Councillor Carr Motion for 100% Social Housing @ 105 Keefer Site

AC_in_green_at_Council.pngToday Vancouver City Council voted on the rezoning application to develop a 12 storey mixed use tower, including luxury condos, at 105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia Street in an area that had been zoned for up to 9 storeys and an area that is home to seniors on fixed incomes as well as cultural centres and independent shops that could all be driven out of Chinatown through increased rents throughout the neighbourhood as a result of projects like this.  Council heard from concerned members of the community over four days of public hearings, on May 23, 25, 26 and 29. Throughout our city, residents have taken to writing op eds in the media; rallying their friends, family and colleagues online and in person, concerned about the very serious impact this project could have on the unique historic community of Chinatown. The public input brought forward about this project was massive – perhaps bigger than for any other proposed rezoning in recent years – with the majority of speakers, emails and petitioners opposed to the project, noting it is too high and too big. 

During the final discussion and vote today, Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr raised a number of key questions, including:

  • What is the timeline for Council consideration of the City’s Chinatown Revitalization Process, including staff recommendations that tall and wide buildings will no longer be considered and that the Rezoning Policy for Chinatown South should be cancelled.
  • Clarification of the number of market condos that have been built recently in Chinatown. .
  • How many other inquiries and applications for rezonings are underway in current HA-1A (Chinatown Historic Area) zoned area.
  • Whether BC Housing agreed to purchase the 25 social housing units proposed for 105 Keefer at cost or at a profit to the developer.
  • Whether the project’s 149 foot frontage on Keefer contravenes zoning or policies, as was suggested by a number of speakers.
  • Explain why there are no Community Amenity Contributions being offered by the developer?
  • Whether more profit would be generated with the sale of condos on the top 3 floors (the additional floors that are the subject of the rezoning) than lower floors.
  • Whether the City owns property of a sufficient size and zoning to do a landswap with the proponent.
  • Whether this application could be referred back to staff to reconsider appropriate height and massing for the site.

In her closing arguments, Councillor Carr thanked all the speakers for their extremely valuable input, and the Beedie Group for their strong philanthropic history in our region. 

She noted that three questions emerged from the unprecedented public input:

  1. Whether the project’s height and density are appropriate for the site.
  2. Whether the public amenities being offered warrant allowing more height.
  3. Whether the project would destroy or revitalize Chinatown.

She then noted that the majority of speakers remarked that this is a special, sensitive site, surrounded by key places and the project would dominate the surrounding, including heritage society buildings in the Chinatown historic district, the adjacent culturally important Memorial Square and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. The Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee voted against the project, stating height and density were “overwhelming concerns” and the Urban Development Panel was split on “whether scale, massing and height are supportable.” 

On the second question she noted that, at a ratio of 2:1, the public also said the amenities being offered to the community did not warrant the extra height requested by the developer. In the midst of an unprecedented housing affordability crisis, 25 units of social housing are not enough, said Carr, particularly since only 8 units would be available at HILS rate.  The project did not offer long-term security for amenity space for 12 cultural groups. “It is disturbing to see such projects divide the community, pitting those who want certain amenities against those who have concerns about the scale of development,” said Carr. “This is no way to plan a socially healthy, cohesive city.”

On the third question, of the impact of this project on Chinatown, Carr said she was impacted by multiple speakers arguing that this project is a turning point for Chinatown and Vancouver, just like the Chinatown/Strathcona freeway.  She said she must take heed of the fact that Chinatown is listed as #2 on Heritage Canada’s Endangered Historic Sites List and Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Endangered City Sites.

Moreover, Carr noted that she was impacted by statements made at the hearings or read into the record from many community leaders, including the late Joe Wai, the late Bing Thom, Andy Yan, Shirley Chan, Fred Mah, William Ma, Nathan Edelson, Jennie Kwan, as well as many significant community groups who spoke against the project, raising issues such as:

  • The significance of this site signalling the entrance to Chinatown and the need for buildings with design that respect historic Chinatown.
  • The need for development to serve and support the local population, not gentrify the area.
  • Concern that high-end condos will increase property values and commercial rents, and drive out traditional, local-serving businesses that are the heart of Chinatown.

The job of City Councillors, said Carr, “is not just to decide whether a project fits City policy, but to ensure that development projects serve the public good not excessive developer profit.” Councillor Carr noted the following concerns:

  • She felt the waiver of CACs was unjustified, especially since the Beedie Group’s offer of 25 units of social housing (only 8 of which would be truly affordable) were being payed for by BC Housing (at $292,000 per unit)!
  • She was alarmed by the unprecedented move by the developer to negotiate directly with BC Housing. “How can Council know if the City got the best possible deal for the public under such an arrangement,” said Carr

While at the end of the day, City Council rejected the project by an 8-to-3 vote, the massive amount of public concern expressed about the vulnerability of seniors in this area remains an issue of serious concern.

Unsure of how the vote would go, but preparing herself for a possible “NO” vote by Council, at the end of Council following the vote on 105 Keefer, Carr submitted a Notice of Motion to help address the issue of the vulnerability of seniors on fixed income in a rapidly changing Chinatown. Her motion is to call for the site to be developed as a 100% social housing site to help provide the security of tenure so desperately needed in this community. Her motion will be heard at the next Council meeting on June 27. The full text of her motion follows below: 

NOTICE OF MOTION

PURSUING 100% SOCIAL HOUSING FOR 105 KEEFER AND 544 COLUMBIA STREETS SITE

MOVER: Councillor Adriane Carr 

SECONDER:

WHEREAS

  1. Vancouver City Council has voted against approving the CD-1 rezoning of 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia Streets to permit a development application by the Beedie Group for a twelve-storey mixed use building because of concerns that include insufficient affordable social housing for seniors;
  2. A new Provincial NDP Government, supported by the BC Greens, has indicated its intention to increase the provincially-funded supply of social and affordable housing.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

THAT City Council direct staff to quickly pursue options, particularly with the new Provincial Government, to purchase the 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia Streets site if necessary, and develop it as 100 percent social housing, especially for seniors.

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