News / Vancouver

Vancouver council rejects controversial 12-storey condo in Chinatown

Beedie Living's proposed development at 105 Keefer St. would have included 25-units of seniors’ social housing.

Yuly Chan of Chinatown Action Group (left) with Mrs. Ma, who smiles through tears of joy following a Vancouver city council vote to reject a controversial condo proposal in the heart of Chinatown.

Jen St. Denis/Metro

Yuly Chan of Chinatown Action Group (left) with Mrs. Ma, who smiles through tears of joy following a Vancouver city council vote to reject a controversial condo proposal in the heart of Chinatown.

Vancouver city council voted today against a proposal to build a 12-storey condo building on a historic corner of Chinatown Tuesday, a decision that could reverberate to other developments in the area as council reviews an existing condo-friendly plan for the historic area.

"This debate turned into a debate over the future of Chinatown," said Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Beedie Living had proposed a 12-storey condo building at 105 Keefer St. The site is currently a parking lot, and the developer had promised that the second floor of the building will be sold to BC Housing for 25 units of seniors’ social housing and that a commercial space for seniors’ cultural activities can be rented at a discount rate.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors Andrea Reimer, Kerry Jang, Tim Stevenson, Geoff Meggs, Heather Deal, Adriane Carr and George Affleck voted against the proposal. The councillors cited the level of opposition they heard, height and heritage concerns and the rapid pace of gentrification in Chinatown as their reasons to oppose.

Councillors Elizabeth Ball, Melissa De Genova and Raymond Louie voted for the proposal because of the inclusion of social housing.

The corner of Keefer and Columbia, in Vancouver on June 8, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

The corner of Keefer and Columbia, in Vancouver on June 8, 2017.

Several councillors said they had never seen a project that created such division in a community, and called out instances during the lengthy public hearing where those in opposition had booed or allegedly intimidated supporters of the project. Eric Szeto, who heads a seniors’ group that had been offered an activities space in the new development, said he has reported the behaviour to city hall.

But a diverse coalition of young and elderly people, bolstered by appeals from Chinatown leaders, historians and several former Vancouver city planners, ultimately prevailed.

The proposal had become a lightning rod for concerns about the gentrification of Chinatown: it comes in the wake of two condo buildings at Keefer and Main, completed in 2014 and 2016, following a 2011 change to the zoning for the area that allowed for building up to 90 feet, higher than the previous 70 foot maximum.

At the time it was thought condos would bring new residents to live and shop in Chinatown. But with apartments in the two buildings selling for $1 to $2 million, and one-bedrooms renting for around $1,800, that promise of revitalization has fizzled, said Carol Lee, chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Revitalization Committee, during the public hearing. Commercial rents have been rising and traditional businesses selling Chinese food and other products have been disappearing.

“It’s a message from the entire city that we need a new way of building in Vancouver,” said Andy Yan, a planner who opposed the 105 Keefer St. proposal.

“It’s just the beginning. It’s actually quite optimistic going forward that we can work together across class, age and ethnic lines.”

What will end up being built on the site is still up in the air. Houtan Rafii, vice-president of residential development for Beedie Development, would not say whether Beedie would go ahead with a nine-storey market condo building following the council decision.

Yuly Chan of the Chinatown Action Group said her group is pushing for senior levels of government to buy the site and put in place an all-social housing building.

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