Archive for the ‘Neighbourhoods’ Category

How “the developers” got their way in spite of Day

August 1, 2017

Ever wonder how “the developers”* get their way with Richmond? Is it that council members are developers at heart or beholden to developer money that gets them elected?

Maybe not. Maybe we simply have clever developers.

Let’s look at an example, the recent public hearing about a house-building bylaw update. A key intent was to ensure sufficient backyard space.

That could let living things thrive—even sturdy trees and birds that are happy with them. Also, it might let neighbours see more sky, not a towering wall that blocks the sunlight and feels like prison with no parole.

The good news is that city staff who deal with house building are adept at consultation. Staff had met with builders about the bylaw revision and also analyzed input from almost 800 citizens.

Despite the usual pressure from developers, staff had kept their balance and brought promising changes to council’s planning committee.

However, that committee has been stacked in the developers’ favour for months, ever since Mayor Malcolm Brodie deleted Coun. Carol Day from it and inserted Coun. Alexa Loo.

When the developers presented the committee with their preferred regulations to replace the staff advice, everyone except Councillors Harold Steves and Chak Au voted for the developer wish list.

But the decision had to face the full council in the next stage. After a hard-fought battle, the consultation-based staff proposals got restored. They were then brought to the public hearing, the final stage.

It slipped out at the hearing that the developers’ shrewd young leader had met with a core group of allies to plan how to get what they wanted.

They’d settled on phrases to keep repeating while aiming to reduce the depth for backyards on most lots to 20 percent of lot depth (from 25 percent, which is one-quarter more). The trick was to make the intrusion into the backyard just a single storey and to show it at low height at the public hearing.

They introduced it after most citizens had spoken, so the developers dominated near the end. Their key phrases, along with visuals, framed the change as a small design preference, enabling a modest “rental unit.”

But past performance is the best predictor of future performance. In that reality, the single storey would likely be 5 metres high (plus roof), as tall as older two-storey houses.

It’s a trophy-house design preference, not oriented to affordable housing or neighbours’ sunshine.

The astute Niti Sharma exposed some of that, but other citizens who could have debunked the developers had already spoken.

At the end, people were allowed to speak again—supposedly for three minutes with strictly new content. The developers’ leader got away with speaking last for ten minutes, hammering home the previous key phrases.

Final result: Only Councillor Day held her ground. Despite her vote, the developers largely got their way.
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*A footnote: “The developers” is the usual label, but some in the industry are admirably different.

Richmond Tree Protection Bylaw Information Sessions

October 22, 2016

Gordon Jaggs. Tree Preservation Coordnator, Richmond, BC

Update, Dec. 30, 2016:The City of Richmond is holding well-received Info Sessions on the Tree Protection Bylaw.  The first three sessions all went well. Take part in one of the remaining ones. Just click on the Info Sessions on the Tree Protection Bylaw for dates, times and locations.

The “Tree Protection Bylaw Information Sessions” are led by Gordon Jaggs (left), Richmond’s Tree Preservation Coordinator.

The evening are well attended, and participants have had plenty of good things to say about them.

The basic purpose of each of the Tree Protection sessions is to outline how trees are assessed for both retention and removal.  The format allows plenty about half the time for questions and comments.

Some of the other topics that come up:

  • The Parks Department street tree program
  • Innovative measures used during development to retain mature trees
  • Other tree retention projects


Sharon MacGougan, President, Garden City Conservation Society, Richmond, BCA note from Sharon MacGougan:

Garden City Conservation has been working with Save Richmond Trees, a group concerned about the significant loss of mature trees from neighbourhoods. I have made Garden City Conservation Society recommendations to council about this, and Cindy Lee and others have come up with Tree Group Strategies.

The information sessions are an opportunity to learn and have our concerns heard. Please consider attending one of the sessions to speak for trees.

Sharon MacGougan
President, Garden City Conservation Society

The power of a playground

November 2, 2015

Rideau Park playground area

“Something’s happened at the playground!” We’d answered the doorbell, and a pleasant woman we greet on walks was alerting us: “They’re taking it away! The benches too.” Our neighbourhood, Rideau Park, was suddenly up in arms.

Years earlier, our neighbourhood school had become an adult learning centre, which also hosts a popular after-school Mandarin program for children. The park playground that local people had funded kept doing its job. When school district staff decided it was worn out, they didn’t consult us.

So far the only silver lining is that the dissonance may make the school district and city more mindful when more schools get closed. A combined city/school park at the core of a Richmond neighbourhood is not to be taken lightly.

