BC government overrides lawsuit against Arbutus supportive housing to enable construction

Apr 18 2023, 7:05 pm

The new supportive housing project next to SkyTrain’s future Arbutus Station in Kitsilano will be built with the authoritative bump of the Government of British Columbia.

The rezoning application for BC Housing’s 13-storey tower with 129 supportive housing units — set for a site at the northeast corner of the intersection of Arbutus Street and West 7th Avenue — was approved by the previous makeup of Vancouver City Council in a marathon public hearing process that culminated in late June 2022.

But then in October 2022, Kitsilano Coalition, a neighbourhood advocacy group opposed to the project, filed a petition to the Supreme Court of BC seeking a judicial review of City Council’s rezoning approval, asserting there was a lack of transparency, fairness, and disclosure of key information to the public prior to the decision.

In their petition, they urged the court to rescind the rezoning application’s approval and require a complete re-do of the rezoning process leading to a new public hearing.

In a statement today, BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said the provincial government is now introducing legislative amendments through the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act to enable this supportive housing project to proceed.

Due to the legal action by the advocacy group, the Arbutus Project has been unable to reach the next stage of City Council’s adoption of the rezoning bylaw, which would in turn lead to the submission of a development permit application.

At the time of the rezoning application approval in early Summer 2022, BC Housing was expected to submit a development permit application later in 2022, based on the timing of a construction start for 2023.

Kahlon says the move is needed to avoid further delays to the provincial government’s strategy of tackling homelessness.

“We are taking legislative action to avoid further delays for the creation of much-needed homes in this Province,” said Kahlon. “Too many people are sheltering outside. We know it is not safe and we are helping to create badly needed supportive housing in Vancouver. These amendments, if passed, will ensure the City of Vancouver can approve homes for people without delay.”

2086-2098 West 7th Avenue 2091 West 8th Avenue Vancouver BC Housing Supportive Housing 2022

2022 revised concept of the supportive housing tower at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (BC Housing)

2086-2098 West 7th Avenue 2091 West 8th Avenue Vancouver supportive housing

Layout of the supportive housing tower at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Human Studio Architecture & Urban Design/BC Housing)

According to the provincial government, the legislative changes are a “direct response to a request from the City of Vancouver for legislative intervention to allow the Arbutus Project to move forward as soon as possible.”

The powers and frameworks for how municipal governments operate in BC are under the jurisdiction of the provincial government, which can change legislation to override and reform how cities operate. For example, as part of its new housing strategy, the provincial government is also changing legislation to allow more homes on single-family zoning across BC, and implementing a Housing Supply Act that requires municipal governments to meet annual new housing approval quotas.

In a statement, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim says the municipal government looks forward to “continuing conversations and working with the community” through the neighbourhood Community Advisory Committee that will be established for the Arbutus Project.

“We are thankful for the ongoing support from senior government partners to expedite the delivery of much-needed affordable housing in the city,” said Sim.

The previous City Council’s June 2022 decision was one of the longest public hearing processes for a rezoning application in years, with the meetings spanning six days over an entire month to hear from about 300 public speakers, including many local residents who voiced their opposition over the concerns of impacts.

Most of the public opposition related to the project relates to concerns over whether this is an appropriate location to house people experiencing homelessness, the height and form of the building, and public safety concerns given the project’s adjacency to St. Augustine Elementary School, playgrounds, and a public park.

Public disorder and safety issues in other neighbourhoods and districts arising from the opening of supportive housing projects were repeatedly brought up, including suggestions that there is a lack of accountability and action when concerns are raised by affected residents and businesses.

Critics also asserted the building will not provide a sufficient level of support services — that the building should provide housing for families instead of only single individuals.

2086-2098 West 7th Avenue 2091 West 8th Avenue Vancouver

Site of the homeless supportive housing project at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Google Maps)


Site of the homeless supportive housing project at 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

At the time of the petition’s filing, Karen Finnan, a spokesperson for Kitsilano Coalition, suggested the public was not provided with the same level of information provided to City Council in making its public input submissions.

“The public hearing revealed troubling issues at the City concerning governance and the democratic process that have implications far beyond the 7th/8th and Arbutus rezoning. Council must ensure transparency in its process, listen to the feedback of the community, and make decisions based on accurate information that is equally available to Council and the community,” she said at the time.

“This did not occur at the 7th/8th and Arbutus public hearing, and the resulting decision was not in the best interest of the community or proposed residents of the building and cannot stand.”

Daily Hive Urbanized has reached out to Kitsilano Coalition for comment.

The address of this project is 2086-2098 West 7th Avenue and 2091 West 8th Avenue, on a site immediately north of the future SkyTrain station’s bus exchange and west of the Arbutus Greenway.

Earlier in June 2022, a few weeks prior to the Arbutus Project decision, the previous City Council also approved a rezoning application by BC Housing to build a 14-storey tower with 109 supportive housing units at 1406-1410 King Edward Avenue — the southeast corner of the intersection of King Edward Avenue and Knight Street. It was approved with relatively little opposition during just one public hearing meeting. This is considered the accompanying sister of the Arbutus Project, with both projects part of a 2020-signed agreement between BC Housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the City of Vancouver to build supportive housing.

Shortly after, a development permit application for the King Edward project was submitted on September 13 and approved by City staff on December 2, 2022. Construction is expected to begin later in 2023.

In late March 2023, TransLink announced its partnership with local developer PCI Developments to build a 30-storey, mixed-use tower at 2096-2560 Arbutus Street — the east side of Arbutus Street from West Broadway to West 10th Avenue, immediately south of the transit hub. There will be 200 secured rental homes — a mix of market and below-market units — as well as retail/restaurant uses and a Jewish community space. A rezoning application will be submitted to the City of Vancouver later this year.

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