Vancouver city council approved a rezoning application today (June 27) for a 22-storey rental building at 1401 Comox Street, following a public hearing and an over two-year process since the contentious proposal first came forward.
Vision Vancouver councillors voted in favour of the development, citing a need for purpose-built rental housing in the neighbourhood.
“I remain astounded that there are some who don’t think we need purpose-built rental in this city,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said before the council vote. “The reason that we need purpose-built rental in Vancouver is because the majority of people in Vancouver cannot afford to buy homes…It’s absolutely critical that we create more rental housing that is secure for the long-term.”
Green councillor Adriane Carr and Non-Partisan Association councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball voted against the project, citing the comments from over 60 speakers at the two-day public hearing, the majority of which were opposed to the proposal.
“Not only do we have overwhelming lack of support for this development in the West End, it’s not a development done right,” argued Affleck. “I’m not against density...but in this development, I feel we’ve let the community down.”
According to minutes from the public hearing, 25 people spoke in favour of the application, while 44 were opposed to the development.
“I don’t believe it achieves what we intend the STIR program to achieve, which is truly affordable housing, and I also don’t think that it’s warranted to allow this zoning based on the impacts on livability—not only the immediate liveability of the area, but more importantly the liveability of the West End,” said Carr.
The project, which will be located at the northwest corner of Comox and Broughton Streets, will consist of 186 units targeted at moderate income households.
The units are expected to rent for between $860 to $1,209 for a studio suite, $1,128 to $1,465 for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,611 to $1,988 for a two-bedroom, and $2,320 to $2,541 for a three-bedroom townhouse.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs suggested that staff work with the developer to find ways to “improve affordability” of some of the units.
During the public hearing, the West End Residents Association (WERA) proposed that the building costs of the project be lowered by reducing the parking, and that a portion of the suites be rented out according to the median income of residents in the area.
“We need to find ways if we possibly can to make rents more affordable in new buildings that come in there, and I hope that staff will work with the developer and see if there are any ways…to work on the parking or see if there’s other partnerships, or anything that can be done to try to improve affordability, at least part of the new stock that would come in that building,” said Meggs.
Christine Ackermann, the president of WERA, said she’s encouraged the idea is being explored.
“I’m very happy to see that, and I do have hope, but it remains to be seen if they’re going to follow through or not,” she told the Straight by phone.
Carole Walker, a member of West End Neighbours, claimed the affordability targets for the project have been lowered since the proposal first came forward.
"There can be rental housing within community guidelines that is affordable, and they’re choosing not to look at that option," she told the Straight following the council discussion.
“They continue to change the goal posts, they pull out what they want to hear from the community, and they completely dismiss the really fundamental thing that the community was saying—this is the wrong building in the wrong place."
Ackermann said WERA “strongly believes” there’s a need for new, purpose-built rentals in the neighbourhood.
“I think a big part of the opposition is because people that live there currently probably won’t be able to afford to move in,” she said. “So while we encourage and are happy that we’re getting new purpose-built rentals, you know it’s a bit of a bittersweet feeling.”
The original development application was submitted in October 2009. The revised application from Henriquez Partners Architects, on behalf of Westbank Projects and the Peterson Investment Group, includes a landscaped public open space along Comox Street.
City council also approved an amendment today directing staff to report back on the possibility of closing the adjacent block of Broughton Street to enable an increase in public green space.