Vancouver’s Chinatown condo project to be re-evaluated

Construction cranes tower over buildings at a condominium development in Vancouver’s Chinatown on January 15, 2015.Daryl Decker/The Globe and Mail

Some leaders in Vancouver’s Chinatown want a recent Supreme Court ruling to order the city to reconsider a controversial condo project that would bring a new building and residents to the neighborhood in the heart of downtown’s East End.

“We need to grow because we need people who are nearby. We’ve seen what’s been happening here for the past four years without paying attention to what’s happening on the street,” said Jordan Eng, president of the Chinatown Business Association. He was responding to a court decision this week ordering the city to reconsider Beedie Holdings’ development application that was rejected five years ago.

An application by a major development company in the Beedie empire to build an apartment building at 105 Keefer Street, which would eventually include 25 social housing units and some community meeting space, drew a wave of opposition when it was first proposed in 2017. Parents with ties to Chinatown were particularly active, as were some older Chinatown advocates.

Much of the opposition comes after three more apartment buildings rose on Main Street as part of an effort to bring new development and residential space to the neighborhood. Opponents argue that the projects are out of proportion to the size of the historic district and provide too few amenities for existing neighborhoods.

Beedie’s proposal to preserve the parking lot has the support of many business owners in Chinatown who are concerned about the neighborhood’s declining state and the lack of local residents to help support businesses.

After many nights of tumultuous meetings, the three-member development permit committee — the city manager, the city’s director of engineering and the city’s deputy manager — voted 2-1 to reject the application.

Since then, the Beedie company has been fighting the decision, first with the city’s disparity board, then the Supreme Court, then the Court of Appeals and then back to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Justice Jan Brongers rejected many of Beedie’s arguments accusing the city of dishonesty. But the judge agreed that the city did not provide sufficient reasons for its decision to deny the application.

Judge Brongers noted that in the five years preceding the 105 Keefer decision, the city considered 111 other development permit applications and rejected none. Some were approved subject to conditions, but none were categorically rejected like the Keefer project.

“I therefore find that the Board’s decision on 6 November 2017 to reject the DP application without stating what conditions Beedie would need to meet in order to be approved was contrary to past practice and violated Beedie’s legitimate expectations,” the judge wrote. “I have looked for such a plausible explanation in the transcripts of statements made by board members, and have not found one. … In the absence of such an explanation, I feel that the board’s decision was unreasonable.”

Beedie’s attorney, Howard Shapray, called it “a major decision for Beedie”.

“We hope we can revisit this without all the political noise. There’s a new sheriff in town, he said. The attitude could be completely different.”

The declining state of Chinatown was a factor in the recent election, as many Chinatown leaders have publicly expressed concern about how crime and public disorder are undermining the neighborhood’s economic vitality. New ABC Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and his city council have pledged to create a municipal office in Chinatown and focus on helping the community.

Many local business owners are hoping for something to turn things around, and new buildings with new residents could be part of that.

“I hope they start over with the design,” said Henry Tom, vice-president of the Vancouver Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

He said the association has been supportive of the project in an attempt to make Chinatown a viable residential area, though he thinks Beedie could do more for the community through the project.

“There is a shortage of housing for the elderly in China, and they can do better.”

It was unclear what kind of opposition Biddy’s new proposal might provoke, but Mr Tom said he expected the issue to remain divisive.

Calls to former opponents of the project went unanswered. City and Beedie Holdings officials said they had no comment at this time while they reviewed the decision.

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