Gabriel Yiu: The pursuit of profit in Chinatown

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      The rezoning application to increase the height and bulk of the building to be erected at 105 Keefer Street in Chinatown has become a hot issue in the Chinese community.

      Not only are the Chinese media reporting it, the two Chinese television stations’ weekly current affairs talk shows are talking about it. It is obvious that the Lao Qiao (Chinese Canadians who have settled in Canada for a long time) are concerned.

      The renowned Chinese Canadian architects, Bing Thom and Joe Wai, both expressed their opposition to the rezoning before they died. Wai was the architect who designed and built many of the Chinatown landmarks. Two days before he passed away, he attended the project’s open house while in sickness to oppose the project.

      Native-born Chinese youth are passionately defending Chinatown. They came from everywhere. They were organized and contributed in their own way to oppose the rezoning. It is quite moving to see these young people’s dedication and deep feelings for Chinatown. They don't want a tower right beside the Chinese memorial for the Chinese railway workers and veterans. They see this project’s huge impact on Chinatown and are aware of how it relates to Chinese Canadians’ history and dignity.

      I am a little surprised by the responses of the Xin Qiao (Chinese immigrants who landed in the past two decades). When I met with some of their community leaders, they were also eager to participate and help Chinatown. When they’re told about the Chinese Cultural Centre’s theatre building project, not only did they want to help raise funds to build the venue, they also offered to produce programs for the theatre in Chinatown.

      One community leader cited the Beijing Palace Museum as an example and questioned why the City of Vancouver would allow a tower beside the Chinese memorial, this one-of-a-kind structure in North America.

      The developer and his supporters have been finding different means to convince individual community organization leaders to support the rezoning. They said the developer could just build a 90-foot tower there with the existing zoning but then Chinatown would get no benefit. If they’re allowed to raise the height to 115 feet and increase the bulk, then Chinatown could benefit by getting 25 social housing units.

      How generous! What they are not telling us is the real reason for the developer’s perseverance to apply for rezoning again and again after being rejected.  

      The real reason is profit, and lots of it.  

      As stated on page 18 of the April 18, 2017 staff report to council:

      “The additional density achieved through the rezoning is approximately equal to the floor space of the social housing in the project. BC Housing has announced funding to purchase the 25 social housing units on the second floor, two vehicle parking stalls and an area for bicycle and scooter parking in Level P1… The City’s contribution is the additional density for the social housing.”

      The 25 social housing units plus the parking spaces are not a gift by the developer. They come from taxpayers’ money but the benefit goes to the developer.

      In Appendix H of the same report, it stated that the total amount of the Proposed Zoning in terms of Other Public Benefits Offered is in fact, zero!

      The developer’s firm is squeezing the 25 units plus a space called “Senior Private Amenity Space” into the second floor. In return, if its rezoning application is granted by city council, it gets an additional two storeys.  Each storey has four units, and they  are all luxury units.

      According to the info provided by real estate companies about the five-storey building beside the site, i.e. 133 Keefer, the list price of its top-floor is a staggering $4,880,000. The price for the building’s lower 3rd floor is $2,750,950.

      The 115-feet rezoned height of 105 Keefer would be double that of the Chinese Cultural Centre/Chinese Canadian Military Museum (60 feet) and that of the 100 East Pender New Sun Ah Building (55 feet) in front of it. Try to imagine how much the eight additional units on the two added storeys would be worth. No wonder the developer is so determined to obtain the rezoning. The question is, why would the council consider granting it?

      While the community and neighbourhood residents are voicing their concern about Chinatown’s gentrification, developers are seeing a great opportunity to build luxury condos in Chinatown. If the city would allow a tall tower beside the Chinese memorial, in the interest of profit, other Chinatown buildings would face immense redevelopment pressure and could subsequently be replaced.

      In terms of the height of the building, the illustrations that we have been seeing give the impression that the tower is merely a bit taller than the Chinese memorial. What the nice artistic drawing doesn’t show is that the projected 105 Keefer tower is in fact six times the height of the memorial.