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Vancouver city staff reject proposal for Stong's site

City of Vancouver staff have rejected a rezoning application for a six-storey mixed-use building on the Stong’s Market site.
The proposed design for the Dunbar street site included two smaller commercial spaces alongside Stong's on the first level with 72 residential units on levels two to six. Photograph submitted

City of Vancouver staff have rejected a rezoning application for a six-storey mixed-use building on the Stong’s Market site.

Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, recommended the proponent pull the application in light of opposition based on Dunbar’s community vision, which prescribes a four-storey limit on buildings.

“I, of course, only recommend to council, so if [the applicant wishes] to pursue, they could still go to council with our negative recommendation and then it would be council that would formally turn them down, but I have recommended that they withdraw their application,” Jackson told the Courier Thursday morning.

Henriquez Partners Architects filed the rezoning application with the city on behalf of the landowner Harwood Group.

The site in question includes properties from 4508 to 4560 on Dunbar Street and 3581 West 30th Avenue — the current locations for Stong's, McDermott's Body Shop and two parking lots.

The rezoning proposal provided space for the grocery store to move back in after the project was completed.

It also envisioned two smaller commercial spaces alongside Stong’s on the first level, while levels two to six would have featured 72 residential units. On the West 30th avenue parking lot, the proposal was for 11 three-storey townhouses. A public plaza was to be located on the northeast corner of Dunbar and West 30th.

Jackson said the application proposed a change to the zoning. He said the change was a privilege and not a right.

“And with that comes our responsibility to look at the local policies, the local vision, citywide policies, as well as the vision that has been created for Dunbar,” he explained. “When we looked at all that, they weren’t submitting an application for affordable housing, which would have allowed [for consideration of a] a six-storey building in that location. They weren’t submitting an application for a rental building, which could have been considered for a six-storey building. It was a market condo building on top of Stong’s and therefore, there isn’t any current city council policy basis to consider a six-storey building in commercial areas on major arterials right now.”

Last March, the city rejected a rezoning application by Pacific Arbour Communities to build a six-storey seniors facility just south of Stong’s based on concerns about affordability.

In an Aug. 14 Courier story, Norman Huth, a senior architect with Henriquez Partners Architects, confirmed financial viability was a key reason for the six-storey proposal for the Stong’s site.

Jackson said the fate of the grocery store is a concern.

“That was a dilemma for us. I’ve always said that it was a dilemma both for this one and for the seniors [facility],” he said. “I hope it’s not a Pyrrhic victory — that we get a shorter building, but the community loses Stong’s. So we’re hoping the applicant can still make a financial deal to keep Stong’s in the community, but the idea right now is we cannot support it as a six-storey building.”

Jackson added that the City of Vancouver believes in complete communities and grocery stores are a part of that notion, but the city’s legal mechanisms would not be able to ensure Stong’s would remain in the base of the proposed building.

The city received more than 300 emails and comments after the open house about the proposal, about 80 per cent of which were negative. The 20 per cent in favour were either concerned about keeping Stong’s in Dunbar or they didn’t understand the fuss about an extra two storeys.

Jackson said he told the applicant verbally about the staff recommendation late last week, and in a formal letter yesterday. The city advised Jane Ingman-Baker, chair of the Dunbar Vision Implementation Committee in a letter dated Oct. 23.

Jackson said the applicant is looking at its options.

He doesn’t think the city's decision sends a message to other developers.

“I don’t think it sends a citywide message. I think that in this particular case that if you’re proposing a development, which is not in accordance with current city policy, we either have to be directed to create a citywide policy to support a change in use or density or height in a particular area or there has to be a significant amount of public support for a change to the policy to be considered through a specific development application where there’s a significant community benefit or where there’s affordable housing, rental housing or achievement of one of the other citywide goals,” Jackson said

Neither Ingman-Baker, nor Henriquez Partners Architects could be reached by the Courier’s deadline.