Panel rejects old Pantages site plan

Project would feature 12 commercial units, large art space

Property developer Marc Williams' plan to build a six-storey, mixed-use building called Sequel 138 on the grounds of the recently demolished Pantages Theatre has hit a skid after the city's Urban Design Panel unanimously rejected it last week.

William's earlier comments that described the site as a "dead zone" that has seen no activity in 30 years apart from drug-dealing also raised the ire of many people living in the Downtown East Side, who are fighting against any perceived gentrification of a neighbourhood notorious for its poverty and drugs.

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More than a thousand local residents have signed a DTES Community Resolution opposing condos beings built at the site at 138 Hastings Street, near the corner of Main and Hastings streets, and are calling for Williams to sell the property and surrounding vacant lots to the city so they can be turned into resident-controlled social housing with low-income community space on the ground floor. Williams is proposing building 79 onebedroom residential units with an average asking price of around $227,000, as well as 18 units for social housing that he said would be sold to a non-profit housing organization. The project, designed by the architectural firm Studio One, would feature a ground floor with 13,000 square feet of retail space for 12 commercial units, as well as a 2,500square-foot space to be used by the nonprofit Art Space Action Society.

Williams claims Sequel 138 would provide more much-needed affordable housing for the area. "This is an opportunity for low-cost, entry-level home ownership," said Williams. "Its target market is artists who work in the Downtown Eastside or would like to do so. Sequel 138 residents will also include employees of [DTES] non-profits who would like to live where they work."

Fraser Stuart, a board member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council who said he has first-hand experience with being homeless, rejects the suggestion the proposed complex would be an affordable option for locals.

"We are calling on any potential buyer to boycott this project because it means low-income community destruction," said Fraser. "Buying condos in Sequel 138 is unethical. If social housing were limited to those units renting at the welfare rate, the addition of this project will mean that market housing will outpace social housing by an astounding rate of 11 to one."

Dave Diewert, spokesperson for the Christian social activist group Streams of Justice, said the proposed development would have dire consequences for the troubled neighbourhood. "Dropping market housing onto this block would be a gentrification bomb in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, setting off a tidal wave of increased rents, land speculation, more condo projects, upscale businesses, and enhanced security and police presence," said Diewert in a prepared statement. "We have witnessed these impacts on the area due to Woodward's, and Sequel 138 will unleash similar forces."

Williams disagrees with the assessment, arguing nobody would be forced from the area given that nobody is currently using the space. "There will be no displacement of anyone," said Williams. "No one lives there now. Not one person. Only rats."

The Urban Design Panel is an advisory body for city council and doesn't have the authority to approve or refuse projects.

Twitter: @flematic

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