Housing industry blasts Vancouver city staff after 105 Keefer condo proposal rejected

Vancouver turns down controversial Chinatown development
WATCH: The City of Vancouver has turned down a proposed development in Chinatown, delighting opponents but angering and frustrating some in the business community. Nadia Stewart reports.

City staff came under fire on Tuesday after they rejected a controversial condo proposal from a well-known Vancouver developer that was planned for 105 Keefer Street in Chinatown.

At a meeting on Monday night, Vancouver’s Development Permit Board rejected an application from Beedie Living for a mixed-used condo building at the corner of Keefer and Columbia.

This was Beedie’s fifth submission for that particular site.

WATCH: From June 13 — City of Vancouver strikes down Chinatown development

City of Vancouver strikes down Chinatown development
City of Vancouver strikes down Chinatown development

The decision was unprecedented, said Anne McMullin, president & CEO of the Urban Development Institute (UDI), an organization that represents the development industry’s interests.

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“We have never seen anything like this before,” McMullin said.

“I mean, what message does that send to anybody trying to do business in the City of Vancouver? That you can follow all the rules, do everything that’s right, follow all the recommendations and at the last minute, they say no.”

McMullin said the decision is raising concerns for other developers. She also said the rejection undermines the city’s planning regime, and throws future projects into question.

“This is a reputable developer who is a huge philanthropist in the city who has a track record of decades of community building, of employing people, of doing very good work,” she said.

“The developer probably has three options: to sue, to sell or to sit on it and do nothing and wait for it to go up in value. We’ve got a parking lot that’s going to stay a parking lot in a housing crisis.”

READ MORE: Proposed condo tower for 105 Keefer in Vancouver’s Chinatown defeated for 5th time

Beedie Living is disappointed in the decision, executive vice-president Houtan Rafii said in an emailed statement.

“Like many people, we are uncertain what this unprecedented decision will mean for these civic institutions,” he said.

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Advocates celebrate victory

But for Vincent Tao and the rest of the Chinatown Action Group, it’s the fight they never thought they would win.

“We’ve been fighting for four years against an insurmountable enemy — it’s a developer — and we didn’t think that the city was going to make that decision yesterday,” Tao said.

Fellow group member Nat Lowe said the proposed building was never a good fit.

“We were really disappointed by this last development application because there was no social housing, there was a token cultural space that was offered,” Lowe said.

This is the first time since 2006 that the Development Permit Board has rejected an application.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said it’s now up to Beedie to decide what happens next — but there are options, which could include land swaps and an outright purchase.

“It depends on land values and terms and conditions,” Robertson told reporters on Tuesday. “We just want to be sure that we’re thinking bigger picture with Chinatown in general.”

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

The mayor refused to draw any parallels between council’s recent apology to Vancouver’s Chinese community and the rejection of this application — but there’s an obvious connection in the minds of advocates.

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“It’s the same history,” Tao said.

“People have been struggling in this neighbourhood for 100 years now to find decent homes for themselves… in a way that they can flourish and prosper together.”