Vancouver city councillors overlook misgivings to approve Rize tower

Developer admits need for better design

City council gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a controversial rezoning application to redevelop a city block in Mount Pleasant into a $150 million mixed-use complex featuring a 19-storey residential tower.

The 9-1 vote, which was led by the ruling Vision Vancouver party, means Rize Alliance Properties Ltd. can apply for a development permit and complete a detailed design of the project.

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Six Vision councillors, Mayor Gregor Robertson and NPA councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball voted in favour of the proposal. Vision Coun. Tim Stevenson abstained from voting after missing three nights of public hearings.

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr cast the one dissenting vote, arguing the proposal didnt fit with Mount Pleasants community plan, which was approved in November 2010.

Its too high, its too dense, its not permeable, said Carr, who unsuccessfully attempted to have the developer revise its plan.

Though councils vote was resounding, some were troubled by the initial design of the project, with Vision Coun. Raymond Louie calling for improvements and Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer describing the complex as ugly.

The plan calls for building heights of five storeys, nine storeys and a 19-storey tower. The 1.25-acre trapezoid-shaped site is in the heart of Mount Pleasant and will include 241 condos and two levels of commercial space.

I take it with a grain of salt, said Christopher Vollan, vice president of development for Rize Alliance, when asked after the vote about the criticisms of the design. Weve heard enough, both supportive and unsupportive, to support our understanding that we have to do more work on the architecture.

The vote came after six nights of public hearings which attracted more than 100 speakers. The height of the 19-storey tower and the density of the project were at odds with many speakers at the hearings.

Rize Alliance's proposal was the first significant rezoning application before council following its approval of the Mount Pleasant community plan in November 2010.

The site is one of three identified in the plan for taller buildings. The others are Kingsgate Mall and the IGA site at 14th and Main.

Lewis Villegas of the Mount Pleasant Residents Association was disappointed in councils decision but said he wasnt surprised.

There is a community plan that is barely a year old that is full of ambiguity, he said, adding councillors used the ambiguity to approve the project.

When built, the 19-storey tower will be the tallest highrise in the community and dwarf the nearby seven-storey Lee Building, a landmark structure at Main and Broadway.

Other concerns raised at the hearings included increased density, traffic impacts, no affordable housing in the project and how such a complex fits with Mount Pleasant's community plan.

The site is bounded by Broadway, Kingsway,10th Avenue and Watson Street. It's in the same neighbourhood as the Kingsgate Mall and the Mount Pleasant community centre.

The public hearings attracted hundreds of people, with the majority against and more than 40 business operators and residents in support.

Some see the development as another project aimed at the rich in a city mired in an affordable housing crisis.

But as city staff and the developer, who is working with Acton Ostry Architects, pointed out during the hearings, approval of the project comes with an amenity package for Mount Pleasant.

Originally, Rize Alliance proposed 62 rental units and an artists' production space but city staff decided to opt for a cash package. The developer has to pay $4.5 million towards "cultural activities," which could include an artists' production space and public art.

Another $1.7 million will be used for affordable housing projects in Mount Pleasant.

City staff estimated $1.7 million could translate to 15 concrete-built housing units or up to 25 units in cheaper wood-framed construction.

Rize Alliance also has an agreement with the Mount Pleasant Food Co-op to allow the organization to operate in a 34,000 sq. foot space within the complex.

The plan calls for the conversion of 10th Avenue to a one-way street, between Watson and Kingsway, to reduce traffic volume on the street.

A city report predicted volumes will drop from a high of 220 vehicles per hour to a low of 130. A separated bike lane on the south side of 10th Avenue will be implemented to reduce conflicts between motorists and cyclists.

The mayor issued a statement shortly after the vote reminding the public the developer could have built a 150-foot buildinginstead of the 215-foot towerwithout having to go before council.

That, the mayor said, would mean no money for arts or affordable housing, as was approved under the current arrangement with Rize Alliance.

Instead, with the project passed by council today, the city gets a major housing development that supports transit, invests $4.5 million for arts and $1.75 million for affordable housing in Mount Pleasant, and allows city council to give direction over the size and form of the building, Robertson said.

The rezoning was the most controversial application before council since a Las Vegas company pitched a proposal last spring to build a mega casino adjacent to B.C. Place Stadium.

Council quashed the expansion of slot machines and games tables from Paragon Gaming's existing Edgewater Casino but gave the company the option to relocate to the proposed site with its current number of slots and tables.

Paragon has yet to take council up on the offer.

Twitter: @Howellings

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