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Vancouver council approves controversial Kitsilano five-storey rental project

Rezoning proposal submitted under city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program
A rendering of Jameson Development’s five-storey rental building plan for 1805 Larch St. Rendering J
A rendering of Jameson Development’s five-storey rental building plan for 1805 Larch St. Rendering Jameson Development

Vancouver council approved a contentious rezoning application to build a five-storey rental building at Larch and West Second Avenue in an 8-3 vote Dec. 18. The decision came after a public hearing that attracted dozens of speakers, both for and against.

Only NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick, Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr and COPE Coun. Jean Swanson voted against the project destined for 1805 Larch St.

Jameson Development submitted the application under the city’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP), which offers developers incentives to construct rental buildings in which 20 per cent of the residential floor space is reserved for moderate income households earning between $30,000 and $80,000.

In this case, the Larch street building will produce 63 rental units — 13 for moderate income households.

Twenty proposals are permitted under the pilot — the first two projects, both on the East Side on Renfrew Street — were approved following a public hearing last week.

Some residents living near the Larch Street site, who formed Kits Neighbourhood Group, campaigned against that project, arguing it doesn't fit with the neighbourhood character, the building is too high, dense and bulky, and not enough affordable units are being provided to justify the incentives being offered to the developer.

NPA Coun. Rebecca Bligh cited the vacancy rate of less than one per cent as one of the reasons more rental is needed in Vancouver, and she expects the building will be full “in short order” once it’s constructed, while Coun. Lisa Dominato added there’s a “huge need” for both market and affordable rental housing. Dominato also noted the site is close to transit and amenities, and the project features green building standards.

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle said there would be no displacement of existing renters since it was a church site, the new building will be a zero-emissions building, it will provide secure rental housing, and the property is close to amenities.

“It will be a well-loved, meaningful home for some people,” she said.

Coun. Swanson ran through “who gets what” from the project to explain her “No” vote.

She said the city would get 13 suites at moderate — not low — rental rates, and they would be subject to vacancy control, but 50 of the rental units won't be subject to vacancy control and would be “pretty expensive” — higher than many existing rents in the area. Swanson added that the developer would get more than triple the density, an increase in property value, as well as development cost levy (DCL) and community amenity contribution (CAC) waivers.

She argued the city isn’t getting anywhere close to what’s needed in terms of affordability through the project, and she was worried about gentrification.

“If we approve this, I think we’re giving away too much for too little,” she said.

In casting her “No” vote, Coun. Hardwick said it’s not a large site, it’s not on an arterial, and there are better locations throughout Vancouver, and in Kitsilano, for such a project. She also questioned whether 13 affordable units were “worth hurting this neighbourhood.”

NPA Coun. Melissa DeGenova, however, was firmly in support of the application.

“Someone said to me once, 'If we don’t start somewhere, we won’t get anywhere'. I think that’s a perfect statement,” she said.