For over 20 years, the Vancouver Westside’s True Confections cake shop was located at the retail building located at the northwest corner of the intersection of West Broadway and Alma Street.
Knowing that it was inevitable that the corner strip mall would see redevelopment, as a pre-emptive move, they recently relocated to a new location two blocks east on West Broadway.
But despite the forced move for the business, True Confections’ owner Lin Xiong looked forward and welcomed the change and the positive neighbourhood impact that would result from realizing Westbank’s 14-storey market rental housing tower with 161 units at her previous location.
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Xiong told Vancouver City Council during the public hearing for 3701-3743 West Broadway that “the high density will help the businesses in the surrounding area.”
The struggling retail districts in the immediate area and further west up the hill on West 10th Avenue in Point Grey Village were a common theme throughout the public hearing. Business owners, representatives of the local business improvement association (BIA), and local workers informed city council that such developments that help counter the escalating trend of the neighbourhood’s falling residential population will serve to help revive dying businesses.
According to the West Broadway BIA, the building’s several hundred residents are expected to generate $1.5 million in local spending on the area’s businesses each year.
The positive business impact was one of the major contributing factors to city council’s decision to approve the developer’s rezoning application late Thursday afternoon, after hearing from about 80 public speakers, with the vote coming down to 8-3. Those opposed were NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick, Green Party councillor Adrianne Carr, and COPE councillor Jean Swanson.
“We heard from the West Broadway BIA say that many small businesses are struggling to survive without a replacement customer base. We’ve seen that loud and clear with the vacancy rates,” said NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung.
“Even if those businesses can survive, they would have increasing difficulty with attracting and finding staff and a workforce. People can’t move into the neighbourhood, you can’t attract workers, people aren’t traveling as far, they’re moving out of the city… you’ll end up with a less vibrant neighbourhood.”
Under the city’s Moderate Income Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP), the building will contain 54 studio units, 50 one-bedroom units, 51 two-bedroom units, and six three-bedroom units, with at least 20% of the residential floor area set at lower rents for moderate income households. The remainder will be at market rates.
Rents for the moderate income units start at $950 for a studio based on a $38,000 average household income and go up to $2,000 for a three-bedroom unit on an $80,000 income.
“I’m trying to consider the housing needs not only of the residents today, but also the residents of the future, and our young people,” said NPA councillor Lisa Dominato.
“We’ve heard very clearly for the need for market rental… this is one measure of addressing that supply, and the need for particularly missing middle housing.”
The new rental homes are designed within the framework of not only the city’s poor housing fundamentals that have led to a general dearth in rental supply in the Vancouver Westside, especially for working families, but also specifically for those who study and work at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
The density through the tower’s height accounts for the site’s transit-oriented location, with the bus stops for the 99 B-Line and several other routes located right at the intersection. This intersection is also a potential station location for the eventual Millennium Line extension west of Arbutus Street to the university campus.
With both the future subway and the high-density forms anticipated from the First Nations-driven development of the nearby 90-acre Jericho Lands, added density and height are expected to be the continuum for the immediate area beyond the tower site.
But not everyone was convinced, with NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick asserting she does not have confidence in the city’s 10-year Housing Vancouver strategy targets and the MIRHPP program due to “lack of evidence and false assumptions.”
She echoed many neighbouring residents who spoke against the 14-storey height, but indicated their support for the original 2017 rezoning application that called for a six-storey building with 94 market rental homes. Other concerns residents had revolved around the increase in traffic, the impact to property values, the perceived lack of affordability of the units, the smaller sizes of some of the units, and the “out-of-character” height that results in a loss of views for some homeowners.
Green Party councillor Adrianne Carr focused her criticism on neighbourhood fit and the transition to neighbouring homes.
“But I do continue to have concern about the height, and in this case I don’t believe the height is a good tradeoff. I don’t think it’s in the best public interest, and for me it’s recognizing that the city is not only going to be all the same everywhere — it shouldn’t be,” she said.
“I view cities as having a variety of different kinds of areas, neighbourhoods, different heights of buildings, and landscapes. I think that is the charm and attractiveness of the city. It doesn’t mean there won’t be more height and density… but in this particular case, I think it precedes what needs to be a discussion and buy-in.”
Carr also stated her preference for a neighbourhood planning process that possibly results in this form of development, rather than the current scenario of a one-off rezoning decision.
“By city staff’s admittance in terms of the form, this is one of the situations where the fit in terms of built form may not be there in terms of the context now, but they stated that in the policy context in the future that it will fit with the high likelihood of higher buildings with the Jericho Lands redevelopment and the redevelopment of this particular area if SkyTrain does go through and there is a subway station at the corner,” continued Carr.
“But I do want to say that future has some uncertainty, and it didn’t used to feel so uncertain, but with COVID things have been feeling more uncertain.”
However, Green Party councillor Pete Fry countered that even if the subway is not extended to UBC, the immediate area will still be served by the 99 B-Line at its front door.
“It is already on a pretty important transit corridor. Obviously, directing folks there (UBC) is a pretty big piece of this location,” he said.
He also brought up the fact that Vancouver is one of North America’s densest cities, but “it’s very obvious that the entire physical city does not carry the weight of that density, and we concentrate that density in some key areas of town. But I think it’s okay to spread out that density a bit, [and] I think it’s very sensitive to the context of that community and the existing vernacular.”
Overall, the building will contain 123,600 sq. ft. of total floor area, creating a floor space ratio density of 5.34 times the size of the 23,200-sq-ft lot.
The ground level will contain 10,400 sq. ft. of restaurant and retail space, activating the building’s edges with West Broadway and Alma Street. These spaces also have a mezzanine level.
To account for its location at a transit-oriented site, two underground levels will contain just 51 vehicle parking stalls, plus 297 bike parking spaces.
The developer will provide the municipal government with $3.14 million in development and utilities cost levies, and a $213,000 public art contribution. No community amenity contribution is required in exchange for the moderate income rental units.
Leckie Studio Architecture + Design is responsible for the project’s design of a stacked blocks with terraces that transition away from the single-family neighbourhood to the west. The exterior will use a wood facade system.