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How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 2 - Vancouver Plan

Updated: Feb 19

A city's zoning bylaw is just one set of many regulations that determines what you can build; there are sometimes literally dozens of pieces of legislation that permit or restrict what you can build and where you can build it on your property. Not researching them at the beginning of a project usually results in wasted money and lost time.


simulated photo of a male professional in a darkened office, studying a map and bulletins by the light of a desk lamp

In this article, you'll be introduced to the applicable laws for a lot in the City of Vancouver and begin to understand how the regulatory environment applies to your plans for a multiplex. At the moment, multiplexes are not explicitly permitted in North Vancouver or West Vancouver (or anywhere else in the Lower Mainland) and would require a very long and expensive rezoning process that may be rejected.


This article continues from Part 1 (link) in which a fictional client, Ava, wants to build a multiplex near Kerrisdale into which she and her aging parents could move in. We first confirmed that the multiplex regulations are applicable to her property by checking the Zoning Regulation Bylaw. We then explored her qualitative objectives and outcomes and investigated how to know if we've successfully achieved them.


simulated photo of a house property on the outskirts of San Diego, two men survey the site occupied by a dilapidated mexican style home and zoning boundary overlaid digitally on the yard

Most people would check the zoning for the lot and then start designing based on maximum floor area, setbacks, and building height. Unfortunately, so many potential legal restrictions can and do throw a project off track sooner or later - sometimes a lot later - and cause varying degrees of headache, delay, and financial loss. Some architects and builders are more diligent than others, but I know I'd feel pretty stupid if late in the game my project encountered a debilitating law that I could have prepared for if I'd just bothered to look for it at the start. Wouldn't you want to know about booby traps beforehand before setting out on adventure?


Vancouver has one of the most extensive suites of rules pertaining to planning, development and building. I'll look through the following types of regulations and see what allowances and restrictions are in place:

  • Official Community Plan / OCP (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 2)

  • Area Plans / Community Plans (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 2)

  • Zoning District Schedule (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 3)

  • Policies (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 4)

  • Guidelines (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 4)

  • Bulletins (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 5)

  • Bylaws (How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 7)


The first place to check for "gotchas" is normally the Official Community Plan (OCP). Most municipalities have an OCP that establishes an overall concept of how the municipality will be allowed and guided to develop, generally. It describes in qualitative terms the goals for all the areas in the city, and the zoning bylaw is written with specifics to achieve those goals. However, unlike other cities Vancouver doesn't have a single OCP but instead a collection of Policies, Statements, Strategies, and Development Plans that work in a similar way.


simulated photo of an office with Vancouver plan policy documents on the desk and a nearby monitor displaying a map

Vancouver Plan

Vancouver's the equivalent of the OCP is articulated and broken down into various parts starting with the umbrella Policy "Vancouver Plan" which even has its own website - vancouverplan.ca. While this 168-page document (which you can download) is mostly conceptual and quite graphical with a lot of background summary, any ambiguous or subjective elements of any other regulations will be interpreted from this frame of reference. The bottom of the graphic on page 27 shows how this text feeds into additional pieces.


Ava's lot is in an area that has been identified as having a high concentration of Disproportionately Impacted Populations. We should be on the lookout for rules or requirements designed to help people who fall in that category.


Page 36 identifies several strategies and policies which we should scan later:

  • Resilient Vancouver Strategy (2019)

  • Space to Thrive (2022)

  • Rain City Strategy (2019)

  • Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (2018)

  • Healthy City Strategy (2014)

  • Earthquake Preparedness Strategy (2013)


Page 37 has various hazard maps. Ava's lot has,

  • lowest hazard current flood depth

  • lowest hazard future flood hazard with sea level rise

  • lowest hazard air quality

  • high hazard extreme heat

  • lowest hazard seismic risk

I'll revisit these again later during the design phase.



The Vancouver Plan discusses a wide range of objectives and priorities which will guide city staff's decision-making when reviewing development permits. It continues to emphasize the goal of affordable housing, varied housing choices, and walkable neighbourhoods - also identifying what it calls "Multiplex Areas".


