The development industry has reacted with extreme “disappointment” to the City of Vancouver’s fifth rejection of the controversial 105 Keefer Street project in Chinatown.
The Beedie Group’s project, which was sent back to the drawing board four times following several protests and impassioned objections at public meetings and City Council, was turned down for a fifth time by the City’s Development Permit Board on November 6.
In a 2-1 vote, the board concluded that the nine-storey building, the latest iteration of which contained 100% market housing, and a ground-level cultural space — did not meet technical zoning requirements. Chief planner Gil Kelley was one of the two who voted against it.
The project, on a site that is currently a parking lot in Chinatown, was previously conceived as a 12-storey tower with 25 low-income seniors’ housing units – a design that was voted down in June following the public protests. Three other versions of the project go back as far as 2014.
Anne McMullin, president of the Urban Development Institute of BC, said in a statement, “At a time when housing supply in market, rental and affordable homes has reached historic lows, this project denial sends a negative chill throughout the industry.
“Our members, and the thousands of individuals represented in all facets of development and building, are concerned this decision undermines the integrity and reliability of the City’s rigorous planning regime, and puts into question future projects, not only in Chinatown, but across the City."
She added that the Beedie proposal was revised five times over the course of four years and the final plan had received the support of city staff and the city’s Urban Design Panel, met existing zoning regulations and conformed to the official community plan.
“This ruling creates significant uncertainty because our members don’t know if they can rely on zoning, urban area plans, advice of city staff or recommendations of the Urban Design Panel.”
Prior to the vote, the UDI wrote a letter to the City’s Development Permit Board (DPB) asking for its approval, in a rare show of support for an individual project from the high-level industry body.
One of the key protest groups against the project, the Chinatown Action Group, expressed its happiness over the decision. In a statement, organizer Nat Lowe said, “We’re over the moon that the DPB finally put a stop to Beedie’s profit-driven development and, instead, protect low-income residents. However, this is just the first step. Our elected leaders and Beedie need to get on with building what has been called for all along: 100% low-income housing and a public and free community space.”
The public outcry over the project became controversial in itself earlier this year, when some of those speaking out in support of the project claimed they had been threatened or bullied by over-zealous protestors.
Even the protestors had been divided, with some opponents of the previous 12-storey design 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 historic neighbourhood.