Boffo Properties won't redevelop Kettle Society site after city demands up to $16 million

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      A major housing project at the corner of Venables Street and Commercial Drive has been cancelled.

      Boffo Properties announced that the City of Vancouver's demand for $6 million to $16 million in a cash community amenity contribution means it's "no longer economically feasible" to proceed with the redevelopment of the Kettle Society site.

      The Kettle Society offers outreach, housing, and drop-in services to the mentally ill.

      "As you know, The Kettle and Boffo had proposed the construction of 30 homes of supportive housing for people in our community with mental illness and other barriers, along with an expanded space for The Kettle’s many drop-in services and programs in Grandview Woodland," Kettle Society executive director Nancy Keough and developer Daniel Boffo wrote in a message to supporters. "The renewal of The Kettle Centre at Venables was to be financed by the construction of up to 200 units of market housing and 18,000 square feet of retail space."

      They explained that the Kettle Society would have owned its property on the redeveloped site.

      "Boffo had also planned to work with The Kettle to ensure that it could continue to provide its current community services uninterrupted during construction," Keough and Boffo added. "The renewal of our Drop-In Centre would have allowed a safe, inclusive and modern facility to serve our more than 5,000 clients."

      They had been working on this project for seven years, collecting thousands of pledges and letters of endorsement. 

      In 2016, 17 nonprofit societies and health-service providers signed an open letter saying they were "proud to support" the project.

      This came after residents in the area objected to the size and scope of the 12-storey development.

      Keough and Boffo stated that they are "devastated that our shared vision for a more inclusive community cannot become a reality".

      "The Kettle Boffo partnership—one that makes it possible to create both additional market and supportive housing in an inclusive community form—is an example of the type of innovative partnerships that have been approved before and that is encouraged by the City’s new Housing Strategy between developer and non-profit partners," Keough and Boffo pointed out. "These are the kind of approaches our city needs now more than ever to address the critical shortage of housing across the housing continuum, and the deficit in mental health services needed in our community."

      The arrival of a new chief planner, Gil Kelley, has coincided with new demands being placed on developers operating in different areas of Vancouver.

      City starting to turn screws on developers

      As an election looms, the City of Vancouver has been imposing higher demands on developers.

      It's popular with many voters, but Boffo is the first to publicly declare that it's walking away from a project because of this.

      Those demands have already escalated in the Cambie corridor after properties have sold for extremely high prices.

      There, the city has required that nearly one-quarter of the expected 32,000 new housing units be "below-market rentals and social housing".

      Today (June 20), council is scheduled to vote on a new financial demands being imposed on market-housing developers who apply to exceed existing zoning over a huge area around the proposed Millennium Line extension.

      In an area from Clark Drive to Vine Street, and from 16th Avenue to 1st Avenue, staff have recommended additional fees ranging from $330 to $425 per square foot for market residential unit space that exceeds existing zoning.

      If approved, this will replace the old process of negotiating community-amenity contributions for rezonings that go beyond what's permitted in the zoning schedule.

      Staff have also recommended a moratorium on market-housing rezoning applications in this area pending approval of the new policy, which isn't expected to occur until 2020.

      These measures have come forward since the city hired a former San Francisco city planner, Gil Kelley, in 2016 as its general manager of planning, urban design, and sustainability.

      In addition, council voted 8-3 last year to reject the Beedie Group's rezoning application to develop a 12-storey building in Chinatown in the face of fierce community opposition.

      When the Beedie Group came back with a nine-storey project that conformed to existing zoning rules, this too was vetoed in a 2-1 vote by the development permit board.

      Kelley and the general manager of engineering services, Jerry Dobrovolny, were opposed whereas the deputy city manager, Paul Mochrie, voted in favour.