Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Last night I made my way to the Dunbar Community Centre to attend an information meeting about the rezoning of Stong’s Grocery – Dunbar’s favorite store.  

The Developer’s architect explained to 15 or so people that this was one of a series of meetings that he was carrying out to determine the will of the people.  

Democratic traditions die slowly.  

Earlier meetings had shown that based on similar numbers, the community of about 20,000 Dunbarians considers it most important to keep Stong's in Dunbar.  According to the Architect, the people also wanted higher density because that would be good for business and the environment.

The presentation consisted of a tasteful matrix of issues presented in pleasing, mostly greenish, colours.  The most important thing we needed to know was that what was good for the developer would be good for the community.  Keeping Stong’s grocery presented special challenges though since it didn't own the land.  It was a sub-tenant  from a larger food chain, but mysteriously,  it could only be done by adding more stories to the building.

The architect said that he would answer questions and that his staff would then reduce the comments to a new set of  pie charts to smash into the faces of the audience at the next community meeting.  I took it that he thought the brighter members of the community were inexorably marching along to the drummer of increased density.  

The building had not yet been designed.  The good news was that whatever its size, it would it would be on the Suzuki side of climate change, carbon footprints and endangered species. While geothermal energy was not yet planned, they could recycle energy from refrigeration to supply heat.  One of the residents was annoyed  that all of the landscaping would be in shadow and therefore would quickly die.   The architect dismissed a suggestion of fake plastic flowers and trees after noting that they are actually doing that in some places, but evergreens are better. 

The City Alchemists

The baseline for the building he explained was the present C-2 zone.  That allowed a four story building.  However, a development in compliance with the present law, i.e. 3 stories above what was already there could not possibly happen.  It is important to understand why.

Vancouver bureaucrats have achieved a tremendous breakthrough in the technology of  spinning soil into gold.   They zone land, say Dunbar Street, to allow a 4 story building.  Then when the Developer proposes a 4 story building the City says, that although 4 stories are permitted they cannot allow it. The Developer has to build to 5 stories or more.  The bigger the better.  We will up zone you to make this possible, but – you will have to pay us about $800,000 for the up zoning.  The kick back is called a community amenity charge. 

Zoning Bylaws have become like politicians - negotiable instruments that are regularly bought and sold. 

The meeting moved along briskly.  The architect asked what amenity we wanted.  He needed to know so he could fit it into his amenity -floor space ratio- matrix chart for the next meeting.  One of the younger neighbors said, “the best amenity would be the one we are losing by your development. We would want that back.”


  1. The developer's claim that 4 storeys is uneconomic is unmitigated hogwash. Retail + 3 storeys are being built all over the City. You're right Jonathan, this is a con game. The only relaxation that should be considered is increasing the height to allow Stong's at grade.

    Bill McCreery

    1. He didn't say it was uneconomic. He said he could make it bigger, better and even more economic by buying density from the City. The point is that although zoning is supposed to be based on planning principles applicable over an area, now the Haemotoligist in Chief at City Hall offers zoning for sale- parcel by parcel. These are the new rules. Don't blame the developers.