Saturday 16 March 2013

"Who's afraid of Granville Island?" / What it means when you build a curb / Creating fairness in a car-dominant society

At the March 14th Open House, DNV planners described design guidelines to help create a "unique environment", and a "special" place that is our Village Centre.  Central to this new environment will be the function and design of the proposed "woonerf" street, running from Curling Road to Fullerton, intersected by the Hope Road extension, leading to the public plaza and community centre.

In order to realize a unique and special place, we will have to shed some of the 1970s auto-centric engineering perspectives and guidelines that drive our current street designs.  A core challenge for this community will be to gain the vision and rethink how a street operates and how that street design dictates and impacts the space we want to build into the heart of our community.

The developer-proposed street design for the Capwest site would see pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles share the road space.  The closest local example would be Granville Island, where shoppers and sightseers stroll along without being confined to sidewalks or designated crossing points.  The busier it gets, the better the shared space design works.  It's safer too! We have yet to see gangs of tourists timidly hanging back from joining the mix of locals, cyclists and parking cars along Johnston Street on a July Saturday.

Be on the lookout for any new street design that includes curbs, and centre lines.  These tell you where you can go as a human and denote and establish the dominance of the automobile.  Is this how we envision the Village Centre?


“We may share the road, but we don’t share the risk.” Risk is unacceptably skewed towards pedestrians and cyclists. Responsibility for minimising risk must by extension fall on those who have the potential to do most harm – motorists.  
           Director, Amy Aeron-Thomas, Director,  RoadPeace

The issue of actual costs of having a car-dependent society is sharply drawn in a recent post on the Sustainable Cities blog post.  The post accurately describes the negative impacts of unrestricted automobile use and points the direction to a better perspective on automobile dominance, with parallels to the proposed pedestrian-oriented "shared space" design behind the proposed Village Centre's woonerf street .

Sunday 10 March 2013

Exploding the Myths - 6 persistent questions about the Village Centre

From the outset of planning for the Lower Capilano Village Centre, a number of persistent myths - generally founded on misinformation -  emerged and re-emerged.  In some instances these myths came to attain the status of facts.  Additionally, these myths, while often not explicit, framed the background and context for some residents' concerns.

The negative consequence of these myths were that they often became the means to justify not engaging in the hard work of planning, based on changing needs of the DNV demographic, or a logical framework for the financial sustainability of the DNV as a whole.  It was easy to substitute these myths for considered thought.

 "Exploding the Myths - 6 persistent questions"  that sets these myths out and provides a factual response based in reality, fact and logic.  The contents of "Exploding the Myths" will allow residents to better balance the planning and social considerations needed for the developing plans for the Village Centre.

Essential Facts about the Capwest site / Lower Cap Village Centre

#1 We don’t want or need to have an 18 storey building, or any highrise buildings.

·       The July 2013 building massing exercise engaged in by the community concisely showed various options on how to accommodate the 2.5 FSR buildable density for the Capwest site.  These benefits include the open, sun-lit space of the public plaza and the community centre. Current draft plans for the Capwest site are below the OCP allowable density guidelines. 

·       Lowering building heights reduces available public space and the available Community Amenity Contribution – approximately $15 million for this site. The available CACs cannot be retained at the current level if there is a reduction in overall density and overall viability of the project.

·       A stepped-back, two-storey streetwall of the Capwest plan was highly preferred over higher streetwall options that would restrict light and human scale at ground level.  The present configuration was seen as the best possible layout to balance concerns from the neighbourhood and offer openness, functionality and a better public realm for socializing.

·       DNV lacks the financial resources to provide these same amenities through the property tax rolls.  Barring tax increases to residents, these public facilities will not be built other than through CACs & development offsets.

#2  Why not build a new recreation and sport complex under the existing C5 Commercial Recreational zoning? 

·       Private sport clubs require large membership and high fees to keep their doors open.  The North Shore Winter Club,  was forced to sell some of its land and build a high-rise just to remain viable. 

·       The Capwest Winter Club first opened in the late 1950s continually struggled from 1982.  In 1996, amidst declining membership and revenues, DNV ordered over $3 million in repairs to bring the facility up to building code standards.  Public facilities such as William Griffin largely supplanted such businesses.

·       Commercial traffic to service such a facility would generate large traffic flows into the neighbourhood 24/7.  Commercial operations generate much higher traffic volumes than residential development.

#3  The development will create too much traffic, making it impossible to get onto Capilano road.

·       Over 95% of traffic is generated from elsewhere in the DNV.  Woodcroft itself will continue to be the largest generator of local traffic – 5,000+ daily  ‘in & out’ trips on Fullerton Avenue.

