East Fraserlands’ fate down to 5 plans

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

URBANISM I Residents respond to architect ‘shaking the box’

Kim Pemberton

CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun Architect Richard Hulbert (from left), group leader Marina Khouri, and Andres Duany, Miami-based new urbanism designer credited with reviving the classic American small town, worked together on plans for the East Fraserlands.

Miami new urbanism guru Andres Duany is gone now, after helping to create five potential community plans for one of the last large chunks of industrial land left in Vancouver to be re-developed.

But the general public will have to wait a bit before these five master plans for the southeast corner of Vancouver, known as East Fraserlands, are made public, and months before the final one is selected.

What is known for certain is the height of proposed residential towers — dropped to 14 storeys from 28, a “town centre” will be included, mixing residential and retail, and a nature walk will connect the shoreline from the West Fraserlands, through the site and into Burnaby.

WesGroup and Parklane, the developers who own the 126 acres known as East Fraserlands, say they are reviewing the five plans before seeking wider public input.

“We’re fine-tuning all five plans with the intent of going out to the public with the pros and cons of all five hopefully by early June,” says WesGroup president Gino Nonni, adding once a final plan is selected they will begin an economic feasibility study before seeking city council approval.

“We have to get everyone, all the stakeholders — the community, the city, parks, to all agree on one plan that serves everyone best.”

He expects the process will go relatively quickly with a final ratification decision by the summer of 2006. When completed in 15 to 20 years, the site will be home to about 10,000 people.

Chief city planner Larry Beasley says he was very impressed with the recent design process which generated “five excellent schemes — any one of which would be worth pursuing.”

“That’s unusual, to have all five with high merits,” he says.

Beasley says he was also pleased the nearby residents were able to play a significant role in ensuring East Fraserlands will “be a model for creating a green neighbourhood.”

“They did influence the results,” he says, noting another example of the community’s input concerned tower heights.

“At the end of the day Andres [Duany] indicated to the community he would look to them to help identify where the (14-storey) towers should be. That is a real compliment to them to have an architect of his calibre feel they would know best.”

Nonni says that while the developers’ first plan called for towers 28 storeys high and they are now only 14, it is still to be determined where they will be located in the final plan, taking into consideration the city’s view corridor guidelines.

Duany, a Princeton- and Yale-educated architect best known for reviving the classic American small town, was in Vancouver recently to help lead an intensive consultation process known as a “design charrette” that involved members of the nearby communities of Champlain Heights, Collingwood and Fraserview.

Twelve of his staff, including urban planners and landscape architects, worked with the community; and local support people from the city and the Vancouver-based architectural firm the Hulbert Group to come up with what likely will be the master plan for the site.

“I have the highest opinion of Vancouver,” Duany said in a interview last week in Vancouver, on the final day of the charrette. “It’s done two things. It has incorporated traditional urbanism with modernist architecture. We love new buildings in older cities. This makes it an extremely harmonious city.”

Duany says of the five plans created two are highly detailed, but he says neither of these two “top contenders” is his favourite plan.

“It’s not what I think or prefer,” says Duany, who refused to say which plan he liked best, adding “it’s nothing you haven’t done before.”

Duany says he will now become less involved in the project, with local architect Richard Hulbert assuming the full reins.

Hulbert says Duany’s group and the charrette provided an opportunity for all of the major stakeholders to come together to voice concerns and be part of the design process.

“His group is forcing everyone to consider ideas that wouldn’t be considered.

“Their role is to shake the box,” says Hulbert, who says it is still too early in the process to eliminate some of the ideas generated during the charrette.

But Hulbert, whose 30-year-old firm specializing in waterfront developments created Concord Pacific Place, Coal Harbour and the original New Westminster Quay development, says his own objective is to help create a “diverse public realm [in East Fraserlands] that is a true benefit to the citizens of Vancouver.

“My interest is to make some of the public realm not only benefit the people who live there but everyone.”

He adds that the south-facing, working riverfront site is ideal for creating a “walkable” community that will have many ground-oriented residential units, schools, a community centre and town centre focus.

“It’s a significant piece of land — one of the biggest remaining parcels. Some people say it’s just the edge of Vancouver but edges are important. It’s part of the city’s frame. It’s one of the city gateways,” says Hulbert.

“The magic of this is combining best urban living with resort living. You could come home at night and feel like you are on holiday. . . . If you were to describe the perfect lifestyle it would be tough to come up with something better than this.”

Sharon Saunders, chair of the East Fraserlands committee, which represents residents from the nearby area, says the community wants a focus on family housing and ensuring the project is environmentally sustainable.

“I don’t know what the developers will come back with,” Saunders says of the five plans being fine-tuned.

“Is this plan going to match our community concerns and be something the developers can deliver?”

Saunders also wondered whether it is fair to ask one developer to “take on the burden of creating a town centre.”

“Is it buildable under these current economic realities?”

But Nonni says the town centre proposal, which is included in all five plans, is one aspect the developers are “extremely excited about.”

“This is Duany’s theory of successful urbanism — a place where people can live, work and play. People want a sense of place where they can meet for exercise, dinner, coffee . . . We’re planning on doing it [creating the town centre] in the first phase. It’s a wonderful feature to attract both commercial and residential [buyers].

“We wouldn’t be going forward if we didn’t feel it was a positive economic horizon.”

Beasley says that while it’s important to create a commercial high street in the area, giving residents such key services as grocery and drug stores for instance, he wouldn’t want the neighbourhood to necessarily become a draw for people outside the area.

“You don’t want to create a traffic problem,” he says.

“We would want to be careful not to set it up as a city-wide destination.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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