Large con­dos push­ing cul­ture out of Chi­na­town

Ad­vo­cates say a 2011 zon­ing change hasn’t worked

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - VANCOUVER - Jen St. De­nis

It turns out that con­dos might not be able to solve all our prob­lems.

At a marathon pub­lic hear­ing for a pro­posed condo build­ing on an im­por­tant corner of Van­cou­ver’s Chi­na­town, many speak­ers voiced their opin­ion about how sev­eral new condo build­ings in the area had ac­cel­er­ated gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in the neigh­bour­hood.

“It’s the feel­ing of the com­mu­nity that the larger de­vel­op­ments are out of scale and lacked char­ac­ter,” said Carol Lee, the chair of the Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Committee.

“Trad­ing char­ac­ter for pub­lic ben­e­fit is not worth it, and the pace of de­vel­op­ment puts pres­sure on ex­ist­ing busi­nesses and res­i­dents.”

Beedie Liv­ing has pro­posed to build a 12-storey condo build­ing at Keefer and Columbia. The site is lo­cated across from the Chi­nese Cul­tural Cen­tre and in front of a memo­rial to Chi­nese vet­er­ans. While 90-foot build­ings are cur­rently al­lowed un­der the zon­ing for the area and de­vel­op­ers can ask for up to 120 feet, Beedie’s pro­posal is 115 feet.

The de­vel­oper has of­fered to sell the sec­ond floor of the build­ing to BC Hous­ing for 25 units of low-in­come seniors’ hous­ing, eight of which will be at wel­fare or pen­sion rates; and to make one of the com­mer­cial spa­ces on the first floor avail­able for seniors’ cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties at a dis­count.

The pro­posal comes in the wake of two condo build­ings at Keefer and Main, com­pleted in 2014 and 2016, fol­low­ing a 2011 change to the zon­ing for the area that al­lowed for build­ing up to 90 feet, higher than the pre­vi­ous 70 foot max­i­mum. Apart­ments in the two build­ings sell for $1 to $2 mil­lion, and one-bed­rooms rent for around $1,800.

At the time of the zon­ing change, Lee said, it was thought that more de­vel­op­ment in the area would re­vi­tal­ize the area, which is home to many low­in­come peo­ple and where tra­di­tional busi­nesses have strug­gled.

But seven years later, “we’ve found out the hard way these large build­ings that were sup­posed to re­vi­tal­ize the com­mu­nity with eco­nomic im­pact had the op­po­site ef­fect,” Lee said.

The pro­posal at­tracted hun­dreds of speak­ers and pub­lic hear­ings have stretched over sev­eral days. Coun­cil was ex­pected to vote on the pro­posal at the con­clu­sion of the pub­lic hear­ing. Many of the speak­ers spoke about the his­toric racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion to­wards Chi­nese im­mi­grants that led to the cre­ation of Chi­na­town, and how it is still the only neigh­bour­hood in Van­cou­ver where many peo­ple of Chi­nese her­itage feel they can con­nect with their cul­ture.

Oth­ers spoke about grand­par­ents who spent their last days in so­cial hous­ing in Chi­na­town, liv­ing full lives in a vi­brant com­mu­nity. Sup­port­ers of the project have praised the seniors’ hous­ing ad­di­tion and said Chi­na­town needs more res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment to re­vi­tal­ize the area. City plan­ning staff have com­mended the project for adding smaller com­mer­cial spa­ces for small busi­nesses, some of which open onto a back lane in keep­ing with Chi­na­town’s his­toric char­ac­ter.

But sev­eral his­to­ri­ans and planners have said op­po­si­tion to 105 Keefer is com­pa­ra­ble in im­por­tance to the 1970s fight against a free­way through Chi­na­town, which had a last­ing im­pact on Van­cou­ver’s down­town.

“At the re­tail level, which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, they con­tain large new fa­cil­i­ties that are geared to the wider pop­u­la­tion, (like) the in­evitable Star­bucks,” said Nathan Edel­son, a for­mer Van­cou­ver city planner, of the new condo build­ings. “This has trig­gered spec­u­la­tion and a sig­nif­i­cant rise in com­mer­cial rents in the area that has driven out many of the cul­tural and his­toric uses.”

Some speak­ers also ex­pressed scep­ti­cism about the promised so­cial hous­ing, say­ing there are too few units for the low­est­in­come seniors.

Andy Yan, an ur­ban planner, noted some of the ex­pected com­mer­cial uses for the project are bars and restau­rants, and he ques­tioned whether the one floor of seniors’ hous­ing on the sec­ond floor is simply sound­proof­ing for the higher floors. The orig­i­nal pro­posal sug­gested the sec­ond floor would be com­mer­cial. “Seniors so­cial hous­ing should not be used … (as) sound buf­fers to lux­ury market con­dos units,” he said. “It is dis­re­spect­ful of our el­ders and sets a ter­ri­ble prece­dence for build­ing in the City of Van­cou­ver.”

A re­view of the 2011 zon­ing change is ex­pected to come be­fore staff in June.

it’s the feel­ing of the com­mu­nity that the larger de­vel­op­ments are out of scale and lack char­ac­ter Carol Lee, the chair of the Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion Committee

Wanyee Li/Metro

Ur­ban planners and Chi­na­town ad­vo­cates in Van­cou­ver worry that ag­gres­sive re­zon­ing will make it im­pos­si­ble for small busi­nesses like this, one of the few re­main­ing Chi­nese herb stores in the neigh­bour­hood, to sur­vive.

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