Proposed seniors' facility worries homeowners in Vancouver neighbourhood

Plan includes 88 residents at historic Southlands estate

Southlands homeowners dont want a care facility for seniors in their neighbourhood.

Theyre afraid locating the facility at the historic Casa Mia estate would create a potential influx of traffic that would add to already busy streets.

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David Grewal, whose home faces part of the walled 1932 Spanish Revival mansion that overlooks the Fraser River at 1920 Southwest Marine Dr., says 90 people attended a second open house April 3 hosted by the developer. Probably about 95 per cent of the people were very much opposed to this proposal simply because of the fact that its a large-scale, high-density project in, really, a sea of residential homes, Grewal said.

The residents believe such a facility would better suit Granville, Cambie or Oak streets, which have commercial zones, transit options and coffee shops.

Southwest Marine Drive teems with heavy trucks that would make it unsafe for any senior who would want to venture off the property and its an increasingly busy commuter route to the University of B.C., Grewal said. He added cyclists who travel on the two-lane road to UBC expressed concerns. We should be looking at ways to relieve congestion and not to add to it, Grewal said. Even if its going to be 0.1 per cent, we think that the city should be looking at livability overall.

The proposal would include 88 residents and up to 25 staff, according to Grewal. Neighbours are concerned about ambulances, service vehicles, visitors and staff parking on their streets.

The Care Group, which owns and operates seven facilities including Point Grey Private Hospital, wants to rezone the property it purchased for $10 million last year from residential to commercial. Stuart Howard Architects would construct a 40,000-square-foot residential care facility in front of the mansion that would echo its Spanish Revival style. The new building would contain suites while the mansion would provide common living space.

The city has identified Casa Mia for its significant heritage value but that doesnt guarantee protection from demolition or alteration. Our argument simply is sure, preserve the house, but preserve it as a single-family residence under RS-1 zoning, Grewal said. It doesnt do it any justice to add 40,000 square feet of space on the front lawn of it. Neighbours recently organized a website and online petition against the rezoning and distributed flyers beyond their immediate area.

Maureen McIntosh, a partner in The Care Group, said the city wants Casa Mia preserved. There is a great need for this service in that community, she added. And oftentimes, people dont realize that until they are faced with these decisions. It will be very sad for me if the general population has to lose out on this service.

She said the facility would provide affordable residential accommodation for seniors, with a lovely environment, but wouldnt state the price range. The Care Groups facilities are funded through the government.

Casa Mia was built for George Reifel, a liquor magnate and rum runner during the Prohibition era who opened the Commodore Ballroom. The 20,700-square-foot mansion includes a ballroom where Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed.

McIntosh assumes a rezoning and development application will be submitted to the city in tandem, but she wasnt sure when.

The city was didnt respond to the Couriers request for information about traffic in the area by press deadline.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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