Accepting change can be hard, and this pushback was clearly evident during the multi-day public hearing seeking permission to build a relatively low-density, five-storey, purpose-built rental housing building with 63 units in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.
A total of 13 units will be dedicated to moderate income households, as the project falls under the city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP), which mandates 20% of the residential floor area be used as affordable homes for average working households. The remaining units are slated to be market rental homes.
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This project at 1805 Larch Street — replacing Trinity St. Mark’s Church at the southwest corner of the intersection of West 2nd Avenue and Larch Street — was ultimately approved by city council in an 8-3 vote, with city councillors Adriane Carr, Jean Swanson, and Colleen Hardwick voting against.
But the comments made by public speakers provided yet more examples of the generational chasm that exists between older, established generations — especially those in the neighbourhood — and younger generations looking to live in the city where they study and work.
“This is a massive equity issue… Those who don’t want change and those who desperately need it. The significance of the housing being proposed is understated,” said Michael Mortensen, a local urban planner who spoke in favour of the project.
“When we’re thinking about the issue of how we’re housing people in Vancouver, who we’re housing, and the people who are not at this meeting, as they’re busy working two and three jobs, they can’t afford to be here. Their voices are not being heard.”
Some opponents used the public hearing as an opportunity to vent their frustration over the loss of the church, which doubled as a community gathering space and contained a preschool.
They wanted to see a new community amenity benefit, in exchange for the church space’s closure.
But to feasibly achieve this, added market residential floor area density to distribute the capital costs across more homes would certainly be needed to support the scope of amenities they were suggesting.
Without extra density, these developments have a far greater likelihood of becoming financially unfeasible; such rental projects — with a proportion of units set aside at below-market rates — run along a long-term financial timeline and carry more risk, whereas market condominiums provide developers with a full windfall return within a far shorter timeline. This is why municipal incentives from programs such as Rental 100 and MIRHPP are necessary to help stimulate market rental supply, effectively encouraging developers to build rentals instead of more condominiums.
As can be expected, however, most of the concerns centred on the perceived excessive height of the building, severe impact to neighbouring properties, and the resulting negative change in the area’s character.
But some opponents went much further in their rationale:
1. Real people and real families
“This evening I am speaking as a resident of our neighbourhood… I’m going to be speaking from the perspective of real people and real families.”
2. Five storeys is terrible, but four storeys is just right
“This project is too high, too bulky, [and a] Soviet-style architectural rental proposal,” said a speaker, adding that a mere single storey reduction to four storeys is an acceptable height.
3. Dragging in Martin Luther King Jr.
“Martin Luther King Junior said whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
4. Buildings are scary
“The entire neighbourhood is thrown into an enormous upheaval,” said a neighbouring resident who has been living in a four-storey building for two decades.
“I for one have spent sleepless nights over the past year, doubled up my blood pressure medication, worrying about how this massive development with this 67-ft-tall high grey brick wall, facing my living quarters at close proximity, is going to encroach on my privacy and property rights.”
5. My kitchen window privacy
“The upper floors from this building will be able to see through our kitchen window, seeing whatever we do in our backyard.”
6. Upset to the neighbourhood
“There are no other high-rise buildings in the area because citizens in the 1970s opposed them. That’s why Kitsilano doesn’t have 30-storey towers all over it,” said a speaker who dislikes big buildings, but then later complained there will only be 13 units of below-market rentals.
However, in reality, more density through added height would be required to not only support the additional space of more below-market rentals but also the required extra market rentals to help subsidize the cost of the increase in the number of below-market rentals.
“It seems like a very small return for the upset to the neighbourhood,” continued the speaker.
7. The rental housing affordability and supply crisis is imaginary
“Neither the shortage is as severe as portrayed in the media nor is the rents as high,” said a neighbouring resident.
8. Beware of foreign renters
“Who is going to live here in the moderate income suites and the market level suites? The market rental suites are at great risk of foreign renters.”
9. People in Vancouver aren’t desperate for housing
“I would be very surprised if an established 35+ year old would want to live long-term in a 320-sq-ft unit,” said a speaker who described the below-market rentals.
10. Kitsilano isn’t that expensive of a neighbourhood
“Rents in our neighbourhood are much lower than you think.”