West End tower proposal returns to Vancouver City Hall during public hearing
A controversial West End tower proposal is back in city council chambers this week, as a public hearing takes place nearly two years after the project was put on hold.
City staff say the revised rezoning and development permit application for 1401 Comox Street contains “significant changes” from the original proposal, including a reduced height from 216 feet to 200 feet, a repositioned building to reduce shadowing effects on surrounding areas, and a larger green space for public use.
But some of the West End residents that spoke against the proposal during the first night of the public hearing Monday (June 11) evening argued the changes won't appease community concerns.
City staff, who are recommending approval of the project, say the 22-storey, 186-unit rental building proposed for 1401 Comox Street would generate purpose-built rental apartments in a neighbourhood where such units have not been built for decades. The project was originally submitted in 2009 under the STIR (Short-Term Incentives for Rental) program.
Developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank Projects Corp. said rental housing in the area “has to replenished”.
“There really hasn’t been anything in the last 20, 30 years,” he told council during a presentation.
Architect Gregory Henriquez described the market rental units as fitting “right in the middle of the housing continuum”.
“They’re a meaningful addition to our housing stock,” he said.
According to city staff, the purpose-built rental units are intended to provide “an affordable alternative to homeownership” and are targeted at moderate income households. Housing policy planner Dan Garrison said moderate income, as defined by the city’s task force on housing affordability, is considered as between $21,500 to $86,500.
Some speakers questioned that target, and whether the proposed rents will be affordable for a range of West End residents.
“It’s a bizarre amount you’ve come up with, because a person making $21,000 is on a completely different financial level than somebody making over $80,000,” said Terry Martin, who ran on the Neighbourhoods for Sustainable Vancouver slate during the November 2011 civic election.
Christine Ackermann, the president of the West End Residents’ Association, said while the proposal will deliver the first rental project in the community in 40 to 50 years, she argued the project “doesn’t adequately address affordability”.
Ackermann proposed that council lower the building costs of the site by reducing the parking and setting aside a portion of the suites to fit the median income of West End residents. She said the median income per household in the community is $38,500.
“Nine hundred and fifty for a one-bedroom is what we could afford for the median income in our community,” she said. “If you just direct the developer to say we need some affordability in this building, you can do that – council can do that right now.”
The units are expected to rent for between $860 to $1,209 for a studio suite, $1,128 to $1,465 for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,611 to $1,988 for a two-bedroom, and $2,320 to $2,541 for a three-bedroom townhouse.
Randy Helten, who spoke on behalf of the West End Neighbours, requested that council send the proposal back to the applicant “to come back with something more acceptable for the community”.
Helten criticized the “huge increase in density and height” proposed in the application, and the use of “spot rezonings” before the city’s community planning process for the West End has been completed.
“The staff report reads more like a justification of the proposed development, rather than an objective analysis of the impacts and benefits of the proposal,” he argued.
Council also heard from speakers that were in support of the rezoning application, including Dean Malone, a resident of the West End for the last 15 years and a former co-chair of the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee.
“With 80 percent of our community as renters, we have continued to live in housing stock built through the 60’s and 70’s, with few new options through the 80’s and onwards,” he said.
“One hundred and eight-six apartments at 1401 Comox will be filled with people who live and shop in the West End, with many of them working in our own community.”
The rezoning application from Henriquez Partners Architects, on behalf of Westbank Projects and the Peterson Investment Group, is to increase the density at 1401 Comox Street from 1.50 to 7.19 floor-space ratio (FSR). The 17,292 square feet site, which was until recently occupied by the St. John’s United Church, is located at the northwest corner of Comox and Broughton Streets.
The application includes a landscaped public open space along Comox Street, with a children’s play area, a community garden, and an open lawn with seating. Six units in the building will be allotted to seniors for a minimum of five years under the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters Program.
A development cost levy of approximately $1.4 million has been waived given that the development application was submitted before the end of the STIR program, according to city staff. The application was put on hold in August 2010 to allow further consultation with the West End community.
Over 65 speakers had signed up to speak at the public hearing as of Monday night. The hearing is scheduled to resume on Wednesday (June 13) evening at 6 p.m.