Public Hearing – February 9th, 2021 – After Years In A Purple Haze, Union Homes Comin’ Up To City Council Likely Not Going Down

February 9, 2021 Public Hearing
After nearly a decade, one could be forgiven for wondering if this proposal would reach city council before the end of time, but let me assure you it really will be heard at tomorrow’s public hearing. I promise I won’t make any more Jimi Hendrix-related puns, as there are serious issues that revolve around this property, and how it relates to Vancouver’s historic discrimination of its Black and Chinese Communities.

While Hannah and I don’t come from an affluent background, we acknowledge there are lived experiences that we can never truly understand due to our European ancestry. There are better groups that teach about those injustices, and why the city bulldozed Hogan’s Alley, its predominantly black neighbourhood, yet we’ll do our best to share information about this one project.

There are other items on the night’s agenda, but they’re pretty straight forward, as they include correcting some inadvertent errors, and a townhome project on the Cambie Corridor. Nor do we imagine a report to allow for greater flexibility, and a 7-inch per floor height relaxation to encourage mass timber construction will receive much attention. Given recent history, some might assume this Chinatown project will dominate council’s time for several days, but we doubt that will be the case.

While the backlash, and rejection of the 105 Keefer development led to an ongoing lawsuit and the reduction of the heights, as well as the amount of homes allowed in this community, this project never generated that anger. That, and the surrounding context of newer buildings of a similar height, may explain why this one was grandfathered under the old Chinatown South HA-1A policy. As a result, we expect this to be a fairly uneventful night, especially when compared to Thursday’s agenda.

Backlash Expectations

Item 1 – 728 – 796 Main StreetLow
Some feel this area’s culture needs to be better honored, but this sentiment hasn’t led to any opposition letters.

The First Item – 728 – 796 Main Street – Low

What is it?:
This 11 floor building will provide 75 new strata homes, as well as 19 social housing apartments. In addition, a Right of First Refusal to lease the southeast ground level retail space will be given to a business recommended by the Hogan’s Alley Society (pg 61).

Where is it?:
Here, on mostly vacant land at the corner of Main and Union, across from the Georgia Viaduct. It’s perhaps best know as the former home of Vancouver’s Jimi Hendrix Shrine.

What will it contribute to the community?:
It will pay ~$2 million in development cost levees (pg 68), and the renewed social housing apartments that will be given to the city are valued at ~$7,500,000.

What has changed since it was first proposed?
This nearly decade-long process has seen several updates (pg. 55). The largest came after city council revoked the Chinatown South rezoning policy, and led to the elimination of 24 homes, and 4 floors. In contrast, the most recent alterations are largely cosmetic, and based on comments by the Urban Design Panel.

What was the open house like?:
The applicant-led meeting in 2017 generated the most noise, as it featured a musician playing a guitar on loan from the Jimi Hendrix Museum. In addition, there were a handful of sign-wearing protesters among the 135 attendees (pg 23), as well as a team from Global News.

A small group of protesters led by now city councilor Jean Swanson also turned out to the city-led event held later that year, but unlike the response to 105 Keefer, these individuals remained quiet and respectful. The 2019 open house was even less controversial as, out of the 32 attendees (pg 23), only one person was vocally upset.

What are its strengths?:
Earning the support (pg 4) of the Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee is a big accomplishment, and the Vancouver Chinatown Merchant Association have expressed support for the traditionally-sized retail stores (pg 2 & 3).

What are its weaknesses?:
Though the entire floor area of the existing social housing building will be replaced, there will be a net loss of 6 rooms. That’s because city policy now requires each home to have its own bathroom rather than share one as they do currently.

What is the opposition like?:
Given the prejudice faced by Vancouver’s Black community, Chinatown, and the Downtown Eastside as a whole, it’s understandable why some are worried they will be further marginalized as part of this process (pg 59).

Want to speak up?:
You can submit your comments using this online form, or register to speak in person, or better yet by phone, here.

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