In a not surprising but still stunning reversal  the proposed 12 storey tower by Beedie Development on Keefer Street was rejected by a Council vote of 8 to 3. In exchange for extra storeys the development was to contain 106 market housing units and 25 low to moderate income seniors’ units with public spaces on two lower floors.
There was passionate response for and against the project  which in the words of one commenter, “could make Chinatown more like Gastown”. As Mayor Robertson noted “In my almost nine years as mayor, no issue or project has yielded such a passionate, emotional response as this rezoning application. The Beedie group put significant effort into this project over the years … and went to extraordinary lengths to adjust and revise the project based on public and community feedback. Yet, council heard overwhelming opposition from several generations of Vancouver residents on the rezoning for 105 Keefer, and concern about how to manage Chinatown’s pace of change. For that reason, I voted “no” to this rezoning proposal.”
While there is clearly the need for more housing for Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood, there were concerns about overshadowing the Chinese Classical Garden and detrimental impacts from allowing a large for profit strata in the area. Many of the people who came out to speak to Council against the development had also been involved in stopping the freeway in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A new generation of concerned citizens also got involved in understanding and championing the issues.
Matt O’Grady in Vancouver Magazine notes that the Chinatown conversation is also being played out in other Vancouver neighbourhoods. How do you allow density but still keep a neighbourhood relevant to locals with neighbourhood character? In his article Matt speaks about Director of Planning Gil Kelley’s observation that it is not density that will move us forward in this conversation, but a look at how to make 20 minute walkable neighbourhoods, where locals can access all shops, services and walk their kids to school. He notes that while this can be accomplished by a certain percentage of increased density in most neighbourhoods, Chinatown already is tangibly walkable for local residents. The question is how to ensure that housing affordability and the conservation of cultural attributes are preserved for the future.
As Gil Kelley says”“I think we can rescue and preserve Chinatown and revitalize it so that it’s not simply a museum but actually a thriving place again. It may not be exclusively Chinese. And that’s okay.”


  1. OK, can I just call out a bit of hypocrisy on the mayor’s part? I’d say the Shannon Mews rezoning was just as “passionate” but let’s be honest the ethnic and economic issues of the community issues gave those against it a little more leverage with Council apparently. That said, the project is just a out of scale with the surrounding area as Shannon mews was, its good to see it go back to the drawing board.

  2. No wonder housing is so expensive in Vancouver when sensible proposals like this first get delayed and delayed, then get rejected.
    City of Vancouver planning out of control and far too slow an approval cycle. Perhaps we need to hire more planners, pay them less and cut approval cycle in half?
    -deleted as per editorial policy-

    1. I’m with you on this one, Thomas. Except maybe for the bit that was deleted as per editorial policy. No idea what that included
      It is logically inconsistent to complain about rising housing prices on one hand and oppose new housing at every turn on the other. This mania for “appropriate urban context” just strikes me as the excuse NIMBY’s prefer to oppose whatever is before them and perhaps gain a little feeling of control over their lives by stopping change.

      1. I stated that Chinatown has moved to Richmond, and that any nostalgia is misplaced. But I think that is too sensitive a statement apparently.

      2. Dan it’s been proven that “increasing supply” is a canard, especially when there’s no control over what is being sold offshore. Both Vancouver and Toronto have been building many more units than are demographically required. The old saw about supply is promoted many by the real estate industry to add fuel to the fire and enrich themselves.

      3. Rising housing prices and completely unaffordable prices are NOT the result of lack of supply. It is the decades-long consequence of people using housing in this city as private banks and investment commodities. So many ugly condos. So few owners actually occupying them.

        1. Don’t forget high demand, inefficient land use on a locked up land supply, a huge vacuum in the housing supply between the detached and condo models, cheap credit, local speculation by developers and a few more things outside of foreign money.

    2. ‪The problem with city hall is that they ought to state these requirements of a certain allowable height ( or density or setbacks) EARLY, ie we want X units and less than 8 stories, for example in this case. Not at the end!‬
      Changing requirements at the end of a 4-5 year land acquisition and approval cycle makes property development in Vancouver very very risky and thus,very very costly.
      Do city hall planners understand the time value of money and that risky, often delayed projects, increase sales price of new condos ? Or does this vital marketplace message get lost if one works a cozy 35h week with above market salaries in a job with very low layoