Two months after Vancouver City Council approved a new community plan for the West End, it is now considering a rezoning application for 1155 Thurlow St, currently home to the Central Presbyterian Church.
The proposed project, which is a joint proposal between the church and Vancouver developer Bosa Properties, would see a 22-storey tower built on the site, containing 168 market-value rental units, 45 non-market rental units earmarked for seniors’ housing, replacement space for the church on the first three floors of the building, and a daycare.
The application was submitted prior to the West End plan’s passage. A community open house on the application held Feb 3 attracted approximately 130 people from the West End.
“People are mostly very excited about the affordable housing component,” church elder Gillan Jackson says.
“We’re hopeful that things will go forward. We had a good turnout at the open house,” he says. “It’s a win, win, win for everyone, especially people in the West End.”
Jackson says several community organizations, including Gordon Neighbourhood House, the Seniors’ Network, Mole Hill and the Dr Peter’s Centre have shown support for the development.
The land, owned by the church, is worth an estimated $10 million. Jackson estimates the development will cost approximately $50 million.
Bosa would pay for the development and retain ownership of the market-value rental units. The 45 non-market rental units would be owned and entirely subsidized by the church for seniors’ housing.
“We provide the land, they [Bosa] provide the building,” Jackson says. “We end up with a new up-to-date, seismically upgraded church, a daycare and a new housing society dedicated to seniors in the West End, and Bosa will have market-rental housing . . . It works out very well.”
Calls to Bosa were not returned by publication time.
“I love it,” says Dean Malone, who sits on the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee and heads Plum Living, which provides support services to seniors. He says the proposal presents a “great opportunity” for seniors housing in the West End. “We know there are older individuals in the West End that need affordable housing options close to commercial corridors.”
Malone says the proposal reflects community needs identified during the West End planning process. “It speaks directly to what the West End plan is putting a priority on, which is rental housing, affordable housing and housing for seniors.”
“I think it’s a good project for the community,” agrees Brent Granby, a member of the West End Residents Association. “It’s going to bring a lot to the community in terms of benefits. They’re going to rebuild the church, they’re having a daycare and they’ll have community meeting space. There’s a lot that they’re giving.”
While Granby supports the social and housing benefits tied to the application, he says the building size and height could be an issue for some residents.
“It will be a little challenging for people living in the area to accept,” he predicts, pointing to neighbouring shadow and view impacts.
“I think it’s always challenging when something new is built in the community,” he says. “It is a big departure from what is there right now.”
“A lot of people should be concerned,” says Randy Helten, director of the West End Neighbours community group. He says the proposed 9.45 floor-space ratio is too high for the size of the lot.
“It is surrounded by small buildings. It will have a dramatic effect on the character of the neighbourhood in Mole Hill,” he says. “It could set a precedent for building going in the area.”
Despite his concerns about the building’s size and impact, Helten agrees that the proposal’s affordable housing component would be a positive step for the community.
“For any community, to have non-market rental housing, a church and a preschool are valuable,” he says.
City planner Kevin McNaney says discussions regarding building form and use are still underway between the city, the church and the developers. He says the application has been at the planning department for at least a year.
“This was a rezoning application that came in prior to the interim rezoning policy during the West End planning process,” he explains.
City staff recommended to council that the Bosa application be approved as well when the West End plan was adopted on Nov 20, 2013.
McNaney does not know when the application will go to a public hearing.
“It has evolved over time and it’s still evolving,” he says.