·       The increased residential population will provide for improved transit, giving people the opportunity to get out of their cars.  The U.S. Federal Hwy. Admin. shows a downward trend, with vehicle trips declined 7.5% since 2004

·       Higher parking and car operating costs compel more people to use transit where it is available. Rush hour bus service to downtown is now 10 minutes from Cap & Marine.

·       Currently buses comprise 3% of vehicles crossing Lions Gate Bridge but carry 30% of commuters

#4  My view will be blocked by these towers and devalue my property.

·       Woodcroft sits at a higher elevation – approx. 14 metres higher than the Capwest site. Because of the ground elevations of Woodcroft, most views from upper floors of Woodcroft will look down on the roofs of the Capwest site.

·       The majority of the Larco building will be covered with green roofs and rooftop gardens.

·       Due to the existing tall, dense tree coverage at Woodcroft, for units facing eastward, the Capwest site will generally not be visible for residents below Capilano Bldg.’s 8th floor, or 7th floor of the Whytecliff.

·       Numerous real estate studies show increased buyers preference for proximity to transit-connected centres with greater community amenities and services.  Also see #6 below.

#5  Larco is only interested in building condos, making money and leaving.

·       Larco will remain owners and managers of their commercial and rental properties on the Capwest site. with a long term interest in the success and appeal of their development and surrounding neighbourhood

·       Elements of the Capwest plan include accessible-designed seniors and market rental units.

·       Other elements of the design, such as the proposed 24,000 sq. foot community centre and public plaza, built as CAC components represent significant cost liabilities to the developer.  As noted previously, all of these CACs represent amenities that would be problematic – if not impossible - for the community to obtain on a purely taxpayer funded basis.

#6  If the Village Centre is built will my condo drop in value?

·       Many variables affect price and perceived value of any property.

·       U.S. real estate studies showed that well-integrated, walkable communities retained their value through the recent economic downturn and saw price increases exceeding those for more distant suburbs as the market rebounded. 

·       Increasingly compact, well-serviced, walk able communities are sought by downsizing “Baby Boomers” – an increasing portion of the housing market as the population ages.

·          Although we can’t drag Woodcroft closer to the Village Centre it is better that the Village Centre - with its social and physical amenities, all available to Woodcroft residents - be located in proximity to Woodcroft than it not exist.

Friday 28 December 2012

A commemoration for the unknown victim / re-evaluation for the future

Candle lanterns set for the ceremony commemorating the unknown victim. Belle Isle to Curling pathway. Dec. 23rd

This past summer our community was rocked by the discovery of badly-decomposed human remains aside the pathway linking Belle Isle Place to Curling Road.  This public thoroughfare, used daily by dozens of pedestrians and cyclists of all ages, from both this community and from across the North Shore, lies next to the 4.35 acre vacant lot, scheduled to soon be reborn as a mixed-use, medium density redevelopment of seniors housing, condos and community centre to serve the Lower Capilano neighbourhoods.

On Sunday, the 23rd, a small group of local residents gathered to observe and participate in a cleansing ceremony, conducted by Eugene Harry, an elder of the Squamish Nation, to set free the spirit of the still-unknown victim discovered in August.  Participants in the ceremony included those living directly adjacent to the site.  As part of the ceremony several residents spoke of the taint on the neighbourhood, and their sense of personal guilt and unrest created by the unwelcome discovery, albeit that it appears that the victim was murdered elsewhere and subsequently transported to the site.

The discovery of human remains in a residential neighbourhood has finally put paid to any notion that our neighbourhood is unneedfull of change and rehabilitation.  The realization that this neighbourhood would serve as a suitable dumping ground for bodies put an end to those ideas forever.

The emerging plans for the proposed Village Centre call for the 20 foot wide strip of right-of-way stretching from Curling Road to Fullerton Avenue to be reborn as a tree-lined cycle and foot path, backed on one side by the Belle Isle homes and on the other by three-storey townhomes facing onto the pathway.  It will not be a place where unknown victims are found rolled into a ditch.

Sunday 2 December 2012

"Unsafe is Safe" / People-oriented design for Village Centre street is safer option

During the recent DNV planning workshops and community-organized "bench sessions", both residents and the developer repeatedly stated their strong preference for a "shared space" pedestrian-dominated street running through the middle of the Village Centre, from Fullerton Avenue to Curling Road.  The design of such a street was felt to be critical to developing a true 'village' feel, with vehicles held to low speed and generous amounts of landscaping, creating a street that effectively functions as an extension of the public plaza set at the heart of the Village Centre.

