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West End neighbours disagree on revised Comox St rezoning

West End neighbours disagree on revised Comox St rezoning

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Affordability vs more rental stock, city council hears
The City of Vancouver began public hearings June 11 on a contentious proposal to rezone 1401 Comox St to allow construction of a 200-foot rental tower. While some West End residents support the project, others maintain it overlooks the need for affordability and liveability.

“On behalf of the West End Neighbours (WEN), we oppose this rezoning and we request that city council not approve it and send it back to the applicant to come back with something more acceptable to the community,” Randy Helten told Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council.

“How many petitions do you need to start listening to what the people want?” asked Helten, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year.

Helten says that, since 2009, WEN has collected thousands of signatures from community members demanding no spot-rezoning until they are meaningfully consulted in a comprehensive community planning process.

City planners launched the consultation phase of their new West End plan in May, but Helten maintains the process has yet to be fully accountable to the community on issues such as spot-rezoning.

Calling the public consultation process a “humbling and meaningful experience,” 1401 Comox St developer Ian Gillespie and architect Gregory Henriquez attended the hearing to defend the third draft of their rezoning application.

Gillespie told council he is frustrated by the public’s disbelief that the tower will remain rental, as opposed to sold off as condos. If approved, the 22-storey tower would provide 186 rental units, including some townhouses, at market prices.

City staff support the project and told council the building plan would fit into the West End despite its large scale.

“It’s greater than that which would be considered for rezoning, but it’s not out of context with surrounding buildings,” says planner Anita Molaro.

Henriquez Partners Architects submitted a revised rezoning application last November that reduced the originally proposed height from 216.5 feet to 200 feet and adjusted the building plans to reduce its shadow impact on neighbours. Currently, the spot is zoned for a lower-density building no taller than 190 feet.

In decreasing its proposed height, the plan also dropped the amenity space it previously planned to offer Qmunity, BC’s queer resource centre. However, it still includes six subsidized units for seniors for five years. It also promises space for a children’s play area, community park and green walkways.

Critics of the rezoning application say those incentives won’t make the rental units more affordable, and affordable rental stock is what’s needed in the West End.

Christine Ackermann, president of the West End Residents Association and long-term renter in the West End, says affordability is her biggest concern regarding the plan.

“We’re seeing that families can’t afford to live here anymore,” she says.

The proposed tower would give the West End its “first purposeful rental in 40 or 50 years,” she says, “but it doesn’t adequately address affordability.”

Ackermann wants council and the developers to consider reducing the suite rental costs by reducing the more than 70 parking spots allocated in the building application. That could save developers and the city as much as $75,000 per parking space, she suggests.

Ackermann says the median household income in the West End is $38,500, which translates to $950 per month. She wants the city and the developers to find ways to make a third of the proposed rental units affordable to the average-income resident.

But city staff say the proposed rents, though higher than rents in older buildings in the area, will buy “above modest” unit space that’s more affordable than owning a home in the West End.

Resident Terry Martin doesn’t buy it. “You create inaffordability; you don’t create affordability this way,” he told council.

But Gillan Jackson, who has rented in the West End for more than 20 years, supports the rezoning application. “I support it because it will introduce new, up-to-date, secure rental accommodation in the West End,” he told council.

Jackson predicts that any new rental stock in the area will put downward pressure on existing older stock and will “create movement in the market.”

Jackson says he has participated in all the open houses and discussion regarding the proposed site since the initial rezoning application was presented to the city in 2009, and he maintains that there are only two options for the site: condominiums or rental. “We have a lack of supply; we have aging buildings in the West End, and I hope that you will confirm the addition of new stock,” he told council.

The hearing will continue on June 13 to ensure that all 65 speakers who signed up to discuss the application get a chance to address council.


