Vancouver city council narrowly approves rezoning for 258 secured rental units in tower on former Denny's site

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      Vancouver politics doesn't always fit into a neat left-right dichotomy. Especially when it comes to adding homes in a city in the throes of a rental-housing crisis.

      Today, six members of council voted in favour of a staff recommendation to approve a 28-storey tower at 2538 Birch Street on the city's West Side.

      Three of them were with the NPA: Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato, and Sarah Kirby-Yung. One was Green councillor Michael Wiebe. OneCity councillor Christine Boyle and Mayor Kennedy Stewart also voted in favour.

      This group of six felt that the inclusion of 258 secured rental units for people on moderate incomes justified the project's scale on a former Denny's restaurant site.

      According to the city's general manager of planning, urban design, and sustainability, Gil Kelley, there was not going to be any land lift for Jameson Development Corporation.

      More than 100 people signed up to speak to council during a contentious public hearing.

      Some claimed that the developer was going to reap a windfall. 

      Michael Mortensen, the director of Liveable City Planning, took them on over social media.

      Even though he wasn't an insider, he created a pro forma indicating that the developer would lose money on the secured rental units—a point that went unacknowledged by the project's critics.

      He even held a free pro forma workshop online on July 20 to reinforce his argument that this project would offer "significant affordable housing wins for Vancouver".

      Today, Mortensen celebrated council's vote with a tweet saying that this would bring 5,800 unit years of below-market homes for Vancouver residents.

      New axis on council

      The five who voted against the rezoning application came from three parties.

      Green councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry, NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick, COPE's Jean Swanson, and independent Rebecca Bligh all felt that the negatives outweighed the positives. Some of the speakers at the public hearing argued that the project would lead to higher land costs in the area, increasing the likelihood of more larger projects and higher rents in the Fairview neighbourhood.

      The vote reveals a deep divide in the Green and NPA caucuses, given that this was a watershed moment regarding the city's housing policy.

      That's because 12 storeys were added to the project under the Moderate Rental Housing Pilot Program after an earlier rezoning had been approved in 2018.

      The city's Vancouver Development Cost Levy By-Law No. 9755 states that a for-profit housing project can obtain a development-cost levy waiver if average rents remain below:

      * $1,242 per month for a studio unit;

      * $1,561 for a one-bedroom unit;

      * $1,972 for a two-bedroom unit;

      * and $2,338 for a three-bedroom unit.

      It's clear from the vote that a new political axis has emerged on Vancouver council.

      The supply siders—Stewart, Boyle, De Genova, Dominato, Kirby-Yung, and Wiebe—slightly outnumber their opponents.

      This episode demonstrates that the time to pay attention to party labels may be coming to an end at Vancouver City Hall.

      This is particularly true for those who feel there's a need for a whole lot more rental housing units.

      Homeowners who don't want to see upzoning, on the other hand, may find in the future that they have friends in Swanson, Bligh, Carr, Fry, and especially Hardwick.

      That's because since being elected in 2018, Hardwick has emerged as the most vociferous critic of adding density in parts of Vancouver. 

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