4 min

Parkhill backs off

New plan for Davie St next year

Credit: Robin Perelle

After weeks of pressure from the gay community, the Parkhill Hotel’s owners seem to be backing off plans to turn the Davie Village giant into a residential tower.

News of the supposed plans began to leak out in April, when someone told Business in Vancouver publication that the building’s new owners were planning to turn the hotel into an apartment building. This sparked concern in the gay community because apartment dwellers are far more likely than hotel guests to lodge noise complaints-and local business owners have plans to turn Davie St into a major centre of gay nightlife.

“It will be the end of Davie as we visualize it,” predicted Jim Deva, of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), at the time. “If we’re going to have an entertainment district on Davie St we can’t have people living in the centre of it.”

BIA president Randy Atkinson agrees. Having a residential tower in the middle of a vibrant, 24-hour area would be “a recipe for disaster,” he says.

That’s why Atkinson, with the help of city council’s gay liaison, Tim Stevenson, began investigating. They soon discovered a copy of a realtor’s brochure describing the Parkhill as a residential tower to prospective tenants.

Alarmed, Stevenson asked city inspectors to check out the work site. They did-and promptly issued a stop work order after discovering renovations beyond the scope of the hotel’s existing permits. (In other words, the hotel seemed to be well into its apartment conversion, even though it only had a renovation permit-not a change of usage permit.)

Construction ground to a halt.

Now, the hotel’s owners are saying it was all a big misunderstanding.

Executives from Northland Properties, the company that bought the hotel for $16.5 million in March, recently told city officials that they never intended to turn the hotel into an apartment building. They only meant to upgrade the Parkhill into an all-suite hotel, they say, where guests could stay for up to a month in suites with kitchen facilities and separate bedrooms.

Xtra West called Northland Properties to confirm these plans, but was unable to reach anyone for comment despite repeated messages.

Still, Atkinson is cautiously optimistic. Whatever the owners’ original intentions, they seem to be working towards an all-suite hotel now, he says.

Atkinson met with the owners Jun 10 to discuss their plans for the building and explain the BIA’s concerns. He left feeling reassured.

An all-suite hotel would be “great news from the perspective of maintaining the Village as a 24-hour, safe, vibrant commercial district,” he says.

Stevenson agrees. He doesn’t know what the owners’ original intent was either, but he’s satisfied with the direction they’re taking now. “I’m keeping my eyes open but I’m inclined to think that [the threat has passed,]” he says.

Still, he’s not about to relax his guard. “They’re obviously now going to be very closely scrutinized,” he promises.

The city’s co-director of planning says he’ll be keeping a close eye on the property, too. “We’re reviewing it very carefully to make sure it functions as a hotel,” Larry Beasley says.

Right now, the Parkhill has a permit to continue limited renovations on specific floors. One of Vancouver’s top building inspectors says he granted Northland’s request to install kitchenettes on five floors because they hadn’t violated any previous permits on those floors. A letter taped to the hotel’s front door says city officials refused an earlier request to install kitchens on some lower floors, because “incorrect information was submitted.”

Now, city planners are examining a third request to partition some rooms in order to carve out separate sleeping areas. Beasley won’t say whether that request is likely to be approved. It depends on the owners’ intentions for the property, he says.

Kitchenettes and separate bedrooms are not incompatible with all-suite hotels, he explains. But city staff will be paying close attention to make sure the building’s renovations and operations remain consistent with those of a hotel and not an apartment building, he repeats.

Staff would frown upon changing the Parkhill into an apartment tower, Beasley adds.

An apartment building has no place in a late-night commercial zone like Davie St, he says, echoing many in the gay community. “Davie is one of our most important commercial high streets,” he notes, adding that he encouraged Northland to meet with the Davie BIA to clear up any lingering misunderstandings.

Atkinson says he wouldn’t look favourably upon a change of usage for the Parkhill, either.

“I’m not afraid of going to battle for the community,” he says. “We will use every legal means in our power to influence the decision-makers at city hall to stop the change to a residential unit.”

But he doesn’t think that will be necessary anymore.

For now, the challenge will be trying to convince the owners to market their newly renovated, all-suite hotel to the gay community, Atkinson says.

Northland has yet to express much interest in the gay community, but Atkinson remains optimistic: “I’m confident at this point that we’ve got at least the possibility of building a partnership that benefits the Parkhill, the Davie Village, the gay community and the West End,” he says.

Stevenson is also feeling more confident. “I think this is one of our success stories,” he says, promising one more time to remain vigilant.

In the meantime, he continues, this whole situation has highlighted the need to develop a new, official West End plan in consultation with the gay community.

The city and the gay community should sit down and plot the Davie Village’s development together, Stevenson says. So the next time a developer wants to build an apartment tower in the middle of Davie St, city staff will be able to measure the application against an up-to-date city plan for the area that reflects the needs and interests of the surrounding community.

The city has a plan for the West End but it’s more than 15 years old, makes no mention of the gay community and bears little resemblance to the community’s vision for its Village.

That has to change, Stevenson says. The gay community “has come of age and needs to be part of a whole new planning strategy for the West End.”

Stevenson is hoping staff will include the West End in its next round of community visioning processes scheduled to begin early next year.