News / Vancouver

Vancouver’s Chinatown revitalization plan under fire from urban planner, advocates

Proposed changes include allowing developers to build as tall as 15 storeys

This Chinese dried goods store is one of the last remaining storefronts of its kind in Vancouver's Chinatown.

Wanyee Li/Metro

This Chinese dried goods store is one of the last remaining storefronts of its kind in Vancouver's Chinatown.

As developers and existing residents continue to jostle for space in Vancouver’s rapidly changing Chinatown, an open house on the city’s rezoning plan for the area is re-igniting concerns about preserving the neighbourhood’s authenticity.

An open house on proposed changes to the Chinatown plan is scheduled for Saturday. If council accept those changes, buildings in area could be built as high as 150 feet (about 15 storeys) and frontages can be as wide as 200 feet. 

But that doesn’t match the existing texture of the neighbourhood, which is made up of small independent stores and low-storey buildings, said urban planner Andy Yan.

“Given the pre-existing grain of the neighbourhood, I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring a development that is modelled [after] areas of surplus industrial brown fields,” he said.

“It’s invasive to an established neighbourhood like Chinatown.”

More on Chinatown:

The current rezoning plans for Chinatown are

Wanyee Li/Metro

The current rezoning plans for Chinatown are "invasive" to the neighbourhood, said urban planner Andy Yan.

Yan wants the city to take a ‘slow urbanism’ approach, where the neighbourhood’s existing height and density are taken into account.

“It talks about a more bespoken urbanism that is more connected to the pre-existing community,” he said.

But city councillor Raymond Louie is quick to point out staff have the difficult task of coming up with a plan that meet both council’s demands as well as economic realities.

Dividing land assemblies to less than 200 feet would not be cost effective, he said.

“[Staff] are trying to balance off all the other aspects of what council has asked for – additional social housing, preservation of heritage, making sure that these buildings are built to the highest environmental standards, and making sure that these buildings are ready to hook up into our district energy systems.”

Louie says fears about big block stores displacing small businesses are unfounded because the new rules, if accepted, would limit retail storefronts to 50 feet. It’s one of many examples of the city is listening to public input, he said.

“Staff have heard clearly that some of these large store fronts in these new buildings, particularly the HSBC and the BMO bank frontages are too wide,” he said.

Advocates worry that small businesses like this one in Vancouver's Chinatown will be pushed out by development.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Advocates worry that small businesses like this one in Vancouver's Chinatown will be pushed out by development.

Saving Cantonese:

But Chinatown advocates say that the city is not respecting the community at the most basic level, because the open house is taking place during the weeklong Chinese New Year celebrations.

“This is a time when we're supposed to celebrating Chinese culture, but the City wants to show us how they plan to destroy it instead,” said a sternly worded email from the Save Chinatown Heritage group.

Louie says the open house is an opportunity for people to further engage with the consultation process.

Open house

Saturday Feb. 4, 2017

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium

The City of Vancouver is hosting an open house at the Chinese Cultural Centre about proposed changes to the Chinatown plan.

Wanyee Li/Metro

The City of Vancouver is hosting an open house at the Chinese Cultural Centre about proposed changes to the Chinatown plan.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated the proposed changes would allow buildings to be as high as 120 feet. In fact, buildings could be built as high as 150 feet.

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