Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and a majority of city council voted June 27 to allow the development of a 22-storey apartment tower in the West End, despite concerns the project will be unaffordable to many.
Green Councillor Adrienne Carr called the proposal “ridiculous.”
“I don’t think that this is what the STIR [Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing] program intended to achieve, which is affordable housing,” she said before voting against the development.
NPA Councillor George Affleck agreed. He said the project missed an opportunity to add needed community amenities. “Rental housing is not a community amenity.”
Affleck also argued that the project fails to meet criteria of the city-led STIR program. “It is not a commercial arterial. It is not in the neighbourhood high street, it is not in the transport centre. These are the crucial criteria of STIR and this building meets none of STIR’s criteria.”
Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson, who is gay, disagrees. “The purpose of STIR is to provide rental housing,” he told Xtra after the meeting, adding that the West End needs more rental housing.
Stevenson called the councillors opposed to the proposal “short-sighted.”
The final decision was split six to three, with Stevenson and fellow Vision Vancouver councillors Heather Deal, Geoff Meggs, Kerry Jang and Tony Tang voting with the mayor in favour of the proposal. Carr, Affleck and NPA Councillor Elizabeth Ball voted against.
The decision follows a lengthy public hearing process and more than two years of community input.
The new tower at 1401 Comox St will include 186 new rental apartments, including six subsidized units for low-income seniors.
Council also passed an amendment asking staff to look at the option of closing the adjacent block of Broughton St to further increase green space.
Since the project was first proposed in 2009, it has gone through two revisions and was put on hold for community feedback. The revised design is 16.5 feet shorter than originally proposed, sculpted to reduce shadowing and features more green space. The site is zoned for a 190-foot building; the new building will be 200 feet tall.
“Does this building answer everything we need for the complete spectrum of our rental stock? Can we achieve all our housing goals in this building? I think not. Does it help? Definitely,” said Tang before casting his vote in support.
“People need places to live, and that’s why I’m supporting this [recommendation],” added Jang.
The development doesn’t address all the needs people have raised, Jang acknowledged, pointing in particular to the need for more social housing. “But this [development] really does fill a gap that hasn’t been addressed in a decade,” he said.
“It does indeed fill those gaps,” Deal agreed. “And it’s within compliance of our assessment of our rental housing program that we have in place.”
Deal also suggested that the new development could remedy the spike in renovations that have become a disturbing trend in the West End. “The old stock is not performing well anymore. That’s why we’re facing those rent evictions that are in some cases being used as an excuse to get rid of renters, and that’s never acceptable,” she said.
City staff say that rent for a one-bedroom unit in the building is expected to be more than $800 cheaper than the cost of purchasing a one-bedroom condo in the West End. But Carr argued that the comparison should never have been made. “I think it’s moot, and it’s inappropriate to compare affordability with buying or renting,” she told council.
Outside city hall, community members opposed to the development were angry about the decision.
“This confirms for me that Vancouver’s politics have a case of systematic corruption,” Randy Helton charged.
Helton, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011, is the director of West End Neighbours, which is staunchly opposed to STIR and rezoning without a West End Plan.
“I’m disappointed with the decision, but I’m twice as convinced that there are systematic problems at city hall, and I’m twice as committed and motivated to fix the system,” he said.
No word yet on when construction of the new tower will begin.
Calls to the building’s developers, Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects and Ian Gillespie of West Bank Corp, were not returned before press time.