In our case, all cultures and ages have always come together at the playground. There’ll be parents and grandparents with kids. Elderly people like to sit on the park benches, enjoying the treed setting and cheerful activity. Friendly dogs and their humans drop by. We want that back.

School trustees got the message when over twenty residents appeared at an October board meeting. Long-time resident Rick Townsend presented the playground story. Others, including an eloquent seven-year-old, filled it out. A response is due soon.

Last week, Coun. Chak Au, who had talked with locals at the playground site, added the issue to the agenda for council’s parks committee. I spoke about it at the parks meeting in the context of another agenda item, the renewal of Richmond’s community wellness strategy.

City staff went through the park playground scenario and Councillor Au advocated, and useful discussion ensued. Staff will follow up and report back.

So far it seems the school district will refurbish the old park benches and return them but won’t replace the other playground equipment. The city could, although the natural place for it—the old playground area—happens to be on school district land on a park map that shows a dividing line.

That cries out for thoughtful cooperation, and that’s where the community wellness strategy comes in. It involves the city and school district, along with the health region, fostering physical, mental and social wellness together. The playground has cherished roles in our wellness. Good fit!

With school closures looming, bigger challenges will arise. Imagine if the school board tries to sell its part of a city/school neighbourhood park for development.

Whatever happens, neighbourhoods must thrive. A restored Rideau Park playground is a great place to start.

Finding conservation in demolition

October 21, 2015

This afternoon, council’s public work committee passed a bylaw intended to limit the waste from house demolitions and increase the recycling. It was written by staff in consultation with Richmond’s Small Builders Group, which means that the developers made the decisions. It appears fine until one does some simple math. Then it becomes evident that it does not provide the needed incentive for builders who demolish houses to recycle 90% of the material, as they could easily do. Financially, it still makes sense for the builders to keep on using methods that recycle only 50% of the materials and dump the other 50%.

I spoke on the issue on behalf of the Garden City Conservation Society, since our directors and I felt there was a significant opportunity for conservation. I explained how the bylaw could be modified to get results. Here are my speaking notes, as updated after the meeting.

Councillors Harold Steves and Carol Day also spoke about ways to get better results, but staff did not want to work on it any further. It was decided to just pass it and look at it again in a year. Coun. Steves predicted that not much would happen to improve demolition recycling in the coming year. Supposedly, staff will be spending the next year looking into ways to accomplish what they could accomplish now by having functional incentives.

In Richmond, B.C., this is progress toward conservation. Since Metro Vancouver was there, maybe it will inspire some other Metro local governments to do a little more. I’m pretty sure that it’s at least better than nothing. We progress slowly.

Analysis of Richmond’s house bylaw public hearing

October 6, 2015

Preface note: If you just wish to go to the letters to the public hearing, click on this synopsis chart (with links to the 112 individual letters). You could also read the minutes; for the speakers, use the search box to find “Rosa,” the first speaker. You’ll notice that the speakers provided another six written submissions, five of them from the neighbourhood standpoint.

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Let’s celebrate! At the new-house bylaw public hearing, the people’s win was only partial, but their spirit was magnificent. It’s timely to celebrate now because it affects the current issue of land use contracts (LUCs), which apply to thousands of house lots.

LUCs, a featured topic at Richmond.ca, have spawned monster houses beyond the City of Richmond’s zoning reach. Staff brought their approach for ending LUCs to council committee this week, and it’s slated to proceed to the council meeting of October 13, with a public hearing on November 24.

Back to the celebration. For my part, I’ve read all 112 letters to the last public hearing and created a synopsis chart, with links to the individual letters. Many of the writers may inspire you.

In the tension between neighbourhood concerns and a lax bylaw, all but two of the letters take the neighbourhood side. Some simply state support for a consistent new-house height limit of 9 metres and/or double-counting of floor area for rooms more than 3.7 metres high, as in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. Most add insights—from a few lines of them to 49 pages.

Only two of the letters take a developer stance. One of those seeks common ground, as some of us did at the public hearing meeting.

Although I spent six attentive hours at the public hearing, I’ve listened to the audio recording to be sure of details before writing this. If you’d like to listen too, just arrange with the Richmond Archives at the Cultural Centre. Like me, you may rejoice in the exchange of ideas and the many informed defenders of a livable city.

Along with citizen action, with two hundred people at the meeting and so many speakers (32, including 22 neighbourhood defenders), there’ve been other reasons for hope. For instance, the city’s Advisory Design Panel was in tune with neighbourhood concerns, and staff often were.