Comments

Opinion
And then there is this perspective: http://www.fuel-injected-male.blogspot.ca/2012/06/death-of-gay-ghetto-5.html
Over 750 New Rentals in Last 15 Years
If there is going to be useful discussion regarding development in the West End, we should get our facts straight. A statement like "...we have not had one new purpose built rental building in 30 years" is a falsehood and adds nothing to the discussion. A quick review of purpose built rentals in the West End in the last 15 years includes: St. Andrews-Wesley tower (Nelson, east of Thurlow): 193 rental units; Carmana Plaza (1128 Alberni Street): 243 rental units; Columbus Tower (1175 Broughton): 97 rental units; Pacific Palisades (Robson and Jervis): 234 rental units. That's a total of 767 new, purpose built rental units in the West End in the last 10 years. Council has also approved rezoning for 314 potential rental units at the Coast Plaza, likely to come in the next five years.
Response to Pendrell
The church may have been historical, but heritage it wasn't. Uninsurable and in disrepair it had to go. Not sure what information you have but, I am self employed and represent myself in my comments. Again, your comments are just more of the same from people who have nothing better to do.
Response to Mark
Mark, as this blog's point man for developer spin, would you mind explaining why rental apartments are being converted to condos all over the West End? Please help me understand why we need to destroy churches and historic buildings to urgently construct rentals while developers are taking rentals off the market for condo conversions at the same time! I'm very interested in your employer's "official misinformation" spin on this (don't forget to call someone a NIMBY in your response) http://1265barclay.com/
Stop the Politics
The West End needs to replenish and build it's rental stock. 80% of our community rents and still we have not had one new purpose built rental building in 30 years. St. John's abandoned the church and sold it, not Westbank. The building was uninsurable and needed $500K in repairs just to be insured let alone functional. It would not have been a good use of taxpayer $ to put into that sinking ship. Westbank committed to the United Church to build rentals and that is what we are getting. Qmunity is out of the project because Jennifer Breakspear chose the wrong project to hang her hat on. It is the wrong location and too small for Qmunity and that would have been all the LGBTQ community would have gotten. Thankfully others spoke up in the community and put that to an end and Jennifer could then not add this to her unremarkable legacy. We need this building and hopefully all the crazy NIMBY's won't ruin it. If this building is turned down at Council we will see an 11 storey condo building with vacant suites and no contribution to the vibrancy of our community. Not what our community is looking for.
Condo conversion
I have several friends who used to rent at 1265 Barclay. This rental is now being converted to condos by Wall (a major contributor to Vision)as we watch West End landmarks get bulldozed due to an apparent lack of rentals. The hypocrisy takes my breath away. http://1265barclay.com/
Public disbelief?
"Gillespie told council he is frustrated by the public’s disbelief that the tower will remain rental, as opposed to sold off as condos" Can't imagine why the public would be sceptical? Perhaps they are worried about the same "magic" that made Qmunity suddenly vanish from the project, or vapourized the artist studios just as mysteriously from the Rize project. Or that Vision is allowing more affordable rentals on Barclay St to be converted into condos. Or that the church has already been knocked down before the project is even before council ... Trust needs to be earned. Vision Vancouver is a very long way from earning mine.
Memo to Gillan
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. -Matthew 6:24
Come clean Gillian
Is it not Central Presbyterian on Thurlow at Pendrell which will be demolished this year to build an Henriquez designed 25 story tower that you are really interested in. As Liturgist at the church how will you explain the shading and livability issues caused to the residents of Mole Hill?
Come clean Christine
Christine, you were with the United Church's BC Conference (main church body) until Feb. 2009, as Assistant to the Executive Secretary. The church was put up for sale in January after the congregation dwindled, finances were low, and the roof started leaking. The main church refused to help with rebuilding the congregation or finance the fixing of the roof...oh, and it wanted the money. It sold us out and sold the church to a mega-developer, despite a church official assuring the congregation that “We all need to be proactive so that this beautiful property continues to be a community resource and not a financial windfall for developers.” Given that St. John's was home to so many wonderful community services (Gordon Youth Job Search, AA, Rainbow Community Church, gay choirs, boy scouts, musical events, and yes, a place of spiritual solace), you failed us all by supporting this gross tower from the beginning and not lifting a finger to protect the West End from developers. Now you're pleading for the city and the developer to make it affordable? Not gonna happen.

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