Urban Monsters

This is a guest post by Remo Pistor. Remo grew up in South Burnaby.  He moved to the West End of New West in 2003.  He’s passionate about the community he lives in and is interested in seeing New West have successful growth in areas such as small business and development while staying true to its heritage and character of its neighbourhoods.  Remo is an IT Manager for a small software development company, the tech guy behind his girlfriend’s fashion blog www.prairiegirlinthecity.com and all around tech wizard.  You can find Remo on twitter @remop

Edinburgh St. character homes. Photo: Remo Pistor.
Edinburgh St. character homes. Photo: Remo Pistor.

I bought a house in New West about 8 years ago, just as the housing prices were starting to rise and just before the market ballooned and went crazy.  I bought in the West End of New Westminster which I always describe to people as a mini Queens Park; a quaint, quiet neighbourhood with large lots and a lot of old character homes.  Even now you can find a nice house with a large yard for around $600,000.

In spite of City council being as progressive as a community of Amish, there are lots of positives to living in New West and I have really enjoyed living here.  You’re 30 minutes from everything, and you don’t need to cross a bridge or tunnel to get to Vancouver.  The neighbourhoods have lots of character, they’re quiet, and there are lots of parks and community areas.

I felt New West has always remained somewhat of a hidden gem, until lately.  Seems the word has gotten out to those interested in building new homes, and the word is that New West has reasonably priced lots (relative to other areas) and their building codes are far more lax than anywhere else.

Vancouver Special, coming up. Photo: Remo Pistor.
Vancouver Special, coming up. Photo: Remo Pistor.

Now I don’t want you to get me wrong; I’m not against new houses being built.  There are some absolutely beautiful homes being built, in keeping with the style of the neighbourhood. My problem is with the character destroyers or urban monsters that are being erected.  They have foundations wide and deep enough to support a small condo high-rise and even though you are legally allowed only one rental suite the basement has 2 entrances.  The giant wood cube structure built on top are built to their maximum allowable height with flat roofs and every window boxed out to avoid violating the maximum square footage bylaw.  They make no consideration for the character of the neighbourhood or their neighbours.

In my case, the house next to me, although it was built not long before I bought my house, it was built to maximize every last square inch.  On top of being a giant ugly box that destroys the character of the neighbourhood, it was built so close to the property line and so tall that even at the peak of summer it casts a shadow covering a quarter of my backyard.  In the winter my “lawn” has enough moss growing in it that I could keep the local craft stores supplied through to the next season.

What bugs me is that all the while that this destruction of our neighbourhoods is happening, the city does nothing to curb it (bad pun not intended).  Compounding the situation is an Official Community Plan that is disjointed and poorly put together.  In section 2.6 Heritage and Neighbourhood Character, New West identifies the importance of its heritage but really that’s it.  It states that residents and community need to be involved in the conservation of New West’s history and heritage buildings.  But, once again the city falls short in doing anything about the most important part, and that’s making sure there’s a policy that addresses new developments and construction staying true to the neighbourhood’s character.

In contrast, in Burnaby, they have a strong Official Community Plan that’s succinct and covers all aspects of the city.  In section 4.0 Residential, goal number three is: “To maintain and improve neighbourhood liveability and stability.”

It states in goal 3 that, “Residential neighbourhoods are important sub-units of the City. They serve as ‘building blocks’ creating a community through their diverse and distinctive characteristics.”  It goes on to state in the final point that, “Future plans for residential development, as they relate to residential neighborhoods, need to recognize the following… new development should respect the character of the neighborhood and protect those aspects that make each area unique.”

Why New Westminster is unable to take the same approach to protect the character of their neighbourhoods, which they so prominently display on their website, is beyond me.
At the end of the day, I don’t mind you building a large new house; I hope to be able to do the same one day, just have a little respect for your neighbours and your neighbourhood.
In the mean time, another house on my block has been knocked down and replaced with another Vancouver Special.