Vancouver cohousing complex draws concern

Cedar cottage cohousing seeking rezoning

A new type of residential complex that would be the first of its kind in Vancouver could soon be coming to the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area, although some of its potential new neighbours dont share the developers enthusiasm for seeing it happen.

City council voted earlier this month to send a rezoning request from the Cedar Cottage Cohousing Company for a three-storey, 31-unit development on West 33rd Avenue to a public hearing. If approved, it would be the first project under the citys interim rezoning policy meant to increase affordable housing options in one the worlds most expensive housing markets.

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According to a recent city staff report, a majority of people who responded to a survey opposed the rezoning and 95 per cent of those who supported it dont actually live in the affected area.

The latest design proposal from project architect Charles Durrett also wasnt endorsed by the citys urban design panel, which wants to see more adjustments to make it a comfortable urban fit in the single family home neighbourhood.

Rod Raglin, an author and creative writing instructor who lives with his wife a few doors down from the proposed site between Knight and Victoria, feels the surrounding community has not been adequately consulted and that the building which would feature shared amenity space for residents over 1,800 square feet including a special kitchen, terrace, lounge, courtyard, kids play rooms and sandbox, reading rooms and more is too big for the single-family neighbourhood.

There is huge opposition, he told the Courier. Im a child of the 60s and I can kind of get behind what they are trying to do but they seem to think because they embrace a philosophy of communal living that residents of the neighbourhood should just roll over and let them build whatever they like.

Raglin cites a variety of concerns with the design, which has increased from its original proposal of 27 units to 31, including the buildings size, increased traffic, the loss of mountain views and because the community wouldnt see any tangible benefits from the increased densification.

Because developers always want extra density, they often go to the city and say they will offer up some amenities to the community, said Raglin. But this developer wants extra density so that they can have amenities. Its liked theyve flipped it around.

Cedar Cottage Cohousing spokesperson Brenda Birch disagrees and says cohousing complexes have a proven track record of being used by the wider community. There are more than 100 such projects in the U.S. but only nine in Canada, seven of them in B.C.

With the cohousing communities that have developed in North America over the past 20 years, its actually kind of cool and what happens is the common facilities that are built as for the residents of the cohousing are definitely used by many community and neighbourhood groups for social functions and birthday parties and those kinds of things, she said. Fun things as well as business type things.

Birch says she and her husband, former Paralympian Gary Birch, have spent the past 16 years trying to get a cohousing complex off the ground. She said the group wants to become a part of the predominantly Chinese-speaking neighbourhood.

We want to make sure we minimize or ameliorate any issues so we recently had a study done to look at traffic concerns and at the next open house with community members, we were able to say, no, in fact, based on this traffic study weve done here, it wont be. We actually hired the fellow who did the study to come and he spoke Chinese as well as English. Weve also had Chinese translations done of all the notices weve sent out because we want to make sure it was a part of our communication to the neighbourhood.

The projects next open house session is set for March 7 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Kensington Community Centre. The public hearing at city hall begins at 6 p.m. on March 12. Visit vancouver.ca/publichearings for more information.

afleming@vancourier.com

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