There is a monumental shift occurring in the local residential development scene over something called Floor Area Ratio.
Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is a new way of setting density when building a new development in that the standard density per hectare is replaced by a formula based on the square footage of the lot. This formula was supposed to control the mass and size of the building on the lot by making the buildings footprint shrink as the height increases. Basically meaning at a FAR of 1.0 the building can cover 100 per cent of the lot with one story, ,two stories can cover 50 per cent of the lot, three stories can only cover 33 per cent of the lot etc. Meaning as the building gets taller, the building gets skinnier. An excellent solution to large, tall buildings that would blot out existing views.
The problem in Campbell River is that the developers are using FAR with existing zoning rules regarding height and lot coverage. Basically they are combining the existing bylaw regulations that work in their favour while using “work arounds” involving Text Amendments to the bylaws to use FAR to avoid the limits on density, while keeping the existing rules on height and maximum lot coverage.
The best of both worlds for a developer. This is not the intent of FAR or the existing Bylaws. FAR was the issue in the hotly contested 2261 Dalton Rd. The developer in that case requested a FAR
Text Amendment to increase the density of the development. Even though the City Planning Dept. recommended it not happen the City approved it anyways. In this case the developer received a FAR of 1.0 meaning they could build 100 per cent of the lot’s area and fill it with as many units as possible, totally ignoring the density per hectare density regulations for the RM-3 zoning. The same situation is occurring at 741 Birch St. only this time the developer is seeking a Text Amendment to allow for a FAR of 3.0 with no real controls on building mass. This lot is already RM-4 which is the highest density allowed in the Residential zoning. still the developer wants to increase the density by at least 30 per cent. over the maximum allowed. With strategic combined use of FAR and present density bonuses the developer could increase the amount of units up to almost 100 per cent more than allowed under the present density rules of RM-4. It should be noted that under existing zoning where FAR is used to set density in Residential areas, FAR is capped at 1.5, not 3.0. The original rezoning from R-1 to RM-4 at 741 Birch was allowed because the original developer worked with the neighbourhood to design a building that would not be any taller in relation to Birch St than an R-1 residential house would be. A suitable compromise for both the residents and the developer. The mistake at that time was not limiting the height allowed under RM-4 for this specific lot, a mistake on our part and the City’s that is now being exploited by the new developer. Not reining in developers over this will result in gigantism, the developer at this point is encouraged to put the biggest building possible on the lot, regardless of existing density regulations or whether it suits the OCP. It will also result in creeping decimal-ism as the next developer will only ask for a little bit more than the last one got. As my Dad used to say “they are trying to put 10lbs of manure in a 5 lb bag”
The new building at 850 Dogwood street is a good comparison. Even as large as it is, it has a FAR of 1.5, imagine a building allowed a FAR of 3.0, doubling the density of 850 Dogwood dropping into your Residential neighbourhood and the infrastructure and traffic issues to go with it. The 741 Birch St. development is on what was a Residential house lot, so if you think this won’t happen in your neighbourhood, please think again. The development at 741 Birch has progressed to point of no return, but for the residents who will be involved in the next zoning battle there is still time. As the public meeting is completed, the Mayor and Council cannot receive any new information or comments on 741 Birch St. but you can still make your comments and concerns known to the Planning Department. In our situation it is too late, “you can stick a fork in us, because were done.” We consider that anything we have done can’t save us, but can save the next victims.
So when that ominous blue sign appears in your neighbourhood asking for a rezone or FAR Text Amendment, please make your opinions and concerns known to City Council and Planning. Save yourselves while there is still time. Don’t be complacent or think that the City and the Planning Department has your best interests in mind. If they did, 2261 Dalton would not have been approved.