After so many people asked council to follow the official community plan to conserve neighbourhoods, Councillors Carol Day and Harold Steves delivered. Crucially, Coun. Steves challenged the mayor’s attempt to block his motion on the 3.7- metres matter, which has a big effect on house bulk.

Fortunately for democracy, the city clerk ruled to allow the motion. Unfortunately, council voted it down 7–2. Seven ignored the Advisory Design Panel, staff and the pleas of so many participants to respect their homes and stop killing their neighbourhoods.

It shouldn’t take courage to heed the community, but I sensed from councillors’ tone it did. Chak Au boldly moved to close a house-height loophole, and Carol Day seconded. Then Ken Johnston, Harold Steves and Derek Dang expressed support (in that order), ensuring it would pass. A toast to those five councillors.

The remaining councillors then went along with it, but the mayor refused. I see no purpose except to signal his priorities to developers and citizens.

Although we celebrate a little hope for neighbourhoods, the people of Richmond deserve better.

Acting now for Richmond public hearing re new-house massing

August 31, 2015

This older 2.5-storey house is 7.7 metres high. The white chevron shows the height limit for new Richmond houses, 9 metres. The red chevron shows “phony height,” an actual 10.5 metres that counts as 9 metres. (As well, a new house could have a higher site grade and 75% more floor area.)

Update, Tuesday, September 8: Basically the public hearing worked out well. We’ll count our chickens after the council meeting of next Monday, since some revised wording will be voted on at that time.

This article builds on my earlier Richmond News column titled “House bylaw’s phoney height is a real waste,” illustrated with the house at right.

This one has appeared as another Richmond News column, “Make your voice heard at public hearing, earn that miracle.”

The first reason it’s here as well is to include hyperlinks. In addition, there are useful updates at the bottom of the article.

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Question: Can the public be heeded at the next public hearing?

Answer: Yes, miracles can happen if we earn them.

On Tuesday, September 8 at 7 pm, council will hear the public on a new-house massing bylaw. The venue is the council chambers at Richmond City Hall.

At this point, the bylaw (which was supported by all councillors except Carol Day and Harold Steves) serves the interests of developers more than the needs of citizens. It includes some improvements, but at this point it ignores some evident needs and could even be worse for some neighbourhoods.

The public hearing is a speed bump before the final rubber stamp. If you value neighbourhoods and the Garden City more than mega trophy houses, you will want the bylaw fixed first.

For quick impact, you could go to the online form for public hearings and write “Please use the 3.7 metre ceiling height and the 9 metre building height for all new houses.”

Those ample heights (over 12 feet and almost 30 feet) were set but then fudged. Applied firmly, they’d help put a collar on rampant problems.

If you value trophy houses most, you could write “Please pass the bylaw as is.” I’d still respect you for taking part.

I wanted to check some details of the public hearing, so I discussed them with Richmond’s Manager of Legislative Services, Michelle Jansson. The rest of this column is a brief how-to manual.

Online, get to know the Richmond.ca website. Click your way from the “City Hall” tab to “City Council” to “Watch Meetings Online” or “Public Hearings.” From there you can reach “Speak at a Public Hearing” and “Send a Submission Online.”

On the “Send a Submission Online” form, use 9280 as the Bylaw Number. Or email council. Submissions are accepted up to the meeting time, 7 pm. Send your message much sooner if you can.

You can speak at the public hearing for up to ten minutes. That applies even if you’ve sent input, but do more than repeat it.

After everyone has spoken, you can speak for three more minutes—with new information.

Speaking well will influence people, even if you’re brief. It’s fine to simply state what’s best in half a minute.

Nitti Sharma talking to Richmond Council, July 27, 2015When you practice, visualize yourself at the speakers’ desk. View some of the online video of the July 27 council meeting. You’ll see citizens like Nitti Sharma speak about the new-house massing bylaw in the “Committee of the Whole” part (as shown at right).

Then bring your speaking notes. That will help you recall your points, conserve time and have fun.

Come early. If need be, wait for seats to open up. The new-house bylaw is last on the agenda, and people who’ve come for earlier items will leave when they’re finished.

There will be a handout to pick up as you enter. There may also be a speakers’ list to sign.

Decorum is normal. It’s tacky to shout out, clap or chat in a hearing.

After earning a miracle, sit back and see what happens.

Then bring your speaking notes. That will help you recall your points, conserve time and have fun.

Come early. If need be, wait for seats to open up. The new-house bylaw is last on the agenda, and people who’ve come for earlier items will leave when they’re finished.

