105 Keefer: Controversial project in Chinatown. New open house May 16 (Mon)

105 keefer rendering beedie 5-May-2016 in Vancouver Sun

105 Keefer Street, Chinatown, Vancouver. New rendering by Beedie Group. May 2, 2016, in Vancouver Sun.

A controversial rezoning/development application is returning to the fore, with some revisions. The roots controversy can be traced right back to City Council. As an article below states, the developer “bought the site after the city rezoned parts of Chinatown, hoping to revitalize the neighbourhood.” City Council raised heights and failed to impose an limits on density. Also, as Prof. Henry Yu suggests, the concept of heritage embraced by the City overemphasizes physical components, but fails to address the intangibles. It is worth a lot of money to the Beedie Group, which paid $16.2 million for the land. The current proposal is for approx. 129,465 square feet. If valued at approx $500/sq foot, it’s probably worth well over $65 – $100 million in market value once sold. Nice deal. But at what cost to culture, the neighbourhood, and the community.

Third community open house for the public to review the design:

Revised Rezoning Application – Open House
105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia Street

Monday, May 16, 2016
5 to 8 pm
Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium (50 East Pender Street)

The applicant team and City staff will be available to answer questions. The public  can provide comments by filling out the city’s online feedback form. (CityHallWatch advises you to consider this a whole new input process. If you have written anything previously, it is not brought forward.) Comments will be accepted up to the Public Hearing date, but City staff encouraged you to provide your comments by June 27, 2016 to allow them to consider if any changes needed to be made to the proposal and to represent your comments in the staff report to Council.

In a way, City Council has created this controversy by approving increased height in the HA zoning districts without setting a limit for density. Today with this application we see the results in that policy change. Developers will naturally go for as much as they can.

Merrick Architecture donated $1,000 to Vision Vancouver in 2013. (See CityHallWatch list.) Beedie Group donated $25,000 in 2014 and $25,000 in 2015. (Donations in other years between elections are not reported and we have not looked further back.) When this goes eventually to public hearing, will Vision be able to make a fair decision, ignoring the political donations?

The Vancouver Sun carried a good summary of the current status on May 2. See excerpts further below. Meanwhile, two opinion pieces have been published in that paper.

  • Opinion: “Keefer project good for Chinatown,” by Eric Szeto (president/founder of Vancouver Seniors’ Singing Club Association, and advocate/steering committee member of Chinatown Seniors Cultural & Recreational Coalition “representing 12+ seniors-focused arts, culture and recreational organizations” (Note: CityHallWatch is trying to find out which groups are actually in this coalition. A separate article reveals that this is a new group and that it “has signed on to rent a 1,000 sq. ft storefront.”) 11-May-2016. http://vancouversun.com/opinion/editorial-keefer-project-good-for-chinatown
  • Opinion: ‘This used to be Chinatown …,’ by Henry Yu, professor of history at UBC and currently the co-chair of the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council advising the provincial government on how to recognize the historical importance of Chinese-Canadians in B.C. http://vancouversun.com/opinion/opinion-this-used-to-be-chinatown

 

Controversial project in Vancouver’s Chinatown revised (by John Mackie, Vancouver Sun, 2-May-2016)

http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/controversial-project-in-vancouvers-chinatown-revised

Excerpts: The Beedie Group is hoping it’s third time lucky with a controversial development proposal for 105 Keefer in Chinatown. But it may be a hard sell with Chinatown activists.

Beedie’s new submission to the city shows a slightly smaller development with 119 market condos, down from 127 last year and 134 when it was initially submitted in 2014.

The overall structure is still 13 storeys, but the western facade has been dropped two storeys, and the top four floors have been set back, making it appear smaller from the street.

The province’s BC Housing may take over the 25 social housing units proposed for the second floor of the building, and a new community group, the Vancouver Chinatown Seniors Cultural and Recreation Coalition, has signed on to rent a 1,000 sq. ft storefront.

But the changes aren’t enough to satisfy University of B.C. history professor Henry Yu.

“They’ve changed architecturally some elements, the set-back roof and things like that,” he said.

“But I think the core problem that they’ve faced in the previous proposal has not been addressed … the idea of how this fits in with the surrounding area as a kind of core heart of Chinatown.”

… Houtan Rafii of the Beedie Group said the design changes were in response to the community feedback. “It’s not only community concerns, we thought we had some constructive feedback from the Urban Design Panel (a civic advisory body) as well,” said Rafii.

… The new design by Merrick Architecture incorporates a lot of brick in the lower floors, which Rafii said fits into the traditional architecture of Chinatown. The building is designed so it looks like it’s a series of 25-foot wide structures, which blends into the Chinatown streetscape.

The big change is the addition of the Vancouver Chinatown Seniors Cultural and Recreation Coalition, which hopes to turn its storefront into a hive of activity for small arts and cultural groups.

“We have been looking for space for ourselves for a couple of years,” said the coalition’s Eric Szeto.

“Because we are small we don’t have the financial capability to rent our own spaces. We decided to come together to form a coalition and find a space that is affordable so that we can share the space and expenses.”

Szeto said if the building is approved, the coalition will be paying half the market rent on a 10-year lease.

“We are very happy and excited about the project,” he said.

Others feel differently. Bill Yuen of the Heritage Vancouver Society sent a letter to city council in January expressing “concern” about the previous plan for 105 Keefer, and doesn’t think the new plan is much different than the last one.

… “I think it would be good if the project addressed the Downtown Eastside Plan more, or the Chinatown Neighbourhood plan.”

“This is a historic area,” said Henry Yu. “It’s designated as a historic area by all three levels of government. This is not meeting the bar of that, still, after a third attempt.”

… The Beedie Group paid $16.2 million for two parcels of land at 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia in 2013. The site is 149 feet wide east to west, and 121 feet deep.

Beedie bought the site after the city rezoned parts of Chinatown, hoping to revitalize the neighbourhood. Developers quickly moved in, drawn by Chinatown’s cool factor and proximity to downtown.

“We like the site, because although it’s challenging, it gives us the biggest opportunity to do something that is meaningful,” said Rafii of the Beedie Group.

jmackie@postmedia.com

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