Posts Tagged ‘conserving neighbourhoods’

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.

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Jaggs’ tree hugs beget kudos + encores

January 9, 2017

Gordon Jaggs. Tree Preservation Coordnator, Richmond, BCAre you engaged? Now’s the chance.

The engaging Gordon Jaggs is midway through his six-event Tree Protection tour. The ratings are solid.

Jaggs, who heads Richmond’s trio of Tree Protection Bylaw staff, uses slides of local trees and protective measures to illustrate his stories, with discussion welcome. That’s the first hour.

The second hour is “Q & A.” It includes questions about park and street trees—beyond the tree bylaw, which applies to private property. One can just listen, but most people have good questions.

The answers are also good, especially since Jaggs brings some informed colleagues with him, mainly parks staff, and they say what they think. Also, the public chime in. Sometimes Jaggs arranges to follow up.

People arrive and leave at any time, and no one minds. Some of the public even stay around to chat at the end, with staff obliging.

I gather that the discussion has varied quite a bit from one event to another. There’s so much to talk about in a get-together of residents and staff who mostly love trees.

There’s an event a month, always on a weekday evening at 6:00 p.m. at a community centre. So far it’s been Thompson, West Richmond and South Arm.

It’s Steveston’s turn next Wednesday, January 18, 2017. The final events are on Thursdays: Cambie on February 23 and Hamilton on March 23.

I’m happy about the events, but I’m not saying all’s well with Richmond tree protection. The stated purpose of the bylaw is to “protect Richmond’s urban forest,” and informed citizens don’t excuse the gap between that and reality.

At the South Arm event, several were outraged about the urban forest on the north side of Alderbridge (the “Walmart block”) that’s been wiped out. A staff member implied the better trees there were too scattered. I joined in to mention tree-moving equipment that could have resolved that.

Jaggs mused about encouraging the developers who save all the trees they can. I suggested ways to honour them, but he was hesitant. I suppose there’s not much support from higher-ups, since less-enlightened developers are dominant in Richmond.

After the West Richmond event, conservationist Michael Wolfe told “Save Richmond Trees” on Facebook that “Staff misuse the term ‘dying’ when claiming trees are suitable for removal” and “they ignore the ecosystem values of woody debris (e.g., for nesting habitat).”

More optimistically, he added, “Staff encouraged the crowd to speak at public hearings so Council can be made aware of public concern for trees.” If the crowd heeded, that’s a worthwhile outcome.

Sharon MacGougan, President, Garden City Conservation Society, Richmond, BC

If you take part in one of the events, there’s a good chance you’ll find the experience engaging—and worthwhile.

After the Thompson event, Sharon MacGougan, president of the Garden City Conservation Society, said, “This meeting style is a friendly way to communicate” and “Gordon Jaggs is good at what he does.”

To learn more, google “Richmond Tree Protection Bylaw.

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

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.”