58 West Hastings Takes Small Step Forward, but Political Games Continue to Hamper Its Future

58 West Hastings
Hannah and I took the weekend to discuss this post. We want to paint an accurate picture of this proposal’s recent UDP meeting and the site’s history, but we know that the controversy and opportunism surrounding this project means anything we say is likely to anger to some. Still, the troubled history of this proposal deserves attention, and it certainly needs more funding. If you’re aware of that long past, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs to see our coverage of the UDP meeting.

The Background

The story behind this building is long, but I’ll try to summarize, as there are important remarks from the UDP meeting to cover. While we’re unsure how Concord Pacific came to own this property, we know that in 2008 they proposed to turn this strip of two story buildings into a modest seven floor strata building. In response, several community activists, including a member of the Order of Canada who is now running for city council, organized a campaign of protests, with some going as far to deliver a jar of bedbugs to Concord’s offices.

While that proposal was approved at a passionate Development Permit Board meeting, after the 2008 Global Downturn, it was put on pause. A year later, plans to use the site as storage for the 2010 Olympics led to activists setting up a “tent city” on the site. Eventually, Concord gave this site (and one at 117 E Hastings) to the city with the condition they would not be required to provide non-market housing at their property next to the Cambie Bridge. After that, a lack of funds meant the site would sit for years as an urban farm.

2007 Streetview

Google Streetview 2007.JPGSource

Several years passed as protesters continued to advocate the site be used for 100% shelter rate ($375/mo) housing. While the city normally requires their below-market buildings be a mix of 3 incomes levels to cover operating costs and repairs, Vancouver’s Mayor instead made an extremely naive promise to provide only shelter rate housing. Even with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation pledging to raise 30 million dollars towards funding, the Mayor’s commitment was still untenable. Protests intensified, and the project’s first open house was cancelled by the host, Vancouver Community College, at the last minute over concerns of what actions the protesters might take. Months later, the city was finally able to host an event at the Woodwards Atrium, which was disrupted by protesters blocking the information boards, and shouting in a megaphone. That said, the majority were polite and left shortly after the new crews did, roughly a half hour into the event.

Last year, this project’s rezoning application was approved. It called for a health care clinic and 231 homes, half to be priced at the shelter rate and the rest at less than $1272 a month. It was felt those rates and percentages were achievable, as the provincial government had stepped forward with another 30 million dollars in funding. Unfortunately, this was still not enough to cover the costs, projected at $90 million and growing. Still, some city councillors, and even a few members of the public, were happy to score political points and demanded the proposal move forward only after all its homes were at the shelter rate. The end result of all of this is that both the quality of the building, and the lives of its would be tenants, continue to suffer.

UDP Development Application Review

Given the projects history, it shouldn’t be surprising that the panel seemed to pity the applicant, who was given the impossible task of fitting both the health facility and 250 homes onto this property. That proved impossible in the end, and the proposal has been reduced to only 230 homes. In addition to consultation with Vancouver Coastal Health, the applicant has also met with design panels comprised of aboriginal youth and seniors from Chinatown. While one panellist guessed that this meant the colours of the building were representative of the Chinatown community, this element was actually suggested by the younger of the two groups. The panel was generally impressed to see that community comments and the panel’s previous review were incorporated into the design.

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With a substitute chair, this meeting had a unique style and, generally any comment that was uttered more than twice made it into the recommendations. The panel commended the applicants for their community consultation and adherence to the Victory Square Guidelines, and meeting the requirements of Vancouver Coastal Health. The majority also expressed that the materiality, colour scheme, and Juliette Balconies were successful. Conversely, they thought the laneway was long, relentless and in need of major improvement, and that more windows should be added to the ground level, which would go against Coastal Health’s wishes. Similarly, a request to add height to the retail level, by shrinking the space for housing, also seems very unlikely to be incorporated.

Meanwhile, the Hastings facade was felt to be acceptable, though the middle of the building could be further strengthened. The panel believed the amount of amenity space dedicated to urban agriculture was excessive, and that the city should lower the required amount, similar to how the number of bike parking stalls and space for waste bins has been. While public consultation showed neighbouring residents wanted an excess amount of urban agriculture, in hopes they would be allowed to use it, the panel believed it was more important for residents of this building to have a gathering space to rest in.

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Still, one panellist was very upset by the condition of this building, describing it as a low budget building in an urban area rich of character. It seemed they felt this was a Sophie’s Choice, as they described a decision between long-term urban planning and leaving people on the street. They described the proposal as a phoney historical building, rather than one that picked up clues of the neighbourhood. They believed future residents would feel they live in a poor quality, second or third tier, low-grade building and deserved to be proud to live in a building that was part of the rich neighbourhood fabric. They simply wish the project had more funding so it could be a building the neighbourhood and residents deserve.

As the meeting came to a close, the applicant expressed their disappointment in the process. Even though more height could have been allowed for the 250 home target to be reached, the city would only permit another 5 feet of space to be added, strictly enforcing the guidelines.

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Still, perhaps it’s the community reaction that was the biggest disappointment. While the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation assumed all of the attention, the protests, and large turnout at the public hearing meant the community would be eager to try to raise funds for the building, that was not to be the case. Instead, it seems the passion that evoked people to blockade the entrance to City Hall, and to take over the City’s Development Offices and Council Chamber, was more to support the ambitions of a few. While renewed protests are set to begin on August 23rd continue until the day of the election they only call for the city to supply the funding, rather than advocating senior levels of government to provide it. Sadly, no fundraisers or letter writing campaigns have been set up to help the Chinatown Foundation raise the needed funds either.

If, like us, you want to see these homes become a reality, we urge you to take real action. While you can let the city know what you think of the building’s  design by contacting patrick.chan@vancouver.ca, make sure to write the Hon. Selina Robinson, (provincial) Minister of Municple Affairs and Housing at selina.robinson.mla@leg.bc.ca, and the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, (federal) Minister of Families Children and Social Development at Jean-Yves.Duclos@parl.gc.ca to let them know this proposal needs more government funding or, if you are able to do so, you can contact the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation with a donation of your time or funds.

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