News / Vancouver

City rejects 105 Keefer condo in Chinatown - again

The proposal has become a rallying point for those concerned about a disappearing Chinatown.

The corner of Keefer and Columbia, where 105 Keefer would be built, on June 8, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

The corner of Keefer and Columbia, where 105 Keefer would be built, on June 8, 2017.

After years of protest, several redesigns and marathon public hearings, it came down to the word of three bureaucrats.
 
A contentious condo building proposed for Chinatown was rejected during a development permit board meeting on Nov. 6. Deputy city manager Paul Mochrie supported Beedie Living’s application to build a nine-storey building on the site next to the Chinatown memorial.
 
But Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s manager of engineering, moved to reject the application on the grounds that its design did not fit the cultural context of the site. He indicated the building would have to be much smaller and would require a lot of changes to provide an appropriate backdrop to a Memorial Square.
 
That left chief planner Gil Kelley to make the decision, one heavy with the weight of gentrification and historic injustices to Vancouver’s Chinese immigrants.
 
“I guess it all comes down to me,” Kelley joked.

The decision followed a decision by Vancouver city council in June to reject Beedie’s application for a rezoning to build a 12-storey condo building. The site’s current zoning allows for a nine-story building.
 
Kelley voted with Dobrovolny, saying the current condo design does not fit the cultural significance of the site. He noted the development permit board does not have the power to determine what kind of housing or retail would be allowed in the building.
 
Chinatown activists have called for the building to be 100 per cent social housing, while there is also concern about the loss of shops that sell traditional Chinese food.
 
Mochrie noted that several members of the Chinatown community supported the condo project, and he said he doesn’t believe Chinatown’s future hinges on just one building.
 
Vincent Tao, an activist with Chinatown Action Group, said he was surprised at the decision, but he expects Beedie to be back with another application. The developer is perfectly entitled to do that, Kelley said, but he urged Beedie to do more community engagement before returning with a revised plan.
 
Mochrie, Dobrovolny and Kelley declined to speak to media after the decision, as did representatives from Beedie Living.
 
Nathan Edelson, a former Vancouver city planner who worked on an alternative vision for the site with architect Joe Wai, said there are several factors that might change what is decided for the site in the future.
 
“The significance of this site, especially with the coming down of the viaducts and its situation with memorial square, make it a very unique site and just on design reasons” the senior managers had the ability to reject the application, Edelson said.
 
Last week, city council received a report on historic discrimination against Chinese immigrants by former municipal governments. Council approved recommendations in that report, including redesigning Memorial Square and applying for Chinatown to be a UNESCO heritage site. Increased building heights enacted in 2011 are now also being reconsidered.

As a part of addressing historic injustices that have resulted in people living in poverty, Edelman said, the city could also ask the province for the power to zone for specific "housing tenure" (such as affordable rental housing) in Chinatown.

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