A highly controversial residential redevelopment project in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood was rejected today by Vancouver City Council.
Despite developers and architects coming back to the public and the municipal government with four different designs since 2013, the proposed 12-storey residential building at 105 Keefer Street – a vacant, undeveloped site next to the Chinatown Memorial Plaza – was voted down in an 8-3 vote.
Those who voted against the project were Mayor Gregor Robertson, six Vision Vancouver city councillors, NPA Councillor George Affleck, and Green Councillor Adrianne Carr.
“The Beedie group put significant effort into this project over the years with the City and community to address concerns about the proposal, and went to extraordinary lengths to adjust and revise the project based on public and community feedback,” said Robertson in a statement.
“Yet, Council heard overwhelming opposition from several generations of Vancouver residents on the rezoning for 105 Keefer, and concern about how to manage Chinatown’s pace of change. For that reason, I voted ‘no’ to this rezoning proposal.”
The latest design by local firms Beedie Development Group and Merrick Architecture reduced the number of stories from 13 to 12 and cut the height from 120 feet to 115 feet. It also reduced the number of residential market units from 119 to 110, introduced additional amenity spaces like new public pedestrian passages and a courtyard, and reduced the overall bulk and massing.
Commercial spaces and a seniors’ cultural space remained on the ground level, and the second floor was slated as space for 25 low-to-moderate income senior social housing units.
All four designs attempted to create a bulk, massing, and exterior facade that blended in and complemented the historic architectural character of the neighbourhood.
City Council heard from over 300 public speakers throughout the many public hearings over the last several weeks, and there were also heated protests in between.
During today’s meeting, Councillors criticized the behaviour of those involved in the consultation process, particularly young activists who had allegedly booed or intimated the project’s supporters at public hearings.
“I have to say that the only Millennial on City Council, to hear that certain groups of Millennials were bullying, targeting, coercing, or trying to encourage speakers who were waiting to speak to not to speak if they were speaking against the project or for the project is very disturbing,” said Councillor Melissa DeGenova.
“I was asked to go on permanent maternity leave by someone, I didn’t think that would be part of the conversation here.”
Opponents feared the building would change the character of Chinatown, accelerate its gentrification, and push out seniors. There was even a divide between those opposed, with some disliking the social housing and others wanting more low-income units.
Their opposition ignited after the recent completion of two condo buildings nearby at the corner of Keefer Street and Main Street, which were permitted under the 2010-approved Historic Area Height Review and the 2012-approved Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan & Economic Revitalization Strategy.
In contrast, supporters thought the project had the potential to breathe much-needed new life into Chinatown, which has been struggling over the past 20 years, and add new social housing.
“In my almost nine years as Mayor, no issue or project has yielded such a passionate, emotional response as this rezoning application for 105 Keefer,” said Robertson.
“The debate over what kind of development will take place at 105 Keefer has gone far beyond that specific site, at times becoming a debate over the future of Chinatown, how we build and strengthen neighbourhoods, and how we embrace and integrate our heritage and history with modern development. This has been a very difficult decision.”
It is not known if Beedie Development Group will resubmit a significantly scaled-down plan in light of Council’s decision, and any new proposals for the area by other developers will likely go on hold.
More importantly, there has been speculation that the toxic debate over the project could lead to the suspension or cancellation of the increased height and density allowances permitted under the Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan & Economic Revitalization Strategy.
Projects like 105 Keefer Street, as prescribed by the Neighbourhood Plan, were meant to help revitalize Chinatown by bringing in new residents to support local businesses.
“Moving forward, I urge us all to focus on what unites us on Chinatown: the need for local-serving retail, the imperative for upgrading heritage buildings, the necessity for accessible spaces for seniors,” continued Robertson.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity with a both a new BC government and a federal government that have expressed interest in investing and supporting culture and affordable housing, and an energized community excited about shaping Chinatown’s future. Let’s use that momentum for the greater good of an extraordinary neighbourhood.”