Controversial apartment project delayed for further consultation

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Doug Ward

Mayor Gregor Robertson has placed the controversial plan to build a 22-storey apartment project in the West End on hold to allow further community consultation.

Robertson’s profanity-laced remarks in July about neighbourhood opponents of the tall rental tower proposed for 1401 Comox Street being “NPA hacks” created a political crisis for Vision Vancouver, which enjoyed strong support in the West End during the last election.

The mayor announced Monday that the rezoning application for the site won’t proceed to a public hearing until a special advisory committee develops planning priorities for the already dense West End.

Robertson said in a media statement that he told developer Westbank and Peterson Group that it would “not be appropriate” to move forward without more community input.

The Comox tower is one of several projects proposed under the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program, which provides increased density and other incentives for developers.

The STIR program is Vision Vancouver’s attempt to create affordable rental housing — something the private sector has been unwilling to do since the ’70s when developers began building more profitable privately-owned condominiums.

Randy Helten, a member of West End Neighbours, which opposes the project, praised Robertson for putting the breaks on the rezoning.

“This will allow more time for proper discussion in the community about this important site,” said Helten, who was one of the speakers who sparked Robertson’s potty-mouth tirade during a council meeting in July on the West End apartment development.

“Who are these f—ing … who are these hacks, man? Are they … NPA hacks?” Robertson was caught saying when a microphone was left on after the meeting wrapped up. The outburst was posted on YouTube — and a chastened Robertson quickly issued an apology.

Helten said postponement of the rezoning could lead to a “win-win” compromise, which could prevent the “rapid and radical rezoning” of the West End while allowing developers to create “affordable and profitable” housing in the community.

“Nobody opposes rentals. The question is what type of buildings are being built.”

Helten said that community outrage over the project forced Robertson and Westbank to step back and review the project.

Vision Vancouver, added Helten, has had “very strong support previously in the West End and so I’m sure is very concerned with an election year approaching.”

Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said that the dispute over the Comox project points to the greater challenge of how to develop more affordable and dense housing while allowing neighbourhoods to control their futures.

“We are going to have to find a balance between the citywide responsibility neighbourhoods have to help create a sustainable city and right of every neighbourhood to have oversight over its future,” said Meggs.

“And I think many neighbourhoods are telling us that they don’t think the balance is there.”

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