The Land Use Strategy also suggests that this site is between a Rapid Transit Area which prioritizes "vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods ... for purpose-built rental and social housing..." and a Neighbourhood Centre which prioritizes "successful, mixed-use neighbourhoods with ... green and leafy residential streets...". The map on page 113 puts Ava's lot in a "Low Walkability" area; this could mean city's greater focus on on-site bike storage.


digital watercolor scene of walkable urban neighbourhood, colourful

The section on Ecology includes a map which places Ava's lot in the Fraser River Watershed, and the Watersheds section includes a map showing Ava's lot in the Manitoba Watershed. Section 10 also includes the direction to "Manage stormwater and optimize drinking water use on private property". We'll see how this is implemented, later. However, no rivers or buried streams are identified which would impact Ava's site design.


The City of Vancouver also identifies a number of Major Planning Projects. The three that we should check are the Oakridge Centre Redevelopment, the Oakridge Transit Centre, and the Cambie Corridor Planning Project since Ava's property is very close to the Oakridge development.


A quick look at the Oakridge Transit Centre shows it to be located five blocks to the North. We'll consider this later, but the OTC process doesn't spell out any rules for us. As well, the extra activity is far enough away that sound abatement measures are not likely for the transit centre.


simulated photo of a city planning clerk pointing across a city office, behind a desk as a younger couple walks away confused

The Oakridge Centre Redevelopment refers to the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre area planning. A quick check shows that this describes development four blocks to the East, but not on our site. I would review the approved development in both the Oakridge Centre and the Oakridge Transit Centre to gain an understanding of the amenities, businesses, and level of activity which will occur in the future nearby.



Cambie Corridor Plan

The full Cambie Corridor Plan is another Policy document 275 pages long, and I scan through the entire package. One of the reasons is to see the type, size, and height of buildings that the city plans for the area - both Ava's lot and the ones around her. The other is to uncover any number of directions that might apply directly to Ava's project.


Looking into the Cambie Corridor Plan, we see that Ava's property is within this development area near the West edge. On May 23, selected sites within this area were approved to be changed to allow larger apartment buildings, but Ava's is not on this list. In fact, the Plan includes a map of sites for which privately-initiated rezonings will be considered, and Ava's lot is not one of those. Ergo, Ava will not be able to apply for a rezoning.

Apart from towers at the Oakridge Centre, townhouses are intended one block to the West along Oak, with mixed-use 13+-storey tall towers three blocks to the South and three blocks to the North.


We are in a subsection of the Cambie Corridor called the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre (MTC). The plan states "The Oakridge MTC is rich in amenities and services to support existing and future residents. More amenities will be delivered as large sites undergo redevelopment. ... As the geographic “centre” of the city and Canada Line, this area, ..., represents the most significant concentration of urban uses and density in the Corridor."

We can conclude confidently from this material that the city REALLY wants multifamily development on Ava's lot. While a multiplex can be built on any R1-1 lot in the city, a multiplex proposal from Ava will have inherently high support, and the permitted density will likely be the highest possible because it's in a rapid transit area.


simulated photo of an old man overlooking a physical model of a neighbourhood with shopping mall and apartment buildings

The Plan includes a section on building forms, and it refers the reader to RM-9 zoning for 4-storey buildings. Since the plan predates the multiplex rules, there is no explicit direction for how a multiplex should look. The 4-storey rules however may offer a hint of what the city would be most agreeable to.


In the sections on affordability, certain lots are identified as intended to include 100% secured rental and some portion of below-market or social housing. However, Ava's lot is not one of these. Stratifying her new building will unlikely face notable opposition from city staff.


There is a map showing the planned future community facilities. Again this doesn't set out rules but helps us understand better the future neighbourhood in which the residents of this building will live.


Following a summary of demographics, the Plan discusses climate end energy. "Sites in the Cambie Corridor will be required to address the City’s greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI) and thermal energy demand intensity limits (TEDI) as required by City policy for new buildings either through the development of low carbon energy systems or building-scale efficiency." The existing building was built before 1980 and therefore very inefficient; the city will encourage exploring the Zero Emission Building in the new proposal.

"All new developments must meet or exceed the 4.6 m (Greater Vancouver Regional District datum) flood construction levels specified by the Vancouver Building By-law. Some sites might have to exceed the 4.6 m flood construction levels due to site-specific conditions."


