Tower plans rile West Enders

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Residents fear highrise will alter area’s character despite near-zero vacancy rate

Cheryl Chan

Developers have applied to rezone and develop the site of St. John’s Church at the corner of Comox and Broughton streets in Vancouver. RIC ERNST — THE PROVINCE

Some West End residents are outraged over a proposed 22-storey residential tower in what is already Canada’s densest neighbourhood.

Last week, notices went out to residents living in a two-block radius of St. John’s United Church, at Comox and Broughton streets, informing them that the unused church will be replaced by a highrise composed of 180 apartments, 13 townhouses and 81 parking spots. All units would be rentals.

The property was purchased in September for $4.25 million by Westbank Development and Peterson Investment Group, the duo behind the landmark Shangri-la Hotel.

“It’s a disappointment,” said Maris Pavelson, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 23 years. “I was expecting it to be a community centre. There are very few public spaces in the West End. We don’t need another highrise.” “I’m not down on renters, but a 22-storey building is just too much,” said resident Alison Charabim, worried about the influx of cars and traffic into the area.

To build the tower, architectural firm Henriquez Partners has applied to rezone the property to increase the maximum height to 66 metres from 58.

A 20-storey tower with 49 units of rental housing and 98 condo units proposed by developer Millennium Properties for Bidwell and Davie streets has also drawn mixed reaction from residents.

The site is occupied by cabaret lounge Maxine’s Hideaway, a grocer, an insurance company and restaurants.

If approved, the two developments will be the first substantial projects to be built in the West End in decades, aside from the oddly named O2, a 20-unit, seven-storey condo on Davie near Denman that was completed earlier this summer.

The developments will change the face of the West End, said Christine Ackerman of the West End Residents Association.

“There’s concern that the face of the West End is changing and it’s changing away from what it is valued for — being a mixed, diverse community,” said Ackerman. “It’s not just changing one little corner, but we’re seeing it happen everywhere.” Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners, the architectural firm in charge of both projects, said he understands local fears but stressed that the buildings will increase needed rental stock in a neighbourhood where vacancy rates are less than one per cent.

“The reality is one tower amidst dozens of towers is not incrementally a big change,” he said. “The community benefit is that you’re building something average people can afford to rent.” Not all residents are down on the towers.

Mike Donnelly, who has been renting in the West End for six years, likes the new projects.

“If it means that there’s more affordable options for renters like me, I’m all for it,” he said. “I’d be curious to know how much the units would be going for because I’d like to switch to some place nicer and newer.” About 75 per cent of buildings in the West End were built before 1980.

Both projects were submitted under the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental program, a 21/2-year program launched in June that aims to stimulate construction of new rental housing by providing incentives to developers.

The first public information meeting on the Comox Street proposal will be held at the Coast Plaza Hotel on Nov. 24.

The city’s decision on the Bidwell site, which has been in the works since 2007, is expected on Dec. 1

© Copyright (c) The Province

Comments are closed.