Development permit board delays issuing ruling on 105 Keefer Street application

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      Beedie Living and a multitude of its opponents will have to wait a while before learning the fate of the company's fifth application for a project in Chinatown.

      The Vancouver development permit board decided to delay issuing a ruling until next month on the company's proposed nine-storey condo tower at 105 Keefer Street.

      This came after a huge crowd showed up at Vancouver City Hall on Monday (October 30) to register their opposition.

      Beedie Living says its proposed nine-storey condo tower fits within the existing zoning, but local activists say the project will promote greater gentrification in Chinatown.

      On October 27, the city's general manager of planning, urban design, and sustainability, Gil Kelly, wrote a memo to the mayor and council noting that the city and B.C. Housing had engaged in discussions with the Beedie Development Group.

      They talked about a potential land swap or outright city purchase of the 105 Keefer Street site.

      "Beedie was an active and willing participant in this discussion," Kelly wrote. "Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach an agreement on any option."

      All four members of the development permit board advisory committee spoke in favour of Beedie's application at the meeting.

      But their voices were in the minority as a long list of speakers criticized various aspects of the proposal, as well as the city's planning process.

      The tweets below offer an indication about the mood of those attending the meeting and the messages that were sent to senior city staff who sit on the development permit board.

      The NDP MP for Vancouver East, Jenny Kwan, is among those who oppose Beedie's proposal. Parliament is in session and she didn't attend the meeting but sent the following letter to the board:

      To the Development Permit Board and Director of Planning,

      I am writing to oppose the development application for 105 Keefer, a site of enormous historic and cultural significance located in Vancouver's historic Chinatown neighbourhood in my riding of Vancouver East.

      105 Keefer is directly adjacent to the Chinatown Memorial Square, which houses the historically significant monument commemorating the Chinese railway workers and WWII Veterans. This Memorial depicts the history of Chinese Canadians in Canada and is profound in its meaning to our community.

      It is surrounded by the Chinese Cultural Centre, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden, and the Andy Livingstone Park; all of which are important cultural sites and spaces for the Chinatown community. 105 Keefer borders the National Historic Site on East Pender Street where valuable heritage buildings are located. Because of its location, 105 Keefer also serves as a gateway site to Chinatown. All these factors combined make 105 Keefer a uniquely significant site within a culturally sensitive neighbourhood.

      As you know, ongoing immense development pressure is having a direct impact on Chinatown even though Chinatown is a recognized National Historical Site. Chinatown bears witness to this nation's history and showcases its diverse cultural traditions.  As such, that recognition should mean more than just installation of plaques. Action needs to be taken by all levels of government in partnership with the community to honour that recognition. Both infrastructure and programming support are needed. Unfortunately, this proposed development will do little to contribute to the needs of the community in both respects.  

      For our community, historic Chinatown is experienced, through both its physical structures, and its ambience. When our community thinks about protecting the heritage of Vancouver's Chinatown, the size, scale and architecture of the exterior of the building is just as important as the use of the building. When community members think about the ambience of Chinatown, we are envisioning a Chinatown vibrant with aromatic food stalls, similar to the food streets in Hong Kong and China. We are imagining a hub of intergenerational activities, where elders share stories of the past, teach the youth various traditions and the secret of how to make homemade Chinese delicacies in celebration of different cultural festivals, or play mah-jong together.

      Jenny Kwan speaks at the Chinatown Memorial, which is adjacent to the site of Beedie Living's proposed nine-storey condo tower.
      Gabriel Yiu

      There has been strong momentum in current revitalization efforts by community members to guide changes to Chinatown in a way that honours the area’s historic significance and community vision for the neighbourhood. Some of the dedicated members of our community even envision Vancouver's Chinatown designated a UNESCO world heritage site, and they have been working hard to try to realize this dream. There is currently a robust fundraising effort to establish an intergenerational drop-in space for Chinese youth and seniors. 

      To truly honour the history of Chinatown, many of my constituents want to see our community build on our capacity to learn from and care for its elders, and they want to see a community that can support young families. Many of the current residents of Chinatown are seniors now, and are living in substandard housing. Those seniors, and the businesses that serve them are in perpetual danger of being displaced by the ongoing developments. I therefore feel very strongly that every development in Chinatown matters, and should prioritize affordable housing and services for seniors and families.

      The current development application for 105 Keefer offers only 111 market units and a limited community space. It is not at all aligned with community priorities and needs. Social and rental housing geared for seniors and low-income residents have been loudly and repeatedly voiced as one of the most needed amenities for Vancouver Chinatown. When the last rezoning application was denied, a media statement was released where the developer has pledged to work with the community in shaping a new application. In the rejected application, there were 25 units which could be purchased by BC Housing and used for low-income seniors housing. While this was already woefully inadequate in a community where there is a desperate need for safe affordable housing for low income individuals, even this small token for government to purchase social housing units from the developer was removed in the current application. 

      I recognize that the developer is not obliged to provide affordable housing on the site, that said, it is deeply disappointing that the developer did not incorporate social housing opportunities on the site to reflect the spirit and desires of the community.   I note also that since 2014, the developer has put forward five development applications for 105 Keefer, with arguably minimal changes each time. 

      With the ongoing developmental pressures on Chinatown, City of Vancouver staff have been working with community members to re-evaluate the character and impacts of new buildings allowed under development policies adopted in 2011. A number of proposed changes have been made and are slated to be presented to City Council in the fall. Under the recommended new zoning policies for Chinatown, the development application for 105 Keefer would violate the maximum site frontage size, maximum density, maximum number of storeys allowed, and second-floor-use recommendations. Knowing that changes to Chinatown zoning policies may be forthcoming, approval of the current application would be very untimely. Out of respect for the community members’ time and effort, as well as the efforts of the City staff who have worked closely with them to develop these proposed policy changes, I believe that further development applications to the site should be stayed until City Council has voted on the proposed zoning policy changes.

      In the meantime, I respectfully ask that Council make every effort to explore options, in partnership with senior levels of government, to either purchase the site or to make a land swap with the development on this important site.

      The City has also made great investments to protect the neighbourhood through the Chinese Society Legacy Program. The Chinese Society Legacy Program is aimed at stabilizing the area's 12 heritage buildings as important heritage assets and cultural legacies. On May 20, 2017, the community celebrated the first of these renovations completed by the Mah Society, which has been recognized with a 2017 Heritage Award from the City. It would truly be a shame to put these hard fought victories at risk.

      In closing, I do not believe that the development application for 105 Keefer will contribute positively to the realization of this vision or add to the unique and distinct cultural identity of Chinatown. In fact, I feel that it will do the very opposite. For all the above mentioned reasons, I am writing once again in opposition of the development application of 105 Keefer. 

      Sincerely yours,

      Jenny Kwan
      MP, Vancouver East
      NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

      NDP Critic for Multiculturalism

      cc Mayor Robertson and Council