Time is running out for public input into a controversial mixed-use proposal in Vancouver’s Chinatown, prompting push back from those who say they want to preserve the cultural heritage of the community.
“It symbolizes and represents an important piece of history that matters to Chinese Canadians like myself,” said Nicole So, a UBC student who is also part of the Chinatown Youth Coalition, focused on preserving Chinatown’s heritage. She and others are voicing concerns about the proposed development, slated for the corner of Keefer and Columbia.
Fellow coalition member Sophie Fung said the fact that a revised application had to be submitted points to the community’s discontent.
“It’s an indication that the community is not satisfied with what they have put on the table and, along with the other stakeholders in the region, need to come together with something that is more appropriate,” said Fung.
Land purchased for $16.2 million
Beedie Development Group purchased the land in 2013, paying $16.2 million for it. Their first proposal to develop the property in 2014 drew plenty of criticism. They submitted a revised proposal in September 2015, for a 13-storey mixed-use building, including retail space on the ground floor, 127 condos and 25 affordable seniors homes.
Beedie says the 25 seniors units were added as a result of the initial consultation process and feedback from the community. Further changes were also made to the initial proposal based on public input, including a decrease in the number of condos from 137 to 127.
However, opponents say the building would be too high and that Chinatown needs community space, not condos. Members of the Chinatown Youth Coalition also said they are not convinced the promise of housing for seniors will be kept, especially since a non-profit group has not officially signed on as an operator.
“Twenty five maybe is what is on the table now, but after they find an operator and they go through the cost, there might be much, much fewer units for the community,” said Fung.
Social media spurring “misinformation’, says Beedie
Fung and others say there is more opposition to the project than Beedie is letting on, allegations the developer denies.
“In our re-zoning documents, we have never alluded to the fact that any of these groups are supporters–rather, that they’ve been consulted with and provided feedback,” said Houtan Rafii, Vice President of Residential Development for Beedie Living.
WATCH: Kathryn Lennon explains why the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown is focused on protecting the community.
Rafii said a third-party company was hired to canvass businesses within a 300-meter radius of the site. Of the 144 contacted, only 8 per cent (12) were opposed. However, the Chinatown Youth Coalition said it conducted its own informal survey and that, of the 50 businesses they spoke with over a four-day period, they found a much higher number of opponents.
Raffi said the suggestion that they are presenting misleading data to support the project is simply untrue.
“The fact that they’d question the integrity of that…quite frankly, we find it offensive,” he said, adding their concern now is about misinformation being circulated via social media.
“The petition online, as an example, suggests that this building, if it was constructed, is taking this site out of a heritage designation, which is entirely untrue. The power of social media is very strong. If I was to receive that petition with all the limited amount of information that was on it, I too would probably consider signing it, but it’s not all the facts.”
The privately-owned land is zoned for development up to 90 feet and Beedie could go ahead with a building that tall, but at just nine storeys, Rafii said there would be little benefit to the community.
“Those additional 17,000 square feet generate about 13,000 square feet of non-market housing. We’re trying to find a good formula that strikes a balance between a project that is sustainable as well as the needs of the community,” said Rafii.