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Town Centre tribulations

The City of Delta’s Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie, said “The community in Tsawwassen is supportive of a re-build of the Town Centre and other areas that are aging. We just have to do it right.

The City of Delta’s Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie, said “The community in Tsawwassen is supportive of a re-build of the Town Centre and other areas that are aging. We just have to do it right.”

Harvie’s quote in the Optimist surprised me because I was at the open house and it seemed the majority in attendance were not supportive of the project.

Reasons given were ugly design, too many floors, it will create canyons of darkness, too many people with more cars, wood-frame construction is bad and we don’t need more housing in Tsawwassen.

I will argue two of these points. And give some credence to one. The first is easy. Without a doubt we need more ‘affordable’ and ‘inclusive’ housing everywhere, even in upscale Tsawwassen.

A percentage of affordable units (maybe 20 per cent) should be mixed throughout the building, be smaller (475 to 565 sq. ft.) and have durable but non-luxury finishings. Those with financial means can rent the larger high-end units.

Point two: I asked an established architect-planner about wood-frame versus concrete construction.

His response: “In many ways six-storey wood-frame construction is superior to concrete. It’s significantly less expensive, around $75 per sq. ft. less, plus wood frame buildings generally resist earthquake forces better than any other form of construction.

“Wood construction, using a renewable resource, is much more environmentally sensitive than concrete, where the production of steel and Portland cement are very energy consuming.

“Codes require a specified level of sound attenuation between suites, and between suites and common areas. These standards are equally achievable in both modern wood frame construction and concrete, i.e. there’s no difference if constructed properly.

“Same with fire safety. There are a number of requirements for six-storey wood-frame buildings that are additional to what is required for more traditional four-storey construction that ensure fire safety. Note that walls in concrete construction are light steel frame, not concrete.  It’s actually harder to achieve fire resistance ratings than it is in wood frame, i.e., wood frame walls are inherently more fire resistive than light steel frame. In the early days of six storey wood frame construction there was a serious issue with fire during construction. Since a fire at a construction site in Vancouver a few years ago, this has been solved.”

As to the design... I agree it could use some tweaking to offset the big block appearance, but to keep the six stories for affordability. Maybe an interesting false front borrowed from the charmed European streetscapes of narrow buildings with various colours, windows and roof facades.

I also agree it would be good to see sketches of the entire vision, not just one stage at a time.

A recent letter to the editor referred to the building as “housing for the proletariat.” I can only hope this writer was referring (unfairly) to the design of the old Soviet block apartments and not to the good folks who will rent there some day.

I liked Sean Hodgins’ comment in response to the City’s request. “If you are looking for someone to accept a bottomless pit of Tsawwassen critique, I’m your man. I’m very used to public process, so I don’t take it personally. I will re-work things as needed.” 

We are fortunate Mr. Hodgins has such a thick skin.

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