A new fight is brewing over a Chinatown parking lot that has become ground zero for one of the most contentious development battles in Vancouver.
The latest proposal for 105 Keefer Street has generated a fresh wave of opposition from advocates of the historic neighbourhood.
On its fifth attempt to get a plan approved by the city to redevelop the property into a condo building, builder Beedie Living appears to be in the same situation in which it found itself when it made an initial application in 2014.
The developer has yet to win over a community fearful about the loss of the livability and character of their neighbourhood.
“We’re disappointed,” Jannie Leung of the Chinatown Action Group told the Georgia Straight about the new submission.
According to Leung, the latest proposal involving a nine-storey building with 111 condo units will not do the community any good amid the housing crisis in Vancouver.
“We need 100 percent social housing at that site,” Leung said.
In order to deliver housing at welfare and seniors’ pension rates, the Chinatown Action Group organizer said that the city can either buy the property or make a land swap with the developer.
Three years ago, Beedie Living applied for rezoning of the northeast corner of Keefer and Columbia streets for the development of a 13-storey building with 137 condos.
The application was revised three times before it went to council for public hearing. In its last iteration before council rejected the submission on June 13, 2017, the proposal was for a 12-storey building with 106 condos and 25 housing units to be purchased from the developer by B.C. Housing.
On July 14, Beedie Living, through Houtan Rafii, vice-president for residential development, announced that it had filed a new application responding to what the company had heard from the public.
This time, the proposed nine-storey condo building falls within the maximum height limit set by existing zoning in the area.
Rafii did not grant the Straight an interview.
Unlike in a rezoning that requires a public hearing and approval by council, the current application will be reviewed by the development-permit board, which is composed of senior City of Vancouver executives.
Anita Molaro, assistant director of urban design with the City of Vancouver, explained that the board administers existing zoning regulations.
“They are not creating policy like council does,” Molaro told the Straight in a phone interview about how the development-permit approval process works in general, without reference to any specific project.
According to Molaro, most project proposals are recommended by staff for approval by the development-permit board.
Michael Tan is a volunteer director with a clan society that owns and operates the Chau Luen Tower at 325 Keefer Street, which provides below-market housing for seniors.
Tan noted that market-condo developments push up property values in the neighbourhood, which, in turn, increases property taxes. For operators of nonprofit housing facilities such as the Chau Luen Tower, this means increased costs.
“Our operating costs are already very high, and when you add on increasing property-tax assessments on top of that, it makes it very difficult to operate a nonmarket-housing complex,” Tan told the Straight by phone.
Fred Mah, chair of the Chinatown Society Heritage Buildings Association, has taken a look at the latest proposal by Beedie Living.
According to Mah, the location of the property will become one of the major approaches from the south to Chinatown when the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are finally removed, and so any new development there should make a statement about being a part of the gateway to the historic neighbourhood.
From what he has seen so far, Mah told the Straight by phone, the current proposal doesn’t provide a good fit with its surroundings, which include the Chinatown Memorial Plaza, Chinese Cultural Centre, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
Although Chinatown advocates were successful in defeating the previous attempt by Beedie Living to rezone the site, Mah acknowledged that the odds are different this time. The matter is now out of the hands of politicians in council, and public opinion may no longer trump the forces of development.More