Kettle building debate heats up

Preliminary renderings released last week that depict the proposed Kettle Boffo building redevelopment will spur more Grandview-Woodland residents against the project, according to opponents.

Barbara Cameron, one of the organizers behind the neighbourhood’s No Venables Tower coalition, calls the scale “massive” and argues it’s too high and too dense for the site at Venables Street and Commercial Drive.

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“I think the actual renderings are going to galvanize the community in opposition to this because it’s finally becoming real what the massiveness of this development will be,” she said. “Drawings that were provided earlier didn’t identify that there would actually be three towers. So we’re not dealing with one, we’re dealing with three towers on a footprint that is really not appropriate for this kind of density.”

Proponents argue that along with market housing, the project will deliver much-needed supportive housing and a new expanded space for the Kettle Society’s services.

The Kettle Society, which is a non-profit that provides housing and support to people with mental illness, needs to expand the services it offers at its 1725 Venables St. location. However, the society couldn’t get government funding so it formed the arrangement with Boffo Properties for the redevelopment. Boffo owns buildings on either side of the Kettle, while the city owns the parking lot to the north, which could be amalgamated into the proposed redevelopment.

The society and Boffo released the preliminary drawings Feb. 26. The proposal envisions 200, one-to-three bedroom market housing units, as well as 30 supportive housing units for the Kettle to own and operate, and a larger space for its other services.

rendering

Daniel Boffo, principal of Boffo Properties, said the Kettle services would be relocated during construction with costs paid by the project.

He described the design as one building “massaged” into multi-levels. At its lowest it’s five storeys, while at its highest it’s 12 storeys. Small scale retail and a public courtyard are included in the plans.

“The goal is to mimic something like Gaolers Mews in Gastown where when you’re at grade you’ve got retail within the courtyard and it’s not just a podium and tower project,” Boffo said. “It feels like a bunch of separate buildings grouped together in varying heights.”

Boffo Properties and The Kettle Society released preliminary renderings of their proposed redevelopment project last week.

the kettle

He said the proposed design was informed by four years of  public feedback and the height has been dropped from the initially proposed 15 storeys based on input from the community and the city.

Many individuals and groups have voiced support for the project, according to Boffo, including housing advocate Judy Graves.

“You’ll never satisfy everybody and I think when you satisfy everybody something gets lost. What we’re hoping to achieve is to build on the common ground that we have.

The common thread that I’ve heard is [both sides] believe in strong, inclusive communities,” he said.

It’s unclear what the city  will allow on the site. The Grandview-Woodland community plan hasn’t been adopted yet. The draft plan goes out for public review this spring, although no dates have been set yet. Boffo is waiting to file the application until after council approves the plan.

Neighbourhood reaction has been mixed. The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly didn’t reach consensus on what height should be allowed, but 16 members signed a “minority report” backing the project.  

When asked what she defines as a tower, Cameron said, “We have a point of view that we need to keep the Commercial Drive area under five storeys. Our slogan has been, ‘Keep the Drive under five’ and so we don’t want to get into this discussion of what a tower is and what a tower isn’t because right now we’re talking at least 12 storeys for this one and that’s certainly a tower.”

The coalition has collected more than 3,560 petition signatures against the development. Cameron acknowledges some residents support the proposal.

“But I think people are biting their tongues and saying, ‘Well, if this is the way the Kettle would get what it wants then we’re OK with it.’ But I don’t think people really want a great amount of density in Grandview-Woodland, at least not density in the way of towers. We’ve always felt, and this has been reflected in a lot of different ways, that people want gentle density.”

Cameron argues towers put upward pressure on land prices and contribute to the loss of affordability.

“It’s not about the Kettle. It’s never been about the Kettle and I say that 100 times a day. This is about a tower or towers, in this case three towers, and the imposition of such a massive development on the community. We think there are alternatives.”

Boffo, who maintains the project is respectful of the Drive’s character, wants to see the project move forward.

“We’re excited to hear what the city’s going to come out with in April with their plan. After hearing that, then we can decide what the next steps are. But we’ve been talking about this for four years. We need to get an application in ASAP,” he said.

noconnor@vancourier.com

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