West End Lane-way Infill

If you walk around Vancouver’s West End you may stumble across a number of these development signs.

Development Sign

Development Sign

These are not for new high rises that the West End is ubiquitous for, but rather small scale 3-4 storey townhouses.  Last year the city of Vancouver approved a West End Community Plan, which permits these new infill developments.  The West End is already fully built out and ready-for-development properties such as abandoned gas stations have long been exhausted.  Therefore this is actually quite an interesting experiment, allowing the redevelopment of the lane-ways.

Vancouver's West End Laneway 2.0

Vancouver’s West End Laneway 2.0

These new infill developments could be an excellent way to increase the density of the West End with minimal impact.  Due to previous zoning guidelines that allowed the high-rises that exist today, concerns about maintaining open space led to the use of floor-area-ratios. Typically higher buildings were tolerated if the building footprint was reduced.  While this did have the effect of maintaining open space, it almost did too well of a job.  The lack of continuity for the West End street wall with large set-backs and can make it seem empty in certain places.

Large Setbacks can make the West End Feel Empty

Large Setbacks can make the West End Feel Empty

Minimum parking zoning requirements also had a large impact dictating West End development patterns. Building development was (and still is in some areas) guided by arbitrary minimum levels of off-street parking based on the number of units per building.  According to a TransLink 2012 study, a single structured parking stall averages $20,000-$45,000 construction costs per stall.  These costs get absorbed into the cost of the unit increasing the cost of housing. This increase of housing cost is actually not warranted, the TransLink study of apartment buildings also found that parking supply often exceeds demand by 18-35%.  This is especially pertinent when 40% of people in the West End walk to work and only 31% of people drive to work.

Most of the infill permitted under the West End plan will involve the surface parking lots tucked away next to lane-ways that were created as a result of high parking requirements.  Not only will the West End Community Plan eliminate the eye sore and underutilized surface parking lots. It will also introduce a small scale incremental development that both completes the street-wall but also reinvigorates life into the lanes and increases the return on investment from our public infrastructure.

To outline what this could potentially look like, the development sign above belongs to the property below.

Building Property with Proposed Infill

Building Property with Proposed Infill

This is the proposed infill site, a surface parking lot that does not create value and is an inefficient use of valuable land.

Building Laneway Parking Lot

Building Laneway Parking Lot

This is what the parking lot could be replaced with.

Rendering of the Proposed Infill

Rendering of the Proposed Infill

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology

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