Developing Story: Casa Mia project revised

The Southlands Community Association remains concerned about a proposal for a care facility on the Casa Mia property in southwest Vancouver even though plans have been revised and scaled back.

Casa Mia, at 1920 Southwest Marine Dr., is designated a Heritage A building. The 20,700-square-foot mansion was built for George Reifel, a liquor magnate and rumrunner during the Prohibition era who opened the Commodore Ballroom.

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The Care Group, which owns and operates seven facilities including Point Grey Private Hospital, wants the site rezoned from single-family residential to comprehensive development.

The Urban Design Panel and the Vancouver Heritage Commission rejected an earlier proposal. City staff advised the applicant to make changes and address issues of scale, form, parking and operations, explained Kent Munro, the City of Vancouver’s assistant director of planning.

The Care Group’s latest proposal is being showcased at a Dec. 4 open house.

The Spanish Revival-style heritage home would be saved and a two-storey addition would be built. The community care facility would house 62 beds. An earlier proposal featured plans for a 92-bed facility.

The building height for the addition is lower than envisioned in the earlier proposal. Parking spaces have dropped from 23 to 16.

“It is quite significant [the revision]. It’s reduced in scale by about a third in terms of number of beds… The height of the proposed addition has been brought down. The addition, if it’s approved, would be significantly lower in height than even the existing Casa Mia building. So we’re encouraged by the number of changes that they’ve made,” Munro said.

The mansion is not protected from demolition, so there’s an appetite to work with the applicant to try and conserve it. The city also sees the need for health care facilities that allow seniors to age in place.

“Obviously, it’s a difficult issue. We’ve got a really well known and loved heritage building that is not protected right now and we’ve seen in other areas of the city property owners coming in and wanting to demolish old buildings,” Munro said. “So things like this are under threat. This is an opportunity, if it can be done in a sensitive manner, to a achieve a number of goals — to address needs for seniors in communities, which with an aging population is incredibly important, and to save a heritage building.”

Joe McDermid, a spokesman for the Southlands Community Association, sees room for improvement.

“We’re still not happy with it. It’s still a private care facility that’s been plunked down in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.

The fact that they’ve reduced it to 62 beds down from 92 doesn’t really make a lot of difference to the structure or how it’s going to affect any to the concerns that we had originally,” he said.

“Is it better? Sure, it’s better. But it’s still an arbitrary number [of beds] that the city and the developer have settled on, probably from an economic viability standpoint. But basically most of the objections that were originally in place are still in place.”

McDermid said residents would prefer something similar to Canuck House “where you’ve got a residential-appearing structure that fits in with the community that wouldn’t have the level of in-and-out traffic that this facility would have.”

The open house is from 5 to 8 p.m., Dec. 4, at Ryerson United Church at 2195 West 45th Ave.

Calls to the project architect and The Care Group were not returned by the Courier’s deadline.

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