Controversial Chinatown Condo Project Rejected by Council

Keefer Street development, which aimed to offer market and social housing on vacant lot, loses vote over heated opposition
Joannah Connolly
June 14, 2017

Plans for 105 Keefer Street, the polarizing proposed condo development in Chinatown, were voted down June 13 by City Council.

The project – which aimed to provide more than 100 market residential units alongside 25 low-to-moderate-income senior social housing units, plus commercial spaces and a seniors’ cultural space on the ground level – sparked protests from local residents who argued that it would damage the character of the historic neighbourhood.

Beedie Development Group made three sets of amendments to the designs for the currently vacant lot next to Chinatown Memorial Plaza. The developer reduced the number of storeys 13 to 12, cut the building height from 120 feet to 115 feet and pared down the number of market units from 119 to 110.

But despite the changes, the project was rejected by council in an 8-3 vote in City Hall chambers.

Mayor Gregor Robertson was one of the council members to vote against it, along with six Vision Vancouver city councillors, NPA Councillor George Affleck, and Green Councillor Adrianne Carr.

Mayor Robertson said in a statement, “The Beedie group put significant effort into this project over the years with the City and community to address concerns about the proposal, and went to extraordinary lengths to adjust and revise the project based on public and community feedback. Yet, Council heard overwhelming opposition from several generations of Vancouver residents on the rezoning for 105 Keefer, and concern about how to manage Chinatown’s pace of change. For that reason, I voted “no” to this rezoning proposal.”

Multiple public hearings on the project yielded hundreds of speakers both for and against the plans, and there was a protest rally and festival in Chinatown on Victoria Day, and more protests outside City Hall last week over the project.

Project Supporters Intimidated

City officials also condemned the alleged harassment of project supporters, whom a wide number of reports say were bullied and booed by project opponents at public hearings. Staff at Beedie Development Group said that more people might have expressed their support for the project, were it not for this intimidating behaviour, according to a report by News 1130.

Councillor Melissa DeGenova, who voted in favour of the project, said, “To hear that certain groups… were bullying, targeting, coercing, or trying to encourage speakers who were waiting to speak to not to speak… is very disturbing.”

She added, “I was asked to go on permanent maternity leave by someone. I didn’t think that would be part of the conversation here.”

The opposition to the project was polarizing in itself, with some project opponents objecting because of the inclusion of social housing units, and others saying that there were not enough social housing units, along with a larger group that argued the building itself would harm the look of the neighbourhood.

Mayor Robertson said in his statement, “In my almost nine years as Mayor, no issue or project has yielded such a passionate, emotional response as this rezoning application for 105 Keefer.

“The debate over what kind of development will take place at 105 Keefer has gone far beyond that specific site, at times becoming a debate over the future of Chinatown, how we build and strengthen neighbourhoods, and how we embrace and integrate our heritage and history with modern development. This has been a very difficult decision.”

Whether Beedie Development Group will submit further design changes for the proposed project is not yet known.

“Moving forward, I urge us all to focus on what unites us on Chinatown: the need for local-serving retail, the imperative for upgrading heritage buildings, the necessity for accessible spaces for seniors,” Robertson’s statement continued.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity with both a new BC government and a federal government that have expressed interest in investing and supporting culture and affordable housing, and an energized community excited about shaping Chinatown’s future. Let’s use that momentum for the greater good of an extraordinary neighbourhood.”

Joannah Connolly
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.