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Qmunity and seniors to get space in Comox high rise, developers say

Not enough, some West Enders reply

Gregory Henriquez of the architecture firm behind the proposed Comox St redevelopment says there will be space in the building for Qmunity and seniors. Credit: Shauna Lewis

The developers behind a proposed high rise on Comox St will set aside space in the building for Qmunity and seniors, but some gay West Enders say more needs to be done.

“This is just a small part to continue to recognize some of the needs,” says former Pride Society president John Boychuk. “But it doesn’t answer all of the questions.”

“What is being offered to us is activity space, which is not the complete picture of Qmunity’s needs,” says Qmunity’s co-chair Craig Maynard, noting that the revised proposal does not include space for the organization’s administrative offices.

“We see that more work needs to be done. But this is a huge step forward,” Maynard says.

Many West End residents raised concerns about the Comox St site’s proposed redevelopment when they attended an open house last November.

Developers presented a revised rezoning proposal at a second open house on April 20.

The revised proposal allocates space within the site to be shared between two community groups: Gordon Neighbourhood House and Qmunity, BC’s queer resource centre.

Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects says his company decided to revise its original proposal to address concerns of affordability and the need for community space.

The revised proposal includes 3,500 square feet that will be held in trust by the city to be jointly shared between the two West End non-profit organizations.

The revised proposal also features six units of seniors housing, offered under BC’s Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters [SAFER] program.

The provincial program offers subsidies for renters over age 60 who earn less than $12,000 per year. Henriquez says his company, in partnership with the site’s developers, Westbank Projects, will attempt to make the seniors’ units more affordable by further subsidizing them for up to five years.

Asked what will happen if seniors can’t afford the rent after the subsidies cease, Henriquez had no answer.

Xtra tried to contact Ian Gillespie, president of Westbank Projects, but he was out of town and could not be reached.

Though the entire proposal still needs thorough review from city council, gay city councillor Tim Stevenson says he will be “very pleased that the community will get some benefit” if the proposal goes forward.

Others are concerned that the revised development plan still doesn’t address the issue of affordability.

“It’s not that we need more rental units, it’s just that we need better [unit] prices,” says West End resident Johnny Lam.

Lam says he’s happy about the proposal to include queer space, but won’t be satisfied until more consultation occurs between the community, the city and developers.

“This 3,500 square feet shared with someone else” doesn’t sufficiently address the gay community’s needs, adds West End resident and business owner Dean Malone.

Malone says he supports the Comox rezoning but thinks Qmunity is being far too eager to grab the space.

“I think our community and Qmunity need to step back and say, ‘Thanks for the offer but it’s not the right one,'” he says.

According to the city planning department, the public meeting to discuss the revised proposal for 1401 Comox St is scheduled for June 22.