Leaders of about a dozen Chinatown business and community groups are asking city council to approve a new policy to allow construction of higher buildings in the historic downtown area.
At a news conference in Chinatown today (March 10), representatives of 11 business groups and community associations signed a letter to council asking them to approve the Historic Area Height Review.
A public hearing is scheduled for next Thursday (March 17) on the Chinatown zoning changes proposed in the plan.
Business leaders say the policy would bring much-needed economic revitalization to the area.
“At one time, Chinatown was the epicentre of the Chinese community, however Chinatown’s businesses have fallen on hard times, as evidenced by the numerous vacant storefronts,” said Jordan Eng, vice president of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association.
Eng said over 10 years of uncertainty about future development in the neighbourhood has also led to the deterioration of some buildings.
“From a business perspective, right now we’re hamstrung,” he told reporters. “Vacant stores are there because business is tough, but also”¦they can’t make long-term commitments until they know what happens, and making a decision on the HAHR creates a certainty people can move forward with.”
The Historic Area Height Review was separated into two parts on January 20, when council voted to delay a decision on proposed zoning changes in the Downtown Eastside while a land use area plan is developed by a community committee.
Social housing activists have said they want to see Chinatown included in the area plan.
Groups such as the Carnegie Community Action Project have voiced concerns that zoning changes in Chinatown could displace low-income residents if rents increase in the neighbourhood following new development.
Fred Mah, the chair of the Chinese Society Heritage Buildings Association, argued low-income single room occupancy (SRO) accommodation won’t be impacted by new development in the region due to city policies such as a one-for-one replacement for single-room accommodation.
Eng said he’s hoping community contributions from developers could be directed to improving conditions at some of the older Chinatown buildings.
Thomas Tam, the CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a social service organization that works mainly with immigrants, said he hopes new development in Chinatown could lead to more social and seniors housing units through public, private and nonprofit investment.
“There’s no single party that can help to solve the housing problem,” he said. “We have to go to the government, the private developers, as well as the non-profit organizations to work together to increase the senior and affordable housing supply.”
Tam said his organization receives about five to seven inquiries a day on housing issues.
The Historic Area Height Review proposes a rezoning policy for Chinatown South, which includes an area just south of Pender Street to Union Street, and from Quebec Street to Gore Avenue.
The policy would change the maximum building height in the area to 120 feet, and could lead to up to five buildings of 150 feet along Main Street, south of Keefer. The current height restriction for the area is 90 feet.
Brent Toderian, the city's director of planning, said developers would be subject to individual rezoning processes under the proposed rezoning policy.
Groups supporting the policy include the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, the Chinatown Society Heritage Buildings Association and the Vancouver Chinatown Merchant’s Association.
The public hearing will take place at Vancouver City Hall on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
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