West Enders upset at planned 22-storey rental tower in their midsts
Developers have applied to rezone and develop the site of St. John's Church on Comox and Broughton in Vancouver and build a 22-storey residential tower in its place. Proponents say it will increase badly-needed rental stock in the city. Residents argue it's too tall a tower. Photograph by: Ric Ernst, The Province
Source: The Province Newspaper
By Cheryl Chan, The Province, November 8, 2009
Some West End residents are outraged over a proposed 22-storey residential tower in what is already Canada’s densest neighborhood.
Last week, notices went out to residents living in a two-block radius of St. John’s United Church on Comox and Broughton informing them that the unused church, purchased in September for $4.25-million by Westbank Development and Peterson Investment Group — the duo behind the landmark Shangri-la Hotel — is going to be replaced by a high-rise comprised of 180 apartments, 13 townhomes and 81 parking spots.
All residential units would be rentals.
“It’s a disappointment,” said Maris Pavelson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years.
“I was expecting it to be a community centre. There’s very few public spaces in the West End. We don’t need another high-rise.”
“I’m not down on renters, but a 22-storey building is just too much,” said resident Alison Charabim, who is worried about the influx of cars and traffic into the neighborhood.
To build the tower, architect firm Henriquez Partners has applied to rezone the property to increase the height maximum from 58 to 66 metres.
Another proposed residential building on Bidwell and Davie — a 20-storey tower with 49 units of rental housing and 98 market condo units by developer Millennium Properties — has also drawn mixed reaction from residents.
The site is occupied by cabaret lounge Maxine’s Hideaway, a grocer, an insurance company and restaurants.
If approved, the two developments will be the first substantial projects to be built in the West End in decades, aside from O2, a 20-unit seven-storey condo on Davie near Denman completed earlier this summer.
The developments will change the face of the West End, said Christine Ackerman of the West End Residents Association.
“There’s concern that the face of the West End is changing and it’s changing away from what it is valued for: being a mixed, diverse community,” said Ackerman.
“It’s not just changing one little corner, but we’re seeing it happen everywhere.”
Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners, the architectural firm in charge of both projects, said he understands the community’s fears but stressed that the buildings will increase much-needed rental stock in a neighborhood where vacancy rates are less than 1 per cent.
“The reality is one tower amidst dozens of towers is not incrementally a big change,” he said.
“The community benefit is that you’re building something average people can afford to rent.”
And not all residents are down on the towers.
Mike Donnelly, who has been renting in the West End for six years, is keen on the new projects.
“If it means that there’s more affordable options for renters like me, I’m all for it,” he said.
“I’d be curious to know how much the units would be going for because I’d like to switch to some place nicer and newer.”
About 75 per cent of buildings in the West End were built before 1980.
Both projects were submitted under the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental program, a 2 1/2 year program launched in June that aims to stimulate the construction of new rental housing by providing incentives to developers.
The first public information meeting on the Comox Street proposal will be held at the Coast Plaza Hotel on Nov. 24. The city’s decision on the Bidwell site, which has been in the works since 2007, is expected on Dec. 1.
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