Vancouver council approves Grandview-Woodland rental building

Vote 6-3 in favour of controversial development that will replace four century-old single-family homes

Vancouver councillors voted 6-3 in favour of a rezoning application for a five-storey, purpose-built rental building in Grandview-Woodland at the close of a public hearing Sept. 17.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, NPA councillors Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung, as well as OneCity's Christine Boyle and the Green Party's Michael Wiebe supported the rezoning, while COPE Coun. Jean Swanson and Green Party councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry opposed it.

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Stuart Howard Architects submitted the application for the 35-unit building on behalf of Britannia Ridge Developments. 

It had been scaled down from initial plans to address concerns about it being too tall and imposing. The development will replace four single-family century-old homes located between 1535 and 1557 Grant St.

Rents are anticipated to be affordable to households earning between $70,000 and $150,000 annually. 

The proposal was contentious, with many residents who live nearby the site objecting to it. Grandview-Woodland Area Group and Britannia Woodland Area Group also opposed the project. All their arguments failed to sway the majority of council, but their objections included that the project is inappropriate for the site, the slope is too steep, the rents won't be affordable, the street is too narrow and the design doesn't fit the character of the neighbourhood. Opponents also noted that the lots on that block are shorter than typical ones and there isn't a lane between the homes on Grant Street and the homes to its north on Kitchener Street.

Although many speakers at the public hearing spoke against the application, there were also some who insisted the building would supply much-needed rental units on a quiet neighbourhood street as the city faces a rental crisis. The citywide vacancy rate is .8 per cent while it's .4 per cent in Grandview-Woodland.

Before voting, De Genova said the building will meet the needs of households earning in the $70,000 to $150,000 range, and the applicant would be going beyond what's required by the city's tenant relocation policy. She said she empathized with neighbours who would be impacted but the application conformed to the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan and would produce family housing as well as play space for children.

Boyle remarked that renters deserve to live on "calm, quiet streets, not just arterials," — a sentiment shared by Kirby-Yung — while Dominato said she recognized nearby residents might find the project "challenging" but council also needs to look to the future when making decisions to accommodate growth. 

Mayor Stewart said the choice wasn't to leave the single-family homes standing because a four-storey condo building is allowed by the zoning. He said a condo project would "blow affordability right out the window." City staff, he added, had stated that the five-storey rental building proposal does meet city policy.

"I can't vote against this otherwise we should go back to the drawing board for these plans," he said.

Carr said she went back and forth on a decision right until the end of the hearing, but decided to vote "no" over concerns about affordability, the building's contextual fit and a desire to retain neighbourhood character.

Swanson said in 1996, 43 per cent of Grandview-Woodland residents were low income, which dropped to 19 per cent in 2016, so a "huge whack" of people have been pushed out. She said she has "no problem" increasing density in single-family areas if there's a social purpose, and would have voted "yes" if the application was for temporary modular housing, social housing or a co-op.

Fry didn't think the building would be a "blockbuster," as some critics claimed, but the price point was "out of sync with existing neighbourhood demographics" and he was concerned the application didn't meet the policy objectives of the Grandview-Woodland plan.

noconnor@vancourier.com

@naoibh

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