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Vancouver speakers oppose Rize high-rise proposal

Plan includes 19-storey condo tower, 320 underground parking spots in Mount Pleasant

Tuesday night saw the first in a long list of speakers give city council their opinions on a controversial rezoning application for a high-rise development in Mount Pleasant.

And although opinions were mixed, the majority of the 50 speakers, out of a total list of 200 who have registered to speak, opposed the proposal by Rize Alliance Properties to build a 19-storey condo tower with 320 underground parking spots on the corner of Broadway and Kingsway.

Those opposed to the rezoning at the Feb. 28 hearing cited increased gentrification and property taxes, loss of views, traffic congestion, blocked sunlight and lack of public consultation. Their primary concern was a decline in affordable housing in the area.

"I fail to see how the community benefits from this high rise," said Chris Bevacqua, a computer animation professional who rents in the area. "I am happy for the new residents who move into these top notch buildings with their rooftop gardens and stunning views, but what does the rest of the community receive? What normally happens to long-term residents in communities who experience this type of change is a loss of local businesses and a massive increase in rent. This is a very real fear of mine."

Lucas Berube, an urban planner and nearby condo owner, said such fears are unfounded.

"It is no secret that housing affordability is a major concern here and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many young, educated people and young families leave the city every year because of the disparity between wages and real estate prices," said Berube, the first speaker of the night in favour of the rezoning. "I think the retention of professionals and young families is essential to a city's health and believe that increasing the housing supply by providing high-rise developments like this one is a first step towards ameliorating our affordability. No rental housing or heritage buildings are being torn down to build this project and I fail to see how, as some opponents of this project have suggested, a larger housing supply is going to increase home values or property taxes."

A previous proposal for the project had called for a 26-storey tower with artist-studio space and 62 rental units under the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program, but the units were taken off the table when the building's height was lowered.

Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs wondered how affordable housing could be provided in Vancouver if new tall towers weren't allowed.

"The question I have in my mind as I hear many of the submissions is you clearly don't like the height of the building and wish it was more affordable," said Meggs in response to a presentation by Mount Pleasant Implementation Committee member Sandeep Johal. "I am trying to clarify what the fundamental objection is. The developer is seeking to make some money, no one has made a secret of that, and they're not going to subsidize the rents I don't think. The question I have is this trade-off. What would your advice be to council? Should we insist on a building that is affordable even if there is no one prepared to build it or should we look at providing a bit more height if it provides more supply. This is a contradiction I find myself really jammed by."

After the STIR units were taken off the table, Rize agreed to provide a $6.2-million community amenity contribution, with $1.75 million going to local affordable housing projects and $4.5 million to cultural activities. Many people said they wanted proof the money would be spent in the community. Meggs, along with Green Coun. Adrienne Carr, asked city staff to find out where exactly the money might be spent.

"I think it would be helpful to clarify just how the current proposition for selection of community amenity benefits was done," said Meggs before the meeting came to an end at 11 p.m. "We need to clarify simply the type of language that would be included in a final council decision to provide transparency and accountability for the allocation of amenities and point to a precedent if there is one."

The public hearing will reconvene starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday (March 1).

Twitter: @flematic