The week’s top stories take a look at development size restrictions imposed (or proposed) in Victoria and Vancouver, as well as development pace in commercial real estate in Burnaby and Vancouver. Meanwhile, industrial demand and prices continue to expand, forcing manufacturing companies and workers to look beyond the Lower Mainland.
Here is Western Investor’s pick of the top commercial real estate stories published this week.
Vancouver city council has approved zoning policy changes that will reduce the heights and sizes of future buildings in Chinatown, in the hopes of preserving the historical heritage of the area, Vancouver Courier reports.
“These changes are the result of many years of working with the community to address the concerns we have heard about how recent new development has been out of character and has been impacting Chinatown’s culture and heritage,” said the city’s chief planner Gil Kelley in the release.
“Chinatown is a National Historic Site of Canada and an important part of Vancouver’s cultural identity. Current planning and revitalization need to respect the unique heritage and diversity of the community. These changes are part of a broader suite of revitalization strategies soon to get underway.”
The city says the approved zoning amendments mean tall and wide buildings will no longer be considered. The majority of community concerns related to buildings that were permited to exceed 90 feet in height and be built on wide lots through the Rezoning Policy for Chinatown South, bounded by Quebec, Pender, Gore and Union streets.
Under the new policies, buildings could be considered under the base zoning height of up to 75 feet on Pender Street and up to 90 feet in Chinatown South. The changes would also limit the maximum density and number of storeys. New buildings will be smaller and built on narrow lots with smaller store fronts to better fit with Chinatown’s traditional character. Placing limits on the maximum size for site frontages will also help limit assembly of sites for development and land speculation.
The city is also forming a dedicated Chinatown Transformation Team to work with the community on a number of actions, including:
- preparation of a long-term plan to conserve Chinatown's living culture and heritage
- supporting economic development towards a vibrant Chinatown
- dialogue and programming on anti-racism
- redesign of Memorial Square
- exploring the feasibility of a UNESCO world heritage site application
- advancing the Legacy Business Study to support traditional businesses
- rehabilitation of the heritage Chinese Societies buildings, and
- maximizing opportunities for seniors housing and amenities in and around Chinatown.
Mayor Lisa Helps says review of new downtown housing is more about livability than unit size, Times Colonist reports.
Victoria councillors have asked staff to consider setting a minimum unit size for downtown apartments and condos.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the review, which comes as councillors are about to send a revised zoning bylaw to a public hearing, is more about livability than unit size. That might mean ensuring a unit has an operable window or access to open space.
“What we don’t want is hearing: ‘Oh, it’s affordable housing,’ but it’s a tiny box that isn’t really very nice to call home,” Helps said. “I’m a firm believer that design can go a long way to creating livability in a small space. So I think that’s what we’re looking for, what design guidelines can implement that would create livability, affordability in a small footprint as well.”
While other areas of the city have minimum-size limits for multi-unit residential buildings, downtown Victoria, which has become home to an influx of micro-lofts, never has.
Two years ago councillors considered removing the minimum unit size in all multi-residential zones in the city. Instead, they directed staff to set at standard minimum unit size of 33 square metres — 355.2 square feet — in multi-unit zones outside downtown and set no minimum for downtown.
The Downtown Residents Association would like the city to impose a minimum unit size for downtown as part of a new zoning bylaw.
It’s an idea some councillors say has merit.
When the first of the micro-loft condo units were approved, the thinking was that for people living in them, downtown coffee shops, restaurants and open spaces would be their living area.
“Then we started to find out that people were using them for short term vacation rentals and when I asked [why], they would say they’re not livable for long term because they’re so small,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe at a recent meeting of councillors. “So that is to me creating a concern.”
“I absolutely agree that where true housing is being provided it may be appropriate to have smaller unit sizes,” said Coun. Geoff Young, citing student housing as an example.
“But I certainly don’t want us to be in the situation that Coun. Thornton-Joe mentioned where people have the feeling that units are not really livable and that their best use is as STVRs,” he said.
