Vancouver Chinatown groups back controversial development plan

Those in favour and those opposed to proposed Keefer Street development preparing for May 29 meeting

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A group of Chinatown community and business organizations are backing a controversial plan to redevelop a site on the 100-block of Keefer Street.

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“This is an unprecedented, collective display of support for our community, when it comes to development,” said Jordan Eng, President of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association, in a letter released on Wednesday.

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“While our community was divided over this issue in 2014, much has changed since then, and today we stand united in support for this project, and for the continued renewal of Chinatown; this important, historic and cultural jewel in our city.”

Eng’s letter was referring to a request to develop a vacant lot at 105 Keefer Street that will be presented to the city’s Development Permit Board on May 29.

The case dates to 2013 when property developer Ryan Beedie, through Beedie Holdings, bought the property near the intersection of Keefer and Columbia streets, adjacent to the Chinatown Memorial Plaza and close to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Gardens.

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In 2014, Beedie submitted a development permit for a building three storeys higher than permitted under the Historic Chinatown Area zoning, where the site is located, and it was rejected.

In 2017, another plan was submitted that fell within the zoning rules, comprising a nine-storey mixed use building with 111 residential suites, retail and a senior’s centre on the ground floor and three levels of parking below.

Dozens of protesters attended the Development Permit Board’s consideration of the 2017 application, claiming the proposed development was out of character for the neighbourhood.

Chinatown residents rally in front of City Hall in Vancouver, B.C., October 30, 2017.
Chinatown residents rally in front of City Hall in Vancouver, B.C., October 30, 2017. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

The board again rejected the application, however, Beedie appealed the decision in the Supreme Court of B.C. and won.

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Last December, the court ruled the board’s decision was wrong because their reasons for doing so were inadequate, and that they must consider the application again – hence the May 29 meeting.

Wednesday’s letter from seven Chinatown community and business groups comes three weeks after urban planner and University of B.C. academic Louisa-May Khoo told Postmedia News that she expected to see protests at the latest development permit application.

Some advocates say community opposition to Beedie’s proposal has only increased in the past five years.

They cite the province’s last-minute purchase of Grace Seniors Home on East Pender Street in 2021 to prevent 70 units of this housing type from being lost in a private sale.

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“There’s an even greater need for culturally appropriate housing, so we don’t feel the (board) erred in its original judgment,” said Mike Tan, former co-chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group.

The group in favour of the development comprises the BIA, Chinese Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, Chinese Freemasons of Vancouver, Dr., Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden Society, Chinese Cultural Center of Greater Vancouver, Vancouver Chinatown Merchant’s Association and the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.

— with a file from Joanne Lee-Young

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