Harsh realities intersect at the Design Advisory Panel

This is part 2 of my post on the Design Advisory Panel meeting of May 13. A visit to the Design Advisory Panel Thurs. May 13 ’09

The committee is chaired by Gary Krastel and is made up of 2 architects: Ian Naimath and Jolyon Brown; 1 landscape architect: Jana Zalenski; a designer: Rueben Galdames; Heritage Commission representative: Joan Perry and at-large members: Robert Bollinger; Doug Bromage (also an architect). Staff liaison is Development Approval Planner, Gary Noble.

All new development permit applications are brought to this committee for review and “advice by way of recommendations to staff in its negotiations with applicants”.

The application being reviewed by the committee at this meeting was for a 20 unit multi-family development at 888 Bruce St. The site is directly across from the Harewood Arms Pub on Bruce at 8th.

A number of somewhat harsh realities intersect at this committee — primarily economic, political and aesthetic.

The applicant’s representatives presented drawings of the planned buildings (the detail was not yet on NanaimoMap on the City’s website when I was preparing this) and the landscaping plan. Planner Noble filled in some background and advised on zoning and Official Community Plan issues.

The panel asked a number of questions and the applicant was given a list of areas of concern — items to be addressed and the application brought back to the panel at a later date.

The discussion lead by the landscape architect was particularly interesting. As in other areas the panel addresses, the notion of “livability” was a focus. For instance she wondered what would be the home owner’s “experience” in sitting on a particular patio overlooking the parking lot. It lead to an interesting discussion about which plant materials would be best for shade, privacy, etc. Practicalities like how durable, how drought tolerant and how low maintenance the plant materials were, was an important consideration. At one point a panel member suggested that pavers would be nice instead of asphalt — not a this price point came the reply. Projects from financing through land acquisition to building design and landscaping are aimed at a target market. It’s one of those harsh realities.

There was a discussion of how the proposal did or didn’t create “streetscape” — both in the setback of the buildings themselves (this proposal just a few years ago probably would have had residents and visitor parking between the building and the street — this happily is now a no-no (let’s leave Port Place Mall out of the discussion for the moment)) and how the landscaping plan might or might not work with the City’s plan for sidewalk and boulevard treatments. How the project would impact its immediate surroundings in ways that could be described as practical (noise, exterior lighting, traffic, parking) and the more abstract areas of design and neighbourhood context.

The panel meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month and I’ll be posting its agenda here and following it’s work with interest.

Frank Murphy