City council approves height increases in Vancouver's Chinatown
Vancouver city council approved a proposal today (April 19) to allow higher buildings in Chinatown, following a lengthy public hearing on the issue that drew both support and strong opposition.
Over five nights of meetings on the issue and more than 100 speakers, councillors heard support from business leaders who said the plan will lead to economic revitalization, and opposition from many low-income residents and advocates concerned about the impacts of high-end towers in the area.
Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie introduced a motion calling for approval of the height review, with a minor amendment calling for “additional flexibility” to be granted when development applications include affordable housing.
The plan increases allowable building heights south of Pender Street to 9-storeys, and allows developers to seek council approval to build 12-storey buildings in Chinatown South, and 15-storey towers along the Main Street corridor.
Louie said the plan is part of an “ongoing effort” for economic revitalization in Chinatown.
COPE councillors David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth voted against the zoning changes, arguing high-rise development will have negative impacts on the community.
Cadman said the plan will cause pressure for development in the area that could drive up rents and displace the area’s low-income residents.
“It is going to have a spillover effect in terms of property speculation in the Downtown Eastside that...is going to be detrimental to the poorest community I think in the country, and is going to put social housing, the last frontier between homelessness in that community, at risk,” he told council.
“It’s going to put it at risk because rents are going to go up, it’s going to put it at risk because speculators are going to move in, and those people are going to be the people who suffer from this,” he added.
Mayor Gregor Robertson disagreed with Cadman’s view that the plan will unleash speculation in the area, and echoed former city planner Nathan Edelson’s description of the plan as an “honourable compromise”.
“It is by no means perfect for anyone involved, but I think it achieves many of the goals that the Chinatown neighbourhood has put forward and advocated for, and it will certainly create opportunity for that neighbourhood,” he said.
“Council will need to be very careful and thoughtful with the rezonings and land use decisions that ensue,” he added. “We have to protect affordability in the neighbourhood, we have to create more social housing and we have to support small business that serves the neighbourhood.”
Opponents of the height increases in the neighbourhood say they’ll continue to oppose high-end towers in the community, which they say will displace low-income residents in the area and small businesses that serve them.
“This is another nail in the coffin pushing the low-income community out,” said Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project.
CCAP coordinator Jean Swanson argued low-income Chinatown residents who spoke at the public hearing didn't appear to be considered as part of the neighbourhood.
“You know what really struck me there was how they didn’t include low-income residents in Chinatown who spoke as Chinatown community residents,” she said.
Swanson said the group will continue to work with everyone on the local area planning process, but said gentrification concerns are “huge”.
“If it pushes people out, which it will probably will, there’s going to be more homelessness,” she said.
Robertson said a local area plan for the region will be “absolutely crucial” to achieve goals around social housing and affordability.
The city voted to split the historic area height review into two sections on January 20, and delay proposed zoning changes in the Downtown Eastside until a local area plan is completed.
Woodsworth argued a local area plan should have been completed before the Chinatown heights decision.
“We could have waited until the local area plan was finished, and if it had started a few months ago, we would have seen something developed that represented the whole of the community,” she told the Straight following the hearing.
A coalition of Chinatown business organizations had sent a letter to city council prior to the public hearing urging them to pass the height review, which they said was the result of a decade of planning.