Vancouver city council has voted to approve a rezoning application for an infill development at the Beach Towers complex in the West End.
Following a public hearing attended by dozens of people, many of them opposed to the application, council voted 5-2 in favour of the project. Vision Vancouver councillors said the project will create much-needed secured rental housing in the neighbourhood.
“This is only the second all-purpose rental building built in a decade in the West End,” said Vision councillor Andrea Reimer. “For those of us who rent, there’s a very substantial pressure on rentals, and in the West End that’s felt more severely than anywhere else in the city, with a less than one percent vacancy rate.”
Green councillor Adriane Carr voted against the proposal, citing concerns raised by speakers at the public hearing, including density, livability, and affordability.
“In my calculation of the speakers at the public hearing, it was about seven to one opposed,” said Carr. “I believe our duty is to not just listen to the public, but to reflect the public’s will in our decisions.”
NPA councillor George Affleck, who also cast his vote against the project, argued the application should have been incorporated into the neighbourhood planning process currently underway for the West End.
The application for the Beach Towers expansion came forward under the Short-Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) Program. The infill development consists of a mix of low and mid-rise buildings, and will feature 133 rental units.
Council approved an amendment today to set the proposed rents for the new suites so the prices don’t increase during construction. The prices, as outlined in a staff report, range from $1,125 to $1,310 for a studio, $1,390 to $2,600 for a one-bedroom, and $1,900 to $2,720 for a two-bedroom. City staff said the project is intended to create an affordable alternative to home ownership for moderate income households.
Christine Ackermann, the president of the West End Residents Association, said while the members of her group support the construction of new market rental, they wanted to see more affordability created through the development.
Ackermann asked council last week to set prices for one third of the units at rates that are affordable for local residents. But city staff told council today that such a model typically requires government subsidy.
“I am disappointed that they lost this opportunity to inject some affordability into the West End,” Ackermann told the Straight by phone. “This is a large development and basically they’re saying that the market is going to create affordability...and I disagree.”
Vision Vancouver councillor and West End resident Tim Stevenson said his “hope and belief” is that the people moving into the new units will come from the neighbourhood, thereby freeing up existing housing for other local residents.
Ackermann disputed that prediction, arguing that the new units will likely draw more residents to the neighbourhood from other parts of the city.
Meanwhile, West End Neighbours spokesperson Randy Helten called today’s vote “an unfortunate but highly expected outcome”.
“This again is another step by city council that is eroding the trust in city hall, because we’re seeing another massive project going in, strongly resisted,” he said in a phone interview.
According to Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, the STIR program was intended to generate market rental units at a time when purpose-built rental was not being constructed.
“This component of market rental was a segment of the continuum of housing that we need within our city,” he said. “This fits with the original intent of what council was trying to accomplish.”
Councillors Elizabeth Ball, Heather Deal and Tony Tang abstained from today’s vote after being absent for part of the hearing.