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Applicant 'disappointed' by Vancouver council's rejection of townhouse development

Vancouver Hospice Society executive director 'elated' by vote against rezoning application
4575 Granville Street
The development proposed for 4575 Granville Street featured 21 rental units in two buildings. Rendering Stuart Howard Architects

The applicants behind the failed rezoning application for the townhouse development next to the Granville Street hospice are “very disappointed” with city council’s decision to quash the project.

Council voted 7-4 against the rezoning application June 25 following a lengthy public hearing. (Read about the decision HERE)

“We are very disappointed with the result. We felt that we brought forward a project that met all the policies, guidelines and regulations, that addressed the majority of the neighbourhood concerns, and that offered a collaborative and practical way forward,” W. Neil Robertson, principal of Stuart Howard Architects, told the Courier in an email June 26.

“In terms of next steps, we are going to take some time and consider our options.”

The proposed development envisioned two buildings — one two-and-a-half storeys and the other three-and-a-half storeys — with 21 secured market rental units. It was considered under the Affordable Housing Choices and Interim Rezoning Policy.

Existing zoning allows the property owner to build a 12,000-square-foot house.

Robertson said some alternatives raised during the public hearing didn’t make sense.

“Unfortunately I believe that many of the suggestions that came up during the public hearing that council picked up on did not fully understand the rules and regulations,” he wrote.

“For instance, the lot cannot by subdivided under the current subdivision bylaw. I don’t believe that subdivision bylaws are typically changed for individual lots, so the subdivision bylaw would likely need to be changed for the whole block through council. Also, council mentioned building a duplex under the current zoning, however the above grade floor area for duplexes under the RS-5 district schedule are limited to 4,000 sq. ft. So balancing that against building a single family home over 12,000 sq. ft. doesn’t make much sense.”

Simin Tabrizi, executive director of the Vancouver Hospice Society, which lobbied against the development, praised council’s vote.

“Of course we are elated with council’s decision. We feel heard for the first time because we had tried to communicate our concerns to city staff numerous times and we really felt that they never gave any weight to our concerns,” she told the Courier Wednesday afternoon.

Tabrizi said, at some point in the future, the society would approach the property owner again to see if there’s any appetite to sell the land.

“If he’s willing, that is something we’d definitely like to explore,” she said.

In terms of what the property is worth, Tabrizi said they would have to “land on the side of a reasonable assessment on the price. Obviously, we’re not going to pay a lot for it. We will pay what the market dictates.”

The property is zoned single-family. BC Assessment valued it at $4.7 million on its 2019 assessment roll.

Tabrizi said the society thinks it may be possible for it to develop partnerships with BC Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and the City of Vancouver to develop transitional housing for seniors on the site.

“We have expertise in that area. It’s an idea we have talked about on a couple of occasions [but] we haven’t explored the possibility fully.”

She said they wouldn’t want to do any excavation and would want the maximum height to be two storeys.

Tabrizi acknowledged the organization is worried the owner could redevelop the site under existing zoning.

“Nobody wants a ginormous house built next door. We have enough of them in this area. I think that would be the least desirable outcome of this whole process. We are hoping if the developer wishes to remain on this site and wishes to come up with another development that we can be part of the development phase of that idea and really collaborate around what can be developed on that site in a way that is not disruptive to the hospice.”

While several councillors who voted against the rezoning application said they'd like to see the proposal go back to the drawing board, and a modified plan return quickly to council, some online critics questioned the likelihood of that.

Kevin Quinlan, former chief of staff to Gregor Robertson when he was mayor, raised doubts online.

“Strangest thing listening to Van City Councillors comment on voting down rental townhouses is the idea that applicant will just cheerily dust themselves off, happily spend tens of thousands of dollars on revisions + eagerly return to another 9 hour public hearing process,” Quinlan wrote on Twitter.

Former NPA councillor Gordon Price was equally critical in his Price Tags blog where he critiqued council's decision.

“The message is devastating for developers who believed council was sincere in wanting to encourage secure market-rental projects and more choice of housing in existing neighbourhoods,” he wrote.