The B.C. Supreme Court has quashed a petition submitted by local residents to stop a major market rental housing project in downtown Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood.
In mid-September, Vancouver City Council approved a proposal to build a 190-foot-tall, 21-storey project at 1754-1772 Pendrell Street. It consists of 178 units including 43 studio units, 51 one-bedroom units, 72 two-bedroom units and three three-bedroom units. While a majority of the project is designated as market rental housing, local developer Westbank promised to rent 26 units at 20 per cent below market rates in the neighbourhood over a period of 30 years.
However, a month after Council’s approval, the project faced a legal challenge by a group of six residents living across the street from the development site at 1725 Pendrell Street.
The group had argued that the approved scale of the project “would result in a massive increase in density for market housing in an area of the West End where City policy does not support increases in density for market housing”.
In his ruling posted on Wednesday, Justice Kenneth Affleck wrote: “The decision of the City Council to adopt the Resolution (bylaw) cannot be characterized as unreasonable within the meaning of the governing authorities.” He rejected any claims made by the residents that there was lack of public notice on the rezoning application or that the City-approved rezoning application was a ‘new’ application rather than a revision of the old application that had been delayed for a decade – not that it mattered even if this were the case.
“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling in the City’s favour,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson in response to Affleck’s ruling. “This is a very positive step for both the West End and affordable housing in Vancouver. This is the type of housing Vancouver needs and we are pleased that it can now proceed.”
More rental housing is needed in the West End to help alleviate the City’s affordability crisis and meet the high demand for units. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in November 2015, apartment vacancy levels across the city fell to 0.8 per cent – down from one per cent in 2014 and 1.7 per cent in 2013. The City of Vancouver says the situation in the West End is even more dire with vacancies sitting at just 0.3 per cent.
Due to limited supply, average rents for a two bedroom apartment in the West End rose from $1,849 in 2014 to $1,951 in 2015. Up until recently, there has been a dearth in new rental housing supply across the city, especially in the West End largely due to NIMBY resident opposition. Few additions have been introduced to the neighbourhood since the 1970s, and aging buildings are not receiving required retrofits and renewals.
The municipal government has a stated goal of stimulating the construction of 5,000 new rental units by 2021. This is in addition to the thousands of units already approved or under construction.
Separately, earlier this month, Robertson formally offered the federal government $250 million worth in City-owned land in exchange for $500 million in infrastructure funding to construct 3,500 units of social housing on the sites.