The remainder of the Plan covers primarily city-wide strategies, so let's proceed to the investigate the Strategies identified above.


simulated photo of a suburb late evening, heavy snowfall, fallen branches, indoor lights on

Resilient Vancouver Strategy (2019)

  • background summary and high-level guiding principles

  • a diagram of a building highlighting key physical features and how each contributes to resilience; we will see these introduced through my Deep Blue Design process

Space to Thrive (2022)

  • this is a demographic study that references community social outreach groups; no regulations to apply

Rain City Strategy (2019)

  • tells us that this lot is over the Quadra Sands aquifer

  • we do not appear to be near a historic stream

  • water and wastewater management and treatment

  • it points out requirements of VBBL, which we'll look into a little later

  • green rainwater infrastructure is mostly public, but you can adopt some techniques for use on your property - I include this in my Deep Blue Design; the city also has on-site rainwater management requirements since everyone's private property is an entry point for stormwater runoff into the local watershed

  • An urban heat island map is a reference I use later


Let's just pause for a moment. You may ask me "Hey Daniel - you're an architect working in Vancouver, wouldn't you already know all this?" That might seem like a logical assumption, but the rate at which both municipal and provincial legislation have been evolving over the past 5-10 years is certainly brisk compared to usual governmental progress. At least once or twice a year, something is being introduced or updated.


digital illustration, motion blur, blue lighting and streaks of passing car lights

The information above is just what we've uncovered for ONE sub-area out of several in this community development plan, for just Vancouver. We haven't even finished looking at the Planning Department's other documents. I also work in municipalities across the province, and each has its own suite of regulations. It is not possible for any person to keep abreast of every single piece of legislation let alone remember all the details. By doing all this research, we can be confident that we've gathered all the rules that apply.


You might also point to some of the information above as applying only to the lawmakers in city hall and not to individual property owners. Truthfully, applying for a Development Permit, Building Permit, Pre-Planning Approval, or similar permission is never a black-and-white situation. The city staff is given and applies a certain amount of discretion in the spirit of achieving the city's larger policies; you are wise therefore to know what those policies are.


If you're interested in finding out what your redevelopment options are for a particular site, I offer my RED Report™. You can learn more about it on this page (link) or download a free sample at the link below.




Onward.


Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (2018)

This document lays out the predicted future conditions and how to adapt to them and to mitigate them as much as possible. Essentially: - hotter, drier summers with more frequent heatwaves and more water restrictions

- warmer, wetter winters with greater peak rainfall

The remainder of the report is primarily a tabulated action list for the city. If Ava was to wait for some time yet before making her applications, it's possible that some new regulations could precipitate from those city action items.



Vancouver Bird Strategy (2020)

This document is primarily an awareness piece, but it does bring to our attention the Bird Friendly Design Guidelines (updated 2017)



Understanding the requirements at the initial stage allows us to design ultra high-performance, climate-resilient homes without extra costs. Passive House projects built for the same cost as code-minimum buildings have all incorporated these requirements from the very beginning of design.



Biodiversity Strategy (2016)

This strategy discusses work to be done primarily public and other lands, but it does also address private lands: ".Incorporate biodiversity enhancement into new development".


digital watercolor painting of a pond and walkway between low-rise apartment buildings, summer and trees

Urban Forest Strategy (2018)

  • double the street tree canopy in certain areas. Although this involves mostly street trees (city property), the street foliage can impact solar access to private buildings

  • a map of the city shows the average land surface temperature on a hot summer day; Ava's lot is in an area of higher temperatures (40-42C vs the average 38-40C)

  • a map of the city's tree canopy cover shows Ava is in an area of slightly below-average cover, 10-15% compared to the city average of 18%

  • One note to be aware of is "Pre-screening of development applications for tree retention."

  • Since 2015 the City has offered Vancouver residents $10 tree sales in spring and fall, and now provides a tree rebate program. Fruit producing trees have been particularly popular. As a result, hundreds of fig, apple, cherry and plum trees have been planted on Vancouver properties.


simulated photo of yellow warblers on a cherry blossom tree branch

Bird Friendly Design Guidelines

  • begin the design process with a survey of existing birds and bird habitats

  • guidelines include planting native trees and shrubs, a diversity of plants, reducing light pollution, minimizing lawn area, and incorporating a mix of habitat types

  • A reminder is printed in the Guide: It is your responsibility to be aware of and comply with provincial and federal legislation protecting birds including the BC Wildlife Act and the Migratory Bird Convention Act.

  • Collisions with windows is one of the largest causes of human-caused bird mortality. To solve this, visibility of the glass and dampened reflections can be increased by sunshades, canopies, external blinds, shutters, or louvres. These also are means of controlling excess solar gain.

