I have already written a piece about the so-called Streamlining Rentals proposal that is currently before City Council at a public hearing. My concerns there were city-wide and about the continuing elimination of public consultation in planning and zoning matters. I did not think that it applied to Grandview because the map that is so prominently used in public media about this proposal specifically excludes areas such as GW which already have Community Plans:
However, a closer reading of the entire proposal — as has been done, for example, by Stephen Bohus of CityHallWatch and GWAC — reveals that C2 zones within the Community Plan areas are also affected, including Commercial Drive.
The change, outlined in Appendix G, raises the maximum allowable height of a building to 50 feet if the commercial space on the ground floor has ceiling height of 17′. The purpose of the ceiling height change is to “improve flexibility and allow for more variety in commercial uses.” The change proposed raises the maximum height on most of the Drive from 35 feet to 50 feet, an increase of 40%.
There is a lot wrong with this proposal and the way it is being pushed through.
Specifically, it goes against the entire letter and spirit of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan’s statements on Commercial Drive:
“Zoning will remain unchanged in this area … Because of the area’s significance to the community and the strong desire to maintain its low-scale character and form, the plan will ensure that other City policies that may otherwise allow for additional height will not apply.” (p.40)
One of the enduring human-scale characteristics of the Drive is the small businesses operated mainly by local merchants. However, as Stephen Bohus has pointed out, the new ceiling height allowances are designed primarily for chain and other large stores that can pay the enhanced rents that such buildings will attract. This will inevitably change the much-admired character of retail on the Drive.
In his presentation to Council, Bohus also noted that the increased first floor height of new buildings allowed under this proposal will affect the older buildings adjacent to such spaces. The floor heights will not match and design will be compromised.
I am unaware of any consultation with locals about these proposed changes. I guess our views don’t matter.
More generally, this whole Streamlining Rentals proposal shows up a number of problems that have become endemic with this City Planning staff. The Report is 348 pages long and the public (and Council members) were given very little time to try to absorb the detailed technical aspects. This has been a typical tactic for too many years now.
The proposals to change C2 zoning in places such as Commercial Drive have nothing to do with streamlining the approval process for new rental properties which is the stated purpose of this Report. They are buried in the report and I don’t recall hearing about them when staff made their presentation.
The practice of putting a disparate set of proposals into one omnibus bill serves no one except the Planning staff, and they do it over and over again. Council needs to step up and demand that each item be presented separately for proper debate.