Vancouver City Council votes down controversial Chinatown condo project at 105 Keefer

A rendering of the 12-storey version of the rejected tower for 105 Keefer Street. The developer later revised the project down to nine storeys, but had its application rejected for the fifth and final time in November, 2017. City of Vancouver

Vancouver City Council has voted down plans for a controversial 12-storey mixed-use condo tower in historic Chinatown.

The Beedie Development Group had proposed the 127 condo units and 25 units of seniors’ housing at 105 Keefer Street, in the face of significant community opposition.

On Tuesday, Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors appeared to hear those concerns, voting the proposal down by a margin of eight to three.

NPA Councillors Melissa de Genova and Elizabeth Ball and Vision Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie were the only ones to back the project.

While the project as proposed is now dead, it doesn’t mean the site won’t be redeveloped.

Councillor Kerry Jang said it’s now up to the developer to come back with a new draft plan.

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“We heard from many of the Chinatown residents, they don’t care what’s there as long as it’s no greater than 90 feet [27 metres], so that’s one possibility for them.”

LISTEN: CKNW’s Emily Lazatin discusses the vote on the Steele & Drex Show

Houtan Rafii, Vice President of Residential Development for Beedie Living, said he doesn’t know what’s next.

“We respect council’s decision,” Rafii said.

“We think it’s unfortunate, we think it’s perhaps a loss for Chinatown, but never the less we respect it.”

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WATCH: Community concern over proposed 105 Keefer condo development

Click to play video: 'Chinatown community condo opposition'
Chinatown community condo opposition

READ MORE: Chinatown advocate urges Vancouver developers to listen more closely to local residents

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Controversial project

Beedie purchased the land back in 2013 for $16.2 million, and revised its original 2014 proposal four times on the road to Tuesday’s vote, reducing the number of storeys, cutting the number of condo units from 137 to 127, and adding the homes for seniors.

But the proposal still ignited community debate, with hundreds of speakers descending on public hearings in late May.

Veteran and area resident Kerry Kong applauded council’s decision and said he isn’t against development so long as it’s controlled.

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“Not too high, the height of building… We want the developer not to make it too high,” Kong said, adding there wasn’t enough social housing.

Of the 25 units for seniors, just eight would have been required to rent at welfare rates according to the city.

Beedie says all of them would be held at that price.

That concern was echoed by other opponents, who argued high-end condos would hasten gentrification in the neighbourhood, displacing low-income residents and seniors.

Other community advocates had warned the project didn’t fit with Chinatown’s character and argued it would change the look and feel of the area.

Moving forward

One Vancouver urban planner says the rejection will force developers to take a closer look at their projects moving forward.

“Communities do change over time but I think gentrification is really a discussion of how that change occurs,” says SFU City Program Director Andy Yan.

Yan says Tuesday’s council vote will likely mean developers need to look more closely at the neighbourhood they’re building in, and be more sensitive to whom they are building for.

“Are you building for that senior or that young family, or are you building for that person who wants to buy that unit and put it on Airbnb?”

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Yan says the difference between organic change and gentrification in the neighbourhood will be how well developers manage to be inclusive to the existing community.

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