5th time a charm? Another open house for controversial Chinatown development

For the fifth time in three years, an open house is being held for a proposed tower in Chinatown.

The proposed condo at 105 Keefer Street is 3 storeys smaller than before but also avoids a council vote

Another development application has been submitted for 105 Keefer Street, a parking lot just off Columbia Street and Keefer Street in Vancouver. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

At 105 Keefer Street, it's déjà vu all over again.

An open house is being held Tuesday evening for the Chinatown development, currently home to a parking lot. It's the fifth time in the last three years the Beedie Group, which owns the land, has submitted a plan to build a mixed-used condo on the site. 

In June, city council voted against the project, with several councillors noting how it divided the community.

But the new submission is only for a nine storey building on site, not 12 or 13 as previously proposed. That means it doesn't require breaking existing zoning regulations for height and therefore only needs the approval of the Development Permit Board — not council.

"The fact this is going to the Development Permit Board is definitely a bit more concerning. We see it as a way for Beedie to really push through what they want at the expense of the community's need," said Yuly Chan, a community organizer with the Chinatown Action Group, which opposes the project.

They are planning on attending the open house, which begins at 5 p.m. PT Monday, to voice their disapproval. 

The development would be near the Chinese Cultural Centre and Sun Yat-Sen Garden. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

25 social housing units for seniors removed

Beedie Group declined comment before the open house takes place but have said the new plan was based on what they heard from community members.

"We have been listening to the concerns people have expressed and sincerely appreciate every stakeholder who has collaborated with us towards the evolution of the proposal. We truly hope that this new proposal will reflect, as much as possible, the diverse perspectives we have heard," said Houtan Rafii, a vice-president with Beedie Living.

The plan provides public cultural space on the ground floor, with an emphasis on usage for seniors. But unlike previous submissions, it doesn't include 25 senior social housing units —  all 111 proposed units are defined as "market suites."

"It's a little flippant," said Michael Tan, a volunteer director with the Chau Luen Society, which operates a non-market seniors complex in Chinatown. 

"Beedie has a strong history of working with community, that to be honest, it's a little shocking ...  I'm very surprised that they're continuing." 

The 105 Keefer Street site is currently being used as a parking lot. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

Rejections at permit board rare

Anita Molaro, the city's assistant director of urban design, said the development permit board typically looks at 30 to 50 projects a year that need approval but don't require rezoning. 

"They're often more complex [projects], and in some cases, less complex but have a lot of public interest in the application," she said.

The permit board will receive a staff report later this month and is scheduled to make its ruling, Oct. 2.

Molaro said amendments are often made to proposals but full rejections by the board are rare.

"Pretty well all projects that go to the [board] have had enough input and direction provided by staff to an applicant that they are approvable under the parameters of the zoning and guidelines," she said.  

"It's generally refinement at that point."

An artists's rendering of the previous proposal for the development at 105 Keefer St., which was 12 storeys tall. (105keefer.com)

Tan said he's hopeful the city proposes a land swap with Beedie, while Chan wants the city to buy the land outright and build 100 per cent social housing. 

Both say they're undaunted in their opposition to the development, despite what appear to be long odds. 

"I would say the entire struggle has been an uphill battle for us," said Chan. 

"It's time that the city actually takes a side and applies what they've been saying around the housing affordability crisis. It's really about political will, and we really want to see that." 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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