The emerging design for the "woonerf street" incorporates many elements to achieve exactly this effect. As it turns out, the design elements for such a street are not only more pleasant, while still affording vehicle use, they are much safer as well.  Below is an excerpt from an article on the value of independent judgment, "Anarchist Calisthenics" in the December issue of Harper's magazine.  

"What would happen if there were no electronic order at the intersection, and motorists and pedestrians had to exercise their independent judgement?  Since 1999, this question has been put to the test with stunning results, leading to a wave of "red-light removal" plans across Europe and the Untited States.  Both the reasoning behind this small policy initiative and it results are, I believe, relevant to other, more far-reaching efforts to craft institutions that enlarge the scope for independent judgement.

Hans Monderman, the traffic engineer who suggested the counterintuitive removal in 2003 of a red light in Drachten, the Netherlands, went on to promote the concept of "shared space", which quickly took hold in Europe.  He began with the observation that, when an electrical failure incapacitated traffic lights, the result was improved flow rather than congestion.  As an experiment, he replaced the busiest traffic-light intersection in Drachten, handling 22,000 cars a day, with a traffic circle, an extended bicycle path, and a pedestrian area.  In the two years following the removal of the traffic light, the number of accidents plummeted to only two, compared to thirty-six crashes in the four years prior to the redesign.  Traffic moves more briskly through the rotary, since all drivers know they must be alert and use their common sense, while backups and the road rage associated with them have virtually disappeared.  Monderman likened it to skaters on a crowded ice rink, who manage successfully to tailor their movements to those of the other skaters. He also believed that an excess of signage led drivers to take their eyes off the road and actually contributed to making the junctions less safe.

Red-light removal can, I believe, be seen as a modest training exercise in responsible driving and civic courtesy.  Monderman was not against traffic lights in principle, he simply did not find any in Drachten that were truly useful in terms of safety, improving traffic flow, and lessening pollution.  The traffic circle seems dangerous - and that is the point.  He argued that when drivers are made more wary, they behave more carefully, and the statistics on "post-traffic light" accidents bear him out. Having no imperative coordination imposed by traffic lights requires alertness - an alertness abetted by the law, which in the case of an accident where blame is hard to determine, presumptively blames the "strongest" (ie; the driver rather than the bicyclist, the bicyclist rather than the pedestrian).

The shared-space concept of traffic management relies on the intelligence, good sense, and attentive observation of drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. At the same time, it may actually expand , in its small way, the capacity of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to negotiate traffic without being teated like automata by thickets of signs (Germany alone has a repertoire of 648 distinct traffic symbols, which accumulate as one approaches a town) and signals.  The more numerous th eprescriptions, the more drivers have been impelled to seek the maximum advantage within the rules: speeding up between signals, beating the light, avoiding all unprescribed courtesies.  Drivers had learned to ru nthe maze to their maximum advantage.  The effect of Mondermans's paradigm shift in traffic management was euphoria.  One small town in the Netherlands, put up a sign boasting that it was FREE OF TRAFFIC SIGNS (Verkeersbordvrij), and a conference discussing the new philosophy proclaimed: "Unsafe is safe."

Wednesday 3 October 2012

"Ya gotta live somewhere!" - a wider perspective on home values

Concerns have circulated that the single-family homeowners might be left disadvantaged without future prospects for development, disenfranchised from the area's redevelopment.  For some this idea is manifested as an imperative to push for residential density "before it is all eaten up”.

Within the detached family house area of our community there is a requirement for a wide range of viable housing forms to match a range of needs, not a single blanket approach to the matter.  Several development brokers and analysts have examined our situation in terms of what is most probably acceptable to the greater community, as well as agreeable to the majority of the single-family homeowners who want to remain in this neighbourhood and have invested themselves into the community fabric for the longterm.

Several key points arose from discussions with development professionals:  (a) most people do not realize near the money they have been led to expect as a result of selling their homes for redevelopment, (2) the uplift of property values for anything  below a FSR of 1.0-1.2 is practically nil.  It is only at densities of 1.4 - 1.75 FSR (ie; 3 storey multifamily units) that there is a clear upside lift of the property over selling straight across as a single family residence.

As a comparison, one needs to look at the values of homes in neighbourhoods long recognized as highly desirable.  A teardown in Kerrisdale currently goes for $3.5 mil, while just up  the road most Edgemont teardowns for single-family redevelopment sell for upwards of $1.25+ mil.

Simply stated, there is no need for most homeowners here to accept radical measures to ensure the value of their property.  With completion of a well-developed and walkable Village Centre, this area will see appreciation rise as others begin to recognize the same benefits to the area we do.  As the figures above illustrate, people will pay to live in an area with convenience, connection and vitality.  This benefit will derive not only to those in the immediate detached homes, but to all in the neighbourhood including the Woodcroft apartment complex.