There will be a handout to pick up as you enter. There may also be a speakers’ list to sign.

Decorum is normal. It’s tacky to shout out, clap or chat in a hearing.

After earning a miracle, sit back and see what happens.

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Updates:

1. The Richmond.ca background material on this for the public hearing is not current.

2. A Friend of Garden City has pointed out that all submissions (including emails) to a public hearing are required to include one’s first & last name and address.

3. A key problem with Amendment Bylaw 9280 is that the definition of building height has an exception that has the effect of making the 9 metre official maximum become an actual 10.5 metres. In an attachment, I’ve highlighted the problem on page 1. Simply by leaving out words, that definition becomes a clear 9 metre maximum: “Height, building means the vertical distance between finished site grade and the highest point of the building.”

4. In the bottom line of the same attachment, the “5.0 m” figure (5.0 metres) is what Lynda ter Borg and other experts say should be changed to “3.7 m” ( just over 12 feet and more normal in Metro Vancouver). Notice that a builder would still be able to choose ceilings much higher than 3.7 metres with the space counting as two floors. The3.7 m height, which Richmond’s Advisory Design Panel supports, has the effect of reasonably limiting the bulk of new houses.

5. At one point, a staff member said that changing the definition of building height would be complicated. In reality, it is very simple. It is entirely a matter of deleting 74 words. amending 9280 building height definition.

6. The WRAPd.org website includes letters on this topic.

New-house bylaw leads to waste and loss

August 5, 2015
This older 2.5-storey house is 7.7 metres high. The white chevron shows the height limit for new Richmond houses, 9 metres. The red chevron shows “phony height,” an actual 10.5 metres that counts as 9 metres. (As well, a new house could have a higher site grade and 75% more floor area.)

This older 2.5-storey house is 7.7 metres high. The white chevron shows the height limit for new Richmond houses, 9 metres. The red chevron shows “phony height,” 10.5 metres that counts as 9 metres. (As well, a new house could have a higher site grade and 75% more floor area.)

There’s a quick way to assess council action on development. Just ask, “Does it help Richmond to be the Garden City?” Yes = Pass. No = Fail. The “half-assed house bylaw” fails. That nickname (from Coun. Carol Day) refers to proposed rule changes to alter how new houses affect their neighbours.

The future of our neighbourhoods depends on the house bylaw. If fixed, it can rescue hope. If not fixed, it can stifle the Garden City dream.

On council, only Carol Day and Harold Steves have looked ahead and cared, and we need them to keep it up. The rest are good people too, and we need them to wake up or step down.

The worst flaw is easy to fix. Simply define house “height” in the obvious way. In bylaw terms, it’s the vertical distance between finished site grade and the highest point.

The flaw came to light when a 2008 bylaw that was supposed to curb house height began to spawn taller houses instead. Citizens found that the bylaw had changed “height” to mean the distance to halfway up the roof. Mind-boggling!

With phony height like that, houses are built 1.5 metres taller than their supposed height. Neighbours are robbed of their sunlight.

It seemed the 2015 house bylaw would finally measure Richmond house height to the top of the roof, as in the rest of the world. But no, the details reveal that phony height still applies to “2.5-storey houses.” That turns a low-waste concept into high waste.

The photo shows an older home of 2.5 storeys. The big window below the peak, along with a skylight, lets the small half-storey fill with natural light. It was designed as an art studio.

With half-storeys like that, builders create living space—within the height of a 2-storey house—where there might have been attic voids. The building is also likely to have a smaller footprint, since the floor area is split among three floors. That can leave more of the lot area for nature and gardens.

A true 2.5-storey house tends to be affordable and eco-friendly, taking less building material, upkeep and heating. By nature it suits medium-height ceilings, although the house I’ve shown has a high vaulted ceiling in the front.

I’ve added a white chevron to the image. It shows a roofline at the stated house height limit, 9 metres. That’s enough for 2.5-storey houses, but the bylaw still adds an uncounted 1.5 metres.

The red chevron shows the effect. Besides being far higher than the stated limit, it puts the structure outside the concept of 2.5-storey houses.

But phony 2.5-storey houses would excel as trophy houses, imposingly tall and self-indulgent. Sooner or later, they’d be looming above our neighbourhoods and killing them.

We’ve pleaded with regressive council members to stop the phoniness. We’ve implored them to respect our homes, the Garden City and our quality of life. It’s high time to be heeded.

The public hearing is on September 8. The “house bylaw” it addresses has been split into Bylaws 9280 and 9281.

