46-storey tower with 478 rental homes proposed next to SkyTrain Burrard Station

Apr 29 2021, 1:40 pm

A major local developer has revealed their intention to redevelop the parkade at the southeast corner of the intersection of Dunsmuir Street and Thurlow Street in downtown Vancouver into a 100% rental housing tower.

The proposed development site — just west of SkyTrain Burrard Station — is the rear of the 26-storey office building at 1075 West Georgia Street, which was acquired in 2019 by a joint partnership between Reliance Properties, Crestpoint Real Estate Investments, and KingSett Capital.

Reliance Properties now wants to turn this northern parcel of the property into a 46-storey tower with a total of 478 rental homes, including over 100 affordable units dedicated to workforce housing for essential workers — people earning between $39,200 and $78,500.

The developer and supporters like Ambulance Paramedics of BC assert housing projects in such a location enable emergency responders and frontline workers to live in the communities in which they serve. In recent years, employers downtown have increasingly stated that housing affordability challenges had affected their ability to recruit and retain staff, who are otherwise forced to commute long distances from where they are able to find more affordable housing.

1075 West Georgia Street Vancouver

Proposed site for rental housing replacing the parkade at 1075 West Georgia Street’s rear at the corner of Dunsmuir Street and Thurlow Street. (Google Maps)

1075 West Georgia Street Vancouver

Proposed site for rental housing replacing the parkade at 1075 West Georgia Street’s rear at the corner of Dunsmuir Street and Thurlow Street. (Google Maps)

However, the site is currently zoned for commercial use, and allowing this scale of residential use would be a significant departure for the intense employment-centric, commercial-only uses of downtown’s Central Business District (CBD).

About a decade and a half ago, the municipal government enacted a moratorium on any further residential developments across much of the CBD to preserve future employment space.

The city’s recent Employment Lands and Economy Review also highlighted the importance of preserving areas dedicated for employment spaces, especially for long-term office developments to support job growth and hotel properties to support the tourism industry.

The tourism sector has identified a need for more hotel rooms, given the large number of properties lost to residential conversions before the pandemic, the growing number of properties acquired by governments over the past year for housing individuals experiencing homelessness, and the city’s restrictions on short-term rentals like Airbnb in favour of long-term rentals.

1075 West Georgia Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of rental housing replacing the parkade at 1075 West Georgia Street’s rear at the corner of Dunsmuir Street and Thurlow Street. (Reliance Properties)

But the developer asserts the tower and its proposed rental uses are a right fit for the location.

“Existing policies already allow this site to be considered primarily for residential use after seeking initial advice from City Council,” Jon Stovell, the president and CEO of Reliance Properties, told Daily Hive Urbanized in an email.

“Further, the policy that precludes residential in the CBD is 10 years old and out of step with current realities for a resilient workforce and affordability for city workers. There is also an abundance of new office space currently available in the CBD.”

Currently, there is an office building boom in the downtown peninsula, totalling about 5.5 million sq ft of new office space that will reach completion towards the middle of this decade.

Projects by Reliance Properties account for a significant portion of these new office builds, including the major approved projects at 1166 West Pender Street (361,000 sq ft in 32 storeys) and 601 West Pender Street (445,000 sq ft in 29 storeys).

Over the short term, and during the recovery period after the pandemic, at least, it is expected there will be softened demand for office space, but downtown Vancouver’s office vacancy rate is the lowest in North America and this is anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future.

1075 West Georgia Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of rental housing replacing the parkade at 1075 West Georgia Street’s rear at the corner of Dunsmuir Street and Thurlow Street. (Reliance Properties)

Reliance Properties’ rental housing tower is currently in the pre-application stage with city staff; so far, they have been unable to proceed with a formal rezoning application.

Stovell says this proposal is amongst a long list compiled last month by city staff for the city council’s review of rental housing proposals, totalling thousands of units, that are in limbo in the pre-application stage. The significant list will not be made public.

Reliance Properties’ decision to daylight their specific proposal for this site comes just a day after the city council appointed Theresa O’Donnell as Vancouver’s new chief urban planner, replacing Gil Kelly who suddenly departed from the city last month after over four years in the role.

The developer is “hopeful that the city’s planning department with its new director will advance this project.”

There are two other major office projects within the immediate area of the intersection. Oxford Properties’ The Stack just to the west at 1133 Melville Street will be a 36-storey office tower with 540,000 sq ft of AAA office space when complete in 2022, while Hudson Pacific Properties is planning to add about 450,000 sq ft of AAA office space to Bentall Centre as part of its plan to overhaul the complex.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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