Controversial Chinatown condo project draws opposing views from two Vancouver civic advisory bodies

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      The latest version of a controversial Chinatown condo project has split two City of Vancouver civic advisory committees.

      The Urban Design Panel (UDP) and the Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee (CHAPC) have arrived at different views regarding the proposed development that would incorporate current addresses 105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia Street.

      The project is in an area considered by community members and their supporters to be a focal point in the historic neighbourhood. The development site is adjacent to the Chinatown Memorial Plaza. Across Columbia Street are the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

      In a meeting on January 11, the UDP supported the plan by the Beedie Group to construct a condo building. The CHAPC, for its part, met a day later and decided not to support the plan.

      Chinatown heritage advocate Melody Ma noted that this twist puts two panels—one of which has deep ties to the community—at odds with each other.

      Members of the CHAPC include representatives from the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, the Chinese Cultural Centre, the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society of Vancouver, as well as property owners.

      The issue, according to Ma, is whose opinion will prevail when city staff put together their recommendations on the Beedie Group proposal to rezone the property at the northeast corner of Keefer and Columbia streets.

      “It’s an interesting question,” Ma told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Now in its fourth iteration, the rezoning application will be decided by council at a later date.

      Filed on December 12, 2016, the latest version proposes a 12-storey mixed-use building that will have 110 condo units from levels three to 12, 25 units of social housing for seniors on the second floor, and commercial spaces and a cultural space for seniors at the ground level.

      The latest application features a number of changes from the one submitted on April 15, 2016. One is a reduction of floors, from 13 to 12. The building’s height was also reduced by five feet, from 120 feet to 115 feet. As well, the number of condo units was reduced from 119 to 110.

      In that previous application, the developer had proposed that 68 percent of the 119 condos would be two- or three-bedroom units, which are suited for small families. In the latest revision, only 37 percent of the 110 condos will be two- or three-bedroom units.

      The original rezoning application for a 13-storey building was filed on September 18, 2014, with a revised version for that filed almost a year later, on September 3, 2015.

      At deadline, the minutes of the UDP meeting on January 11 this year were not yet available on the city’s website. The panel had twice rejected the proposal. Among the points agreed on by panel members in a June 1, 2016, meeting were that the building was “too tall” and that the “ ‘spirit’ of Chinatown and the contemporary reinterpretation of history were not evident in the design”.

      Minutes of the January 12, 2017, meeting of the CHAPC were also not immediately available. In a previous meeting on November 10, 2015, the committee did not support the development because of its height. Based on records of that meeting, the committee also noted that the proposal “did not fully recognize the sensitivity of the site”.

      In August last year, Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan joined Chinese veterans and Chinatown leaders in calling on all levels of government to acquire and develop the site for the community. They proposed the building of housing for low-income seniors and intergenerational community space.

      In a media release about the event, the Chinatown Concern Group noted that since 2008, almost 800 market-housing units have been developed in the neighbourhood, while 22 nonmarket-housing units were built in the same period.

      According to the group, the rezoning application by the Beedie Group will “only add to the development pressure and gentrification in the neighbourhood”.

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