of 2995 Wall Street.

Unlike 105 Keefer Street and recent heated debates over Kitsilano building applications, this proposal also saw very limited public opposition; only three public speakers spoke, with two in opposition taking note of their issue with the height.

Bastion Properties and Francl Architecture’s application called for a building height reaching up to 120 ft, containing 79 condominium homes and about 4,800 sq ft of retail and restaurant space along the building’s West Broadway frontage. The floor area ratio density is 3.3 times the size of the 23,000 sq ft lot, including a 10% heritage density bonus.

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Site of the Shell gas station at 2103 West Broadway and 2106 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Site of the Shell gas station at 2103 West Broadway and 2106 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

This application falls under the existing Broadway-Arbutus C-3A zoning guidelines, which considers a building with a discretionary FAR density of 3.0 and a highly conditional height increase. Under these existing guidelines, the building height limit is 70 ft.

The 120-ft-tall tower form is on the eastern half of the site, immediately across the street from the future SkyTrain Arbutus Station entrance and 99 B-Line bus loop at the intersection’s northeast corner. The western half of the site is a three-storey podium form.

During the meeting, according to the minutes, the project proponents stated the design approach acknowledges the prominent intersection and marks the subway station’s location with a “modest total landmark.”

“Eleven storeys is taller than the [existing] guidelines, but still considered modest in the context of how we think ultimately the station area will develop over time in the context of the Broadway corridor. It is considered still a relatively junior size taller building in the context of what may evolve over time.”

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the main tower site at 2103 West Broadway, Vancouver. (Francl Architecture/Bastion Properties)

The proponents enlisted former City of Vancouver chief urban planner Brent Toderian as a project consultant.

This design also received its support from the city’s Urban Design Panel (UDP), which is a city council-appointed body that offers recommendations on the design of major projects. In the minutes of their November 2020 review of the design, the UDP “expressed general support for the approach to massing and the discretionary increase in height.”

“Panelists felt that the proposal demonstrated a strong public realm design, and was confident that issues of shadowing were sufficiently responded to enough to support the relaxations sought… Panellists recognized that the applicant is meeting the intent of the Guidelines well, and that the design response is well done.”

But the city staff sitting on the DPP last month disagreed with the UDP, with Theresa O’Donnell (deputy director of current planning), Jessie Adcock (general manager of developer, buildings, and licensing), and Karima Mulji (director of engineering projects and development services) rejecting the project and recommending a resubmission of the application.

In the minutes, all three bureaucrats were noted to have stated that the proposed height — contravening with their interpretation of existing guidelines — is their primary rationale for their opposition. O’Donnell, for example, in her closing comments, stated shadowing on the adjacent neighbour is also not an improvement, and “more sensitivity” to the additional height would be necessary.

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the main tower site at 2103 West Broadway, Vancouver. (Francl Architecture/Bastion Properties)

However, future policy changes to this area under the Broadway Plan intended to permit greater densities for transit-oriented development around the stations could make the existing guidelines obsolete by next year.

The Broadway Plan’s recently released area-specific broad principles calls for the consideration of increased height and density for mixed-use affordable housing and commercial development in the Arbutus Station area. The site’s specific height, density, and user guidelines, similar to the level of detail of the Cambie Plan, are anticipated later this year for city council’s approval.

More broadly, as a condition of the current investment to extend the Millennium Line to Arbutus Street, the City of Vancouver is obligated under an agreement with TransLink to densify the station areas.

In the Supportive Policies Agreement (SPA) for the Millennium Line Broadway Extension Project, signed in 2018, the municipal government will advance “the principles of the Transit-Oriented Communities Design Guidelines in the planning, design, and implementation” by permitting “the concentration of homes, jobs, and key activities within a short walk of the stops for the Project at a level appropriate to support the transit investment.”

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Site of the Shell gas station at 2103 West Broadway and 2106 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

2103 West Broadway Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the main tower site at 2103 West Broadway, Vancouver. (Francl Architecture/Bastion Properties)

A similar SPA that enforces transit-oriented development principles also exists between the City of Surrey and TransLink for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain (SLS) extension project. The agreement for the City of Surrey is even more instructive, as the municipal government is required to consult with both the public transit authority and provincial government on the suitability of development applications near the future SkyTrain stations.

“The City will seek TransLink and the Province’s input as early as possible in the planning process on applications for developments in close proximity to SLS SkyTrain Stations to achieve the best possible land use, housing, transportation and design outcomes. The precise geographic limit will be agreed upon by the City and TransLink based on planning considerations such as transit passenger movements, other transportation mode needs and government owned lands,” continues the report.

“TransLink will provide input to the City on proposed developments in close proximity to SLS SkyTrain Stations to ensure the best possible land use, housing, transportation and design outcomes, allocating staff and in-kind resources consistent with the City’s development review schedules and sufficient for their desired level of involvement.”

2086-2098 West 7th Avenue 2091 West 8th Avenue Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the homeless supportive housing project at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (BC Housing)

Although the DPB rejected 2103 West Broadway, during the same meeting last month, it approved Bastion Properties and Francl Architecture’s application for 2106 West 8th Avenue, which would redevelop a paved surface of the gas station with a three-storey building with five townhouse units. The vehicle parking supply of these townhouse units is located within the underground parkade of the rejected 2103 West Broadway tower.

The provincial government, however, through BC Housing, recently made public its proposal to build a 12-storey supportive housing building at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue — immediately north of the future Arbutus Station bus loop. This project is a partnership with the City of Vancouver.

Existing residential district zoning for the proposed supportive housing site, which falls within the Broadway Plan, permits building heights of up to about four storeys.

Currently, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver have just commenced the pre-application neighbourhood consultation phase. A formal rezoning application will be submitted to the municipal government this spring with an aim to reach a decision with city council in Fall 2021.

If approved, construction would begin in the middle of 2022 for a completion in late 2023 or early 2024.

2106 west 8th avenue vancouver

Artistic rendering of the townhouse site at 2106 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Francl Architecture/Bastion Properties)

SkyTrain Broadway Subway Broadway Extension Arbutus Station

November 2020 conceptual design of Arbutus Station. (Government of BC)

 

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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