Friday, September 07, 2012

Fernwood Urban Village Project - interesting idea but.....

I have been thinking about the Fernwood Urban Village co-housing project proposed for the four properties between North Park and Grant starting at Chambers and going west for the last week or so.   I like new and innovative housing concepts for the city but this one seems not quite right for the location.

I have friends that have lived in co-housing in Burnaby for a decade now.  Co-housing is often almost an intentional community and this means passionate people trying to build community with each other.  This is something to be lauded.  

The proposal came before the Planning and Land Use Committee last week and the recommendation from staff was to decline the request to rezone.  What staff highlighted were that it is not really in keeping for the plans for the neighbourhood, the parking spaces are too few and the building height and form.

Architects John Keay and associates have created the detailed drawings for the proposal.

Most of the images on the architects website and project site avoid showing what the development would look like from the North Park Street side or how dominant the building will be on the street.  I have to wonder if this done because the building  on North Park is going to cast a long shadow and mean some of the houses on the north side of North Park would be without sun at many times of the year and times of the day.  

The North Park side of the project is to be a single building stretching for about 50 meters of the 61 meters of the property.  It will only be set back 3.35 meters from the property line and will be up to 13.9 meters tall, though the top floor is set back a bit.   Doing my high school math calculations, on December 21st at solar noon the shadow of the building will extend about 24 to 26 meters to the north.  This means the houses on other side of the street will be in shade at midday.

The raising of the existing building on 1800 Chambers is going to create a very gloomy and dark end of Grant at Chambers.

The form and shape of the development is less than ideal and should be changed to improve the neighbourhood and not darken it.

From the website of Fernwood Urban Village
Parking matters and reality has to be accepted when considering and not polyannish visions of the future.

The project proposes 31 units but only 13 parking spaces, this seems too low for the proposal.    These 13 would also include any visitor parking.  There is the capacity to have 12 to 14 cars park on North Park and Grant along the development meaning a maximum of 25-27 cars could be accommodated on site and on street.  If four of those are visitor parking and one is a car share spot, this only leaves 20 to 22 total spots possible.   One problem is that existing on street parking is already in higher than normal demand for residential on street parking.


Assuming that the Fernwood Urban Village will be able to consistently have 12-14 on street parking spaces available seems unrealistic.  This also misses out the fact that City policy is to change on street parking in front of new multi-unit developments into non-residential parking.

So how many spaces do these 31 units need?  I think you do have to reckon with there being at least 12-15 cars as a minimum and possibly as many as 25.   This means the normal evening demand, counting guests, will be about 18-20 spaces if they do manage to get various people to agree not to have cars.


There is an existing significant demand in the area because there are multi unit buildings in the vacinity, some zoned as such, some certainly not.   The neighbouring property of 1145 North Park seems to be a multi-unit building but certainly does not have enough parking as it should have.    On Grant, 1153 and 1157 are very narrow lots and have really have no space for parking.  1750 Chambers is a three floor apartment building  with not really enough parking it seems.

Fernwood Urban Village provided a report on parking demand and saying that existing multi-unit buildings in the area have a parking demand of half a vehicle per unit, at that rate the development should have 15.5 spaces, 2.5 more than proposed, but there are flaws with the study.   The parking lots were only surveyed twice and then at 8 am - this means there is likely no need for visitor parking.  Also the five buildings they look at are all older tired buildings, I think they are all rental buildings.  

People that own their own residence are more likely to have a car than those which rent.  Renting in what are frankly not desirable buildings means the tenants are likely further down market and even less likely to own a car.   These buildings may able to have only half a stall per unit and get by, but that will be lower than the demand of the Fernwood Urban Village.

1158 North Park is a newer development owned by M'akola Housing with 6 units and 8 parking spaces, of which in the pictures I can find has 6 of them filled.  1318 Vnning it an older set of strata town houses, there are 20 units in the development and 29 parking spaces and the demand seems to be there for 20 spaces on an ongoing basis.  They both certainly speak to one space per unit is a reasonable expectation.

A survey of the households of the Fernwood Urban Village had 3/5s saying they did not intent to have a vehicle.   That still means 12 of the 31 units would have cars which means a demand of 17 with the car share and the 4 visitor spaces, 4 more than the development is calling for.  It also does not take into account the changing needs of people in the future and of families.

What do other co-housing developments have?  Cranberry Commons in Burnaby has one parking space per unit.  Quayside Village in North Vancouver has 15 vehicles for 19 units at the moment.  Windsong in Langley has 34 units with 60 adults and 40 kids living there.  They have space for 70 cars.

As someone that tried to live without out a car in this city while having kids, it is not an easy task.   I know others with kids that tried it and everyone has broken down and bought a car.  

I think it is unrealistic to expect 13 parking spaces to be enough for this development and it will only work through using on street parking or ensuring no families live in the development.
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