Vancouver proposes to downsize future redevelopments in Chinatown

Jun 5 2018, 2:38 am

In an unprecedented move due to pressure from anti-development activists, the City of Vancouver is considering abolishing an approved 2011 policy that allows for denser redevelopments in Vancouver’s Chinatown district through added height.

City Council will review a new policy on Tuesday that limits redevelopments in the HA-1A Chinatown South area – south of Pender Street to Union Street – to a maximum conditional height of just 90 ft and an outright height of 70 ft. Building widths measured from the street frontage can no longer exceed 75 ft to discourage large site consolidations and large storefronts.

This would cancel the existing policy of allowing heights of up to 150 ft in height on sites along Main Street between Keefer Street and Union Street and no more than 120 ft in height in the rest of HA-1A area.

Vancouver Chinatown

Vancouver Chinatown 2011 rezoning policy. (City of Vancouver)

Within other areas of Chinatown, height restrictions remain relatively unchanged, however, there will now be limitations on the number of floors that can be packed into a building envelope based on the zoning’s allowable building height. Redevelopment widths in these areas are also restricted to either only 50 ft or 75 ft.

And developers can no longer pursue on-site or cash contributions towards heritage, cultural, social housing or affordable housing elements in exchange for greater height, making it more difficult to provide public amenities and social housing.

However, the City says it will still consider the 150-ft-tall, 15-storey rezoning application for site of The Brickhouse at 728-796 Main Street under the 2011 policy as the proposal, submitted in May 2017, is midstream in the review process.

Artistic rendering of the proposed development at 728-796 Main Street in Chinatown. (Studio One Architecture)

In 2011, City Council adopted the rezoning policy with the intention of using it as a catalyst to revitalize Chinatown through added population, with new residents in the neighbourhood supporting the area’s businesses. Since then, six new mixed-use projects have been approved or completed, totalling 550 new housing units including 22 senior housing units.

The City admits that these redevelopments have created “more vibrancy to the neighbourhood, especially at night with new restaurants,” but activists have charged that the new buildings do not match Chinatown’s heritage character and traditional scale. Opponents say these changes also impact the dwindling number of Chinese senior residents who still live in the area.

Traditional businesses have been forced to close from rising costs and the aging out of owners who have children that are uninterested in continuing the family business.

The City took the first steps towards the direction of revoking the 2011 policy after the Development Permit Board rejected the controversial 105 Keefer Street proposal last fall. Five designs were created for that project throughout its elongated application process.

In addition to the rezoning changes, the municipal government is seeking a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Chinatown as one of the mechanisms to “preserve” the district.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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