Developing Story: Vancouver’s first cohousing project waits for final permits

Neighbours are curious why construction hasn’t started on the cohousing complex destined for East 33rd near Argyle Street in Kensington-Cedar Cottage.

The city approved rezoning in March 2013. The complex will be built on three properties, but they’re surrounded by yellow construction fencing, leaving nearby residents to question whether the project has been delayed.

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Ericka Stephens-Rennie, a spokesperson for the co-housing initiative, said plans are moving forward and construction is expected to start soon.

She told the Courier Monday they’re waiting for various permits. (Tuesday, Stephens-Rennie said they have the development permit and are awaiting the building and demolition permits.)

The process was held up due to the cohousing covenant that will be placed on the title. The covenant creates requirements for the owners and residents to function as a cohousing community such as maintaining common space at a percentage approved by council, offering common meals, participating in shared goals and making decisions by consensus.

“Common covenants approved by council are rental covenants requiring units be rented out, not lived in, by owners. Given there is more interest in cohousing in Vancouver, I suspect the city wanted to get it right,” explained Stephens-Rennie, adding one goal is to make sure the covenant’s wording has the flexibility to grow and change with the community.

She will be moving into a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot unit with her husband and 15-month-old son once the building is completed. The move-in date is expected to be late June 2015.

“[The cohousing group] made a choice not to undertake Hazmat remediation and demolition before we had a building permit to minimize disruption for neighbours, and to ensure the site remained as secure and tidy as possible,” Stephens-Rennie said. “We check the site every couple days and do our best to keep it looking as tidy as possible behind the fence. I don’t like the aesthetics of the fence and secured houses, but I do like that they are secured and that construction is imminent.”

The complex will include one level of underground parking and five buildings ranging from two to three storeys above grade.

The four residential buildings will be separated from each other, but have a common courtyard in the centre. There will be a 6,510-square-foot common house at the back of the property. There will also be a common deck and garden space outside.

The building will be a regular strata development like other condo buildings, but the covenant on the land will ensure it remains a cohousing community in perpetuity.

Twenty-six of the 31 units, which range from studios to three-bedrooms, have been sold. Three of the remaining units are unsold but there are a number of interested parties who are going through the membership process and will have an opportunity to purchase in coming months. The two covenanted rental units are unsold but negotiations are underway with a local non-profit.

Buyers include young couples with no kids, a couple of young singles in their early 30s, a few young families with one or two kids, and couples with babies due in coming months. Most of the kids are under 10, although there is one teenager. There aren’t many owners in their 50s, but there are some of pre-retirement or retirement age. Stephens-Rennie noted one woman bought a unit and a second one for her mother, who is a senior.

She added that members of the cohousing development are trying to be good neighbours and they plan to do things such as deliver ear plugs and wash neighbouring residents’ cars during the construction period, which she acknowledges will be disruptive, to alleviate some concerns.

“We’re hoping the measures we’re taking will help neighbours warm up to us… I know we have work to do to build bridges with the current residents, especially those who did not support the project. ” she said. "Our cohousing community is used to wrestling with hard issues. Our decision-making process puts respect and care for people first — whether they are members of the cohousing or neighbours currently living near the site. As we move into the construction period, we will continue to do that. We will also continue to keep the neighbours informed, and will seek further opportunities to engage and interact with people currently living in Kensignton-Cedar Cottage."

Stephens-Rennie said the cohousing residents are also looking forward to becoming part of the community.

“We’re spread out across the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast, so we can’t wait until we’re together in Kensington-Cedar Cottage. So, yeah, there’s a sense of impatience but there’s a sense of excitement that we’re getting ready to put a hole in the ground.”

Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted.

noconnor@vancourier.com

twitter.com/naoibh

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