Central Presbyterian Church provides a model for nonmarket rental housing

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Vancouver’s Central Presbyterian Church may be close to fulfilling its vision. In a trinity with a developer and an architect, it has proposed a 22-storey residential tower on the congregation’s more than 17,000-square-foot property, located at the corner of Thurlow and Pendrell streets in the West End.

Judging from Rev. Jim Smith’s tone on the line, the minister is pleased about the open house for the project held at his church on February 3.

“Two years ago, it was a concept and a dream,” Smith told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

In the summer of 2012, he spoke with the Straight about building a new church with apartments and condos above.

At that time, the church and Henriquez Partners Architects had drawn up an initial plan for a 21-storey building. The first three floors would have housed a new church and community spaces. The next four storeys would have been 42 apartments, mainly for seniors, whose rents would have been subsidized by the church. The revenue from the sale of condos occupying the top 14 floors of the building would have paid for these.

The church has also partnered with Bosa Properties. Last year, it submitted an application to rezone the property for an all-rental residential project.

“Without going into the details, it is a very harmonious relationship between the church and Bosa,” Smith said. “Technically, the church is the developer and Bosa is our construction partner.”

According to the proposal, the lower floors will have a new church, community spaces, and commercial and retail spaces. Above these will be 45 units of nonmarket rental apartments owned by the church. A total of 168 units of market rentals to be owned by Bosa will occupy the top floors of the residential tower.

“What we’re doing is leveraging the value of the land that we’re on, which is worth a fair amount,” Smith said. “We put the land into the project, and what we get back are air-space parcels that include the 45 apartments for nonmarket housing.”

Smith said more than 150 people registered for the February 3 open house. “Lots of enthusiasm. I think, in general, the response was very positive,” the minister said.

In 2012, Smith told the Straight that his congregation’s development concept could serve as a model for other urban churches wanting to provide more services to the faithful as well as the community at large.

Built in 1975, the church is shared by two other congregations. Several community groups also use the church for various activities.

“It’s a wondrous model. It’s a win-win-win,” Smith said. “The church is winning on this. Bosa is winning on this. The community is winning because the community is getting more rental stock and, in particular, affordable housing.”

But he also cautions other churches to be “careful” when entering into this area.

“If the church is into it just to build a building, then it’s a disaster,” he said.

Smith explained it this way: “For us, it’s not about the building. It’s about what we can do with the building, and that’s a subtle but powerful difference.”

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