After five proposals over three years, a proposed development at 105 Keefer Street has been rejected by the City of Vancouver's Development Permit Board.
In a 2-1 vote, the board decided the application — a nine-storey tower with 100 per cent market housing and ground level cultural space — did not meet technical zoning requirements for design aspects.
It's the first time since 2006 that the permit board has rejected an application.
The city's chief planner, Gil Kelley, and chief engineer, Jerry Dobrovolny, voted to reject the proposal, with assistant city manager Paul Mochrie voting against their motion.
"Because this is such an important site, with such design significance to Chinatown, and because I feel that the application has not met the design test in my view, I'm going to support the motion to refuse the application," said Kelley, who was the last to speak on the matter.
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The Chinatown Action Group, one of the associations in the area publicly opposed to the development, applauded the decision.
"We're over the moon that the [permit board] finally put a stop to Beedie's profit-driven development and, instead, protect low-income residents. However, this is just the first step. Our elected leaders and Beedie need to get on with building what has been called for all along: 100 per cent low-income housing and a public and free community space," said organizer Nat Lowe in a statement.
Earlier this year, a proposed 12-storey tower, with 25 units reserved for low-income seniors, was rejected by city council.
Weeks later, a new plan was submitted that was only nine storeys tall, complying with zoning regulations for height.
Rejected on design guidelines
While city staff acknowledged the new proposal met height requirements based on the 2012 Chinatown community plan passed by council, and admitted they had no authority to force Beedie to include social housing in any proposal, they ultimately concluded the design failed to satisfy contextual needs for the area.
The land is currently a parking lot, but is directly adjacent to the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and north of the Chinatown Memorial Plaza.
"To meet the design test, they need to listen to and engage with the community more closely than they have so far," said Kelley.
Developments are rarely rejected outright by the permit board, raising some concerns in the planning community over the decision.
"It was wrong for city council to change zoning to allow towers. I personally think this building is too tall, given the character of Chinatown. But this is the zoning," said Michael Geller, an architect and planner who used to sit on the permit board's advisory panel.
Mochrie, the only member of the permit board in favour of the application, expressed some reservations about the role being played by the permit board.
"The application meets the requirements of the existing zoning.... The limits on our jurisdiction are very intentional, in the decisions that we, as unelected officials, can and should be making."
Possible options open to Beedie include resubmitting the proposal after further design tweaks, going back to negotiations with the City of Vancouver around a land swap, or even taking legal action.
"I'm sure [Beedie] would explore legal solutions," said Geller, although he cautioned that "very few developers want to resort to legal action against the city, especially when they're planning to come back with applications in the future."
The Beedie Group declined to comment on their future plans.