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Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got a shout-out at Vancouver council

It has to do with the five-storey rental building proposed for Kitsilano.
Coun. Christine Boyle and Kitsilano resident David Hovan referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during debate over a five-storey rental project at Larch Street and West Second Avenue. Photo Dan Toulgoet/Screen grab City of Vancouver

Now that the hubbub regarding the five-storey rental building proposed for Kitsilano has subsided, let’s talk about deceased U.S. civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Say what?

Some of you probably heard that King’s words became part of the council record Wednesday after council voted 8-3 to approve the 63-unit rental project at Larch Street and West Second Avenue.

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle, who supported the project, made that happen.

Coincidentally, Boyle is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada. King was a Baptist minister. And, for what it’s worth, the site in question is currently home to a church and King’s older sister’s name was…Christine.

Boyle likely wouldn’t have mentioned the iconic preacher’s name in the chamber had it not been for Kits resident David Hovan quoting King in his Dec. 12 speech to council. Hovan is a 20-year resident of a four-storey apartment building across the street from the project site.

“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” he began his speech.

“The 1805 Larch Street development proposal affects me and many of my neighbours directly, and affects the entire west Kitsilano neighbourhood indirectly. I oppose this proposal.”

Hovan, who said his building is 35-feet tall, described the project as “a massive development” that will result in a 67-foot tall brick wall facing his apartment. It will, he added, encroach on his property and privacy rights.

“This brick wall is going to be breathing down my neck every day,” said Hovan, who noted the project has caused him sleepless nights over the past year and forced him to double up his blood pressure medication.

He went on to state his reasons for his opposition, referring to how a spot rezoning in a neighbourhood is “an infringement of the property rights of the many against a privileged few.” He took that line from the Fordham Law Review.

Hovan cited various documents he obtained from the city’s planning department through the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act that, he argued, shows how the project contradicts some of the current guidelines for the Moderate Income Rental Housing Program — which is what the Larch Street project falls under.

Hovan requested council refer the project to staff to develop “a less intrusive, better fitting plan, one which would be much better for the community than the developer.”

We know now that his request was denied.

Which brings me back to Boyle and King’s words…

In stating her reasons for supporting the project, Boyle referred to Hovan quoting King during the public hearing.

For the record, the quote was from King’s famous letter from a Birmingham jail, where he was in custody for leading a demonstration in 1963 to bring national attention to racist treatment suffered by blacks in Alabama.

Boyle said she read the full letter and pulled this excerpt from it:

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Then she said this:

“My sense of this project is that the injustice in this situation isn’t that the more affordable units are on the ground floor, it’s that so many renters and low-income residents across our city have been limited to living in basement suites with insecure tenure. The injustice isn’t that a neighbourhood may get more neighbours, but that new neighbours have been excluded from so much of our city for so long.”

She went on to say how the city had a long history, via its zoning rules, of exclusion and “protecting a certain type of character over welcoming those that need a home. We know this and it needs to change.”

With the Larch project, 13 of the 63 units will be for “moderate income households.” In other words, for households that earn between $30,000 and $80,000 per year, an income band Mayor Kennedy Stewart wants to address with the development of more “workforce housing.”

So far, as Stewart told the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade in November, the city is way behind all its targets in this category. Hence, his approval of the Larch Street project and two others on Renfrew Street this week.

During his speech to council, Hovan was asked by NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung — who also supported the project — whether there was any pushback when his four-storey building was constructed in Kitsilano 22 years ago.

His initial response was that realtors at the time told him the city would never allow development west of Larch. It’s too late, he added, to sue those realtors.

Kirby-Yung asked him the pushback question a second time.

“It fits the neighbourhood — my building fits the neighbourhood,” he replied. “Nobody was upset that my building was built.”

That was in 1997.


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