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Qmunity exclusion from Comox project due to community divide

Architect says project now 100 percent residential

"There was a split in the community," says architect Frank Stebner, of the decision to pull Qmunity from the high-rise project proposed for 1401 Comox St, the former site of St John's United Church. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

Space for Qmunity in a Comox St high-rise was withdrawn from planning because the community was not unified about the queer resource centre being part of the controversial development.

“There was a split in the community,” says Frank Stebner, project architect for Henriquez Partners Architects, the proponent of the revamped 22-storey tower proposed for 1401 Comox St, the former site of St John’s United Church. Qmunity and Gordon Neighbourhood House had hoped they would share space in the proposed 22-storey tower in the West End.

The project is now 100 percent residential, Stebner said, noting Vancouver needs a new 1,500 units of rental housing each year, 6,000 units across the Lower Mainland.

In addition to the removal of community space, proposed revisions also include sculpting the tower to reduce shadow impacts; reduced height, from 66 metres (216.5 feet) to 61 metres (200 feet); larger setbacks; and more green space.

Much criticism had been made about the sense of putting a new high-rise in the West End. But at an open house last month, Henriquez Partners information boards indicated there are 31 towers within three blocks of the proposed development that are 15 storeys or higher, and 10 that are 22 storeys or higher.

The initial proposal had been submitted by the architectural company and its co-investors, Westbank Corp and the Peterson Group, to the city in March 2010. However, community uproar over the plan put a halt to the process, pending further public consultation. Many open houses and forums ensued, and developers were required to revamp their rezoning application to address community concerns.

Last spring, during a city-hosted forum on affordable housing, Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear faced an onslaught of community criticism for praising the rezoning application that would have allowed the organization to occupy space in the tower. Breakspear has described Qmunity’s current Bute St home as “decrepit and pitiful.”

The proposal is currently the subject of a municipal rezoning application.

Stebner was at an open house in the West End last month to explain the revamped proposal to people in the neighbourhood. Stebner told Xtra the project could also include an extension of the Broughton St minipark from Neighbourhood House to the new high-rise.

“We’d like feedback from the community on that,” he said.

Queer filmmaker and West End resident Aerlyn Weissman, who was at the open house, says Qmunity should have done a better job of consulting West End residents before becoming involved with the project.

“They do wonderful work. I want them to have a new place,” Weissman says. “That ugly little staircase on Bute St, we deserve better than that. But to ally yourself with the developer of a really contentious project — groan.”