Most of our present residents are not what one would call wealthy in today's terms.  The money they would receive as a result of uplift value for their homes will not - in most cases - allow them to replace their home in other areas of the DNV.  In all probability, moving to another area will not bring the daily living benefits and conveniences they will be able to obtain here, right where they are at present.  

Even small features, such as the opportunity to access co-op cars would in many cases, allow residents to forego a second car at an annual savings of $5,500 - 8,000+ (Cdn. Automobile Assoc. 2011 study).   That level of annual savings, compounded over 15 years would result in significant increase to one's retirement savings.

Seen from this perspective there appears to be no basis for residents to imagine they must accept selling and moving from the neighbourhood.  Everyone has to live somewhere.  With an appropriate set of options, all homeowners will be able to obtain benefits to their daily living for which they would be hard pressed to attach only monetary value .
It's always good to remember, "Ya gotta live somewhere..."

Community Feedback - Core Design Themes for the Village Centre

Gateway Community Feedback
Core Design Themes for
 Lower Capilano - Grouse Inn/Imperial Oil Sites – Capilano Rd

Based on collective conversations Executive Board members have had with residents since the April DNV presentations, we have compiled the core themes and design elements that the CGA Board feels are broadly supported within the community.  In general these themes apply equally to all of the commercial properties designated for redevelopment, including Larco’s Capwest site, the Grouse Inn and Capilano Road properties. Under each theme, we have listed a number of design elements.

1. Open connections through to the surrounding neighbourhood.
  • Walking access through the Pacific Gate site to Capwest site, transit and other community facilities.
  • Connection across Curling Road in alignment with the “Larco's” Woonerf street.
  • Pedestrian orientation of the Woonerf street. 
2. Human scaled streets
  • Two storey streetwall at pedestrian level with set back for upper floors. 
3. Traffic management on Curling (we see the following as must haves)
  • Installation of signalization of Curling tied to the Pacific Gate application and change of land use.
  • Dedication of a 5.5 meter right-of-way along Capilano Road to provide for a dedicated left turn northbound lane from Capilano on to Curling.
  • No street parking from Woonerf east to Capilano so that a dedicated right turn and left turn lanes can be provided.
  • Passive traffic calming through streetscape design to lower auto speeds and ensure public safety.
4. Residential Focus with no major commercial center (and associated traffic volumes)
  • Designation that emphasizes residential over commercial use
  • Possible live/ work.
  • Community-oriented retail.
  • Possible medical/dental offices or professional offices.
  • Residential use on ground level west of the Woonerf street and extension.
5. Accommodation for seniors and special care adults
  • one example of accommodating special care adults is “My Own Space”
  • appropriate housing to promote "aging in place" for seniors
6. Unstructured green space to accommodate increased local population
  • Creation of seating areas central to the development so that residents can truly utilize the ground space. 
7.  Comments on development style
  • Blend of concrete and wood rather than steel and glass.
  • Pedestrian level street lighting along Curling and Fullerton

Monday 6 August 2012

Two perspectives on the Village Centre

Over the past week the North Shore News ran two articles framed within the redevelopment of the former Capwest site and creation of the Village Centre.

In the first article the reporter relied upon comments from a single source and none from those residents most directly impacted by the vacant lots, decline of neighbourhood and lack of local amenities.

Significantly, comments within the first article fail to recognize the critical fact that facilities such as local community centres - as well as other amenities - are only going to be provided through Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) obtained through redevelopment and developers.  The DNV does not have the financial means to provide these local amenities without imposing higher taxes across the DNV. 

Previously many residents in other areas rejected these same CAC options for their community during the planning of the Marine Drive corridor and will now have a difficulty in obtaining the needed community benefits without a radical readjustment of their thinking about what constitutes a viable and realistic vision for the future for their neighbourhood.

As noted in the second article, clarifying many aspects of the engagement by the Capiloano Gateway community in the planning and process, "There are things to be done. We've taken a realistic approach to things, and we've galvanized the neighbourhood to be something other than the Land of 'No.'"

Read more:  August 3, North Shore News     "Neighbours laud Cap overhaul"

                     July 29th North Shore News     "Developer Floats Lower Cap revamp"

Thursday 19 July 2012

Larco massing exercise of July 17 / Bench Session July 21 at Belle Isle Park

The July 17 massing exercise presented by Larco Investments gave the community and developer an opportunity to guage a number of potential building massing options and densities for the proposed Capwest/ Lower Capilano Village Centre.

We will hold a "bench session" at Belle Isle park, Saturday, July 21 at 10;00 AM to allow residents further review and discussion.
Below is a small selection of concept drawings from Wensley Architects, presented at the meeting, for your reference.