  • ventilation grates and drains should have openings no larger than 4cm2; metal screen with 3mm openings will suffice and also prevent most wildfire embers from entering


Healthy City Strategy - Action Plan (2015-2018)

  • Goals and actions in this Plan do not directly apply to the design of the building or the site



Earthquake Preparedness Strategy (2013)

  • This document is prepared more for the city's own use, but the description of what happens after an earthquake is useful to be prepared as a private owner and informs a portion my Deep Blue Design phase:

    • Buildings and infrastructure are damaged

    • Natural gas lines rupture, leaks cause fires and outages

    • Above-ground power lines may be downed causing power outages

    • Phone system and 9-1-1 are overloaded

    • Service from North Shore reservoirs is interrupted

    • Lack of water/pressure for fire fighting, households, businesses, industry

    • Localized flooding

    • Raw sewage back-up in neighbourhoods

    • Inability to use household toilets

  • One map shows varying susceptibility to soil liquefaction. The next map shows areas where tsunami run-up potential is at least 2m. Ava's location has a low liquefaction risk and is not in a tsunami run-up area.


simulated photo of collapsed concrete building along street, modern highrises around

After exploring the Official Development Plan, I check the Official Development Plan BYLAWS.


Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Official Development Plan

  • No direct regulatory impact


Regional Context Statement Official Development Plan

  • No direct regulatory impact


Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan

  • One important note: "... development on any site consisting of three or more dwelling units that requires the demolition or change of use or occupancy of a rental housing unit on that site ...  is not permissible unless ... for new development that requires demolition of one or more buildings on that site ... a housing agreement, satisfactory to Council, is entered into that secures ... one for one replacement of existing rental housing units with dwelling units on the site or in the same zoning district ... and a Tenant Relocation Plan in keeping with the city’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy, if applicable ... at least 35% of the total number of dwelling units include two or more bedrooms." That's a lengthy sentence even as I've excerpted it, but it means that if Ava is demolishing a building with 3 or more dwelling units, she has some extra legal work to do, and the new building needs some 2-bedroom units. Her existing rental building has only one dwelling unit, so there's no additional obligation incurred here for rental tenant protection.


These strategies start to explore some of the concepts I address in my Ultrahome design philosophy (link).



simulated photo of a desk covered in stacks of folders and binders, corkboard beyond covered in maps and notes, desk lamp

Summary

Takeaway notes from my research so far:

  • Ava may not apply for a rezoning.

  • Her property is in a Rapid Transit Area, which will affect how many units she may build.

  • The Cambie Corridor Plan shows us that a significant amount of construction will continue at least in the East part of her neighbourhood for years to come including towers a few blocks away in either direction; they will create shadows that impact her building.

  • Ava's redevelopment is not required to provide 100% secured rental housing.

  • Her application will be pre-screened for tree retention, and her neighbourhood is one of the hotter areas in the city during the summer. Subsidized trees are an option.

  • Ava will need a survey of the current resident birds and current habitat.

  • Ava does not appear to be required to prepare a rental tenant protection plan, thereby saving money and simplifying her application process.


In Part 3, I dig into the Zoning District Schedule and then explore Ava's desired outcomes in greater detail.


By looking up these documents from the city now, we can be confident about whether or not our plan is likely to succeed and how we can adjust it to give it the best chance of approval - and of the quickest turnaround with city staff.


illustration of a man reading checklists on the wall

I formalized this process into my Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™ and the subsequent RAD Study™. Being part of a project that progresses with a firm handle on what comes next is smooth sailing that helps build your confidence. 99% of the rules can be found if you look for them. The construction phase isn't always as transparent, so minimize surprises where you can.



Technically, every architect and designer should adequately research the applicable regulations and legislation, but clients typically want to move quickly ahead and are trying to save money on fees to spend instead on construction. Sadly, the result is often a hastened and incomplete research phase that builds in hurdles later during various city reviews of your proposal.


My Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™ is the first phase of the SAPPHR Strategy™ process.



Whether you live in Vancouver, the North Shore, or anywhere else in British Columbia, the SAPPHR Strategy™ plans out all the elements of an ultra high-performance project to eliminate questions later. If you're curious about the process, you can download the guide at the link below:


3D cover of SAPPHR Strategy Guide



Have you been planning a multiplex project somewhere in the greater Vancouver area or anywhere else in British Columbia? Book a Diagnostic Session - a free, 30-minute call with me in which I help you understand how to move forward.



 

DISCLAIMER:

The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. Readers are recommended to consult with an architect before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.

 






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