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A version of this article was published as a column in my “Digging Deep” series in the Richmond News on August 12, 2015. The title there is House bylaw’s phoney height is a real waste.”

Will the height bylaw conserve or degrade the Garden City?

July 25, 2015
This 39-year-old house is 2.5 storeys but only about 25 feet high. It enhances its neighbourhood and the Garden City.

This 39-year-old house (seen from the back garden) is 2.5 storeys but only about 25 feet high. It enhances its neighbourhood and the Garden City.

Since this article is now outdated, it is more useful to read the current article on the same topic. Just scroll up to “New-house bylaw leads to waste and loss.”

Trophy houses that ruin neighbourhoods are killing the Garden City (Richmond, B.C.), and height is a common culprit. At Richmond council’s planning committee meeting last Tuesday, it got both better and worse.

(Note: The matter will come up for ratification by the whole council at Richmond city hall at 7 pm on Monday, July 27, 2015. Details at the end of this article.)

How things got better:

For house height limits in Richmond, “height” may once again mean the distance from the ground to the top, as in the rest of the world. This has been needed since residents called for relief about eight years ago. In response, the powers-that-be slipped in a redefined “height,” sending a subtle message (“Shut up and pay taxes”).

In unique Richmond, height became the distance from the ground to halfway up the roof. Of course, developers like to build to the limit, so new trophy houses became five feet taller.

Seven years later, sanity is peeking out. Thank you, realtor Lynda ter Borg for your courage and determined work to let it happen. And thank you, everyone who has given support and respect to the effort.

How things got worse:

It’s not as simple as a Lynda and Goliath story. In the same would-be bylaw that seems ready to slay the 2008 definition of “height,” it pops up again, now applied just to new two-and-a-half-storey houses.

In concept, the “half storey” was like a classy attic, with a bit of third-floor living space tucked under the roofline of a two-storey house. Regurgitating a definition that would raise the roof five feet defeats the intent.

Even recently at city hall, developers have publicly prided themselves on using loopholes. Until a recent crackdown, they even managed to turn “two-and-a-half-storey” houses into three full storeys. The new bylaw is designed to give them another loophole. (By including a little “half store” in a new house, a developer can build a trophy house that is five feet higher than usual.)

As I explained at council’s planning meeting last Tuesday, the new loophole would lead to more neighbourhoods dying a lingering death. My wonderful neighbourhood of Rideau Park would be one of the first victims. The loss would diminish the community of Richmond, just as good new developments enhance the whole community of Richmond.

To be clear, two-and-a-half-storey homes can be great. With eight-foot ceilings, which many people still like, it is no problem to have a comfortable “half storey” on the third floor even with the restored height limit of about 29.5 feet (officially nine metres). That can reduce the footprint, leaving more of the lot for nature and gardens.

It’s a proven approach, as the photo at top shows. That 39-year-old home in my neighbourhood is two and a half storeys. The large upper window, along with a skylight, enables natural light for an artist’s studio. Far from being five feet higher than the restored standard (the restored maximum height for two-storey homes), it’s almost five feet lower.

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How you can act:

This matter will come up again at the council meeting at 7 pm next Monday, July 27. You can attend or watch on Shaw 4 or via this page on Richmond.ca. Or go to the public hearing at 7 pm on September 8. Judging from the planning meeting, Councillors Carol Day, Harold Steves and Chak Au will have something useful to say, and it will be great if other council members focus on saving neighbourhoods and the Garden City. In any case, the problem is simple to fix.

 

Details about participating in the July 27 council meeting:

As mentioned, it starts at 7 pm, and it’s best to be there early.

Anyone can speak as a “delegation,” usually in the “committee of the whole” segment early in the meeting. Sometimes there’s a speaker’s list, so check for that on the way into the council chambers if you wish to speak. Otherwise, the mayor will simply ask if anyone wishes to speak on items in the agenda. It is agenda item 23.

For the bylaw details, you can go to the agenda package and scroll down to Item 23 on page CNCL-10, but you’ll probably find it more convenient can open/download just that item by clicking here.

Each delegation can speak for up to five minutes in total. (The five minutes applies even if you and someone else go up together and even if you are speaking on several agenda items.)

Important tip: It is a good idea to use speaking notes. A lot of people think they won’t need them but then find they should have brought them after all. If you have speaking notes with you, you can always decide at the time whether to follow them or not. Also, one of the main values of speaking notes is that you can ensure ahead of time that you can make your points within the five minutes allowed. That helps you to focus on your message.