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Brian Palmquist: Tough questions for Vancouver as it considers a major housing move

Vancouver City Council is set to consider a staff initiative called Adding Missing Middle Housing and Simplifying Regulations, A.K.A. multiplexes, at a public hearing on September 14.
Brian Palmquist identifies several big and small questions for the city on its major housing proposal. | Peter Dazeley / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Vancouver City Council is set to consider a staff initiative called Adding Missing Middle Housing and Simplifying Regulations, A.K.A. multiplexes, at a public hearing on September 14. The following are questions they should consider before they vote, organized by general topic:

Process: how city staff developed the proposals before you today:

  • Is it true there was little input from owners and renters of the city’s 60,000 existing properties zoned RS for single family homes, duplexes, secondary suites and laneway homes, as compared to builders and developers?
  • Is it true there will be no pilot program for multiplexes, although that was implied in previous work including Council’s 2022 motion and the now-adopted Vancouver Plan?
  • Is it true staff have indicated their next steps will be to apply the multiplex concept to all of the city’s duplex (RT) zones?
  • Is it true multiplex proposals will lead to the loss of many existing and affordable secondary suites and that city staff are not quantifying or tracking this affordability loss?

Infrastructure: the stuff needed to support a growing community:

  • Is it true this initiative comes with no new schools, parks, community centres or other community amenities?
  • Is it true engineering infrastructure such as sewers and water mains is not being enlarged or increased to accommodate growth?
  • Is it true there will be increased rainwater runoff from multiplexes resulting from increased hard surfaces, resulting in the need for costly rainwater detention tanks on most sites?
  • Is it true electrical infrastructure increases will be required for multiplexes, at an estimated cost of $70,000 to $150,000 per site?
  • Is it true discussions between BC Hydro and city staff suggest some of these multiplex servicing costs may be charged to neighbours?
  • Is it true there will be no onsite parking requirements for multiplexes, even though staff say there will be, on average, one new car per multiplex unit?

Neighbourhoods: until now, the building blocks of our city:

  • Is it true 22 neighbourhoods will now become six neighbourhood types, all with the identical zoning?
  • Is it true this proposal involves collapsing nine RS residential zones into just one?
  • Is it true the multiplex plan will reduce incentives for retaining character and heritage homes, in fact encourage their demolition?

Urban Design: how buildings meet the street, the lane and their neighbours:

  • Is it true city staff’s own report⁠1 indicates there will be significant loss of street and onsite trees for each multiplex development?
  • Is it true the allowable building area for existing heritage and character homes will be decreased in favour of multiplexes?
  • Is it true bigger, bulkier multiplex buildings will create shadows and reduce privacy, a concern listed as a “trade-off” in a January 2023 staff presentation to Council, but not mentioned in the July report?

Building Design: the details of a building design governed by its zoning:

  • Is it true multiplexes will have increased height, massing and floor space (FSR)?
  • Is it true staff do not know what kind of multiplex buildings will emerge under this plan? That they have no design guidelines?
  • Is it true images and renderings to be shown at the public hearing have not yet been seen by Council and citizens and will probably not be revealed until after the public hearing speakers list has been closed, so cannot be questioned or challenged?

Conclusions I am forced to draw:

  • Is it true that after all these consultations with developers and builders, but few with ordinary citizens, staff are suggesting that multiplex sites will enjoy further increased land values, resulting in only marginal (if any) affordability improvements?
  • Is it true multiplexes will increase development pressures, hence reduce affordability as compared to the existing homes that will be demolished?

Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). This post is an edited version from his City Conversations blog.