The idea is opposed by the Urban Development Institute; it says a minimum-unit size in downtown will detract from the ability of developers to provide more affordable housing.
“This type of requirement will limit the ability of developers to bring a diverse housing supply to market and limit the ability of developers to respond to market conditions,” UDI executive director Kathy Hogan said in a letter to council.
Burnaby’s feverish pace of development is set to smash a billion-dollar record set last year, the Burnaby NOW reports.
The city granted $1 billion in building permits in 2017, breaking its 2015 record of $879 million. By the end of June, only halfway through 2018, the city had already handed out 786 permits with a total value of $704 million – putting it on track to hit $1.4 billion in by year’s end.
“Looking at the figures, it looks like we are heading for another record year,” said Coun. Pietro Calendino at Monday’s council meeting. “So that’s good news and it outdoes, by far, the Kinder Morgan project.”
Much of the construction is concentrated in the city’s four town centres – Brentwood, Lougheed, Edmonds and Metrotown.
The Metrotown Downtown Plan, adopted by council in 2016, calls for mass densification in the area surrounding the Metropolis at Metrotown mall. Council has since given the greenlight for many developers to bulldoze lowrise rental apartment buildings to make room for highrise condo towers in the area.
The strategy has drawn harsh criticism from citizens and advocacy groups, who say Mayor Derek Corrigan and city council is allowing for the displacement of some of Burnaby’s most vulnerable low-income residents.
Burnaby saw a net loss of 712 rental units between 2010 and 2017, while much of Metro Vancouver saw increases, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The towers erected to replace those rentals are providing much-needed new homes, according to Corrigan.
He said the new construction is needed to keep pace with Burnaby’s obligation to welcome new residents under Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy 2011 agreement between the region’s municipalities.
The plan anticipates an annual population growth of 25,000 to 30,000.
Lack of industrial space in Vancouver could lead to a loss of well-paying jobs as companies are forced to leave the city, BIV columnist Peter Mitham reports.
While industrial space is important, the nature of industry is changing and, to steal Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s line regarding agricultural land, protection is not enough. Preservation is possible only through possession (nine-tenths of the law, as the old saying goes), and zoning must allow new uses.
“Protecting is one important tool in the tool box, but we need to do more,” Pietra Basilij, a sustainable community development specialist with the commission and author of the report, told a room of real estate industry representatives and local government reps on June 27. “Protection isn’t working.”
Pitting industrial against other economic sectors “is not particularly helpful from a planning perspective,” Basilij said, because lines between sectors have blurred.
The shift is only going to accelerate, added Steven Fast, principal of the Paradigm Group, who fought for more flexible industrial zoning in the Railtown area last year.
“I agree with their intention,” he said. “The fluidity of this isn’t going to slow down.”
To expand affordable options for occupants of industrial space, Basilij also suggested applying strategies devised to meet demand for housing.
“There may be opportunities to apply some of the tools that we’ve applied to affordable housing to affordable industrial, such as modular, temporary space and applying density bonuses to supporting affordable spaces,” she said.
Part of the Vancouver Economic Commission’s concern over the lack of industrial space in Vancouver is the attendant loss of good-paying jobs that support a diverse local population.
Quite often, industrial space means good jobs for those lacking a post-secondary education, a group that represents half of all industrial workers, Basilij said.
“If we’re looking to support a diversity of employment opportunities within the city, not just those ones that are high-paying for professionals, we also need industrial businesses within the city,” she said.
Yet the squeeze on industrial space means 10% of industrial businesses in Vancouver plan to relocate in the next two years, equating to the loss of 6,000 jobs and a payroll worth $250 million. A further 40% of industrial businesses are thinking about moving by 2020 due to the cost of doing business in the city and the difficulty of finding workers.
Companies leaving Vancouver head for Delta, Surrey and Langley, Basilij said. Census data indicates that these municipalities have a population whose education levels parallel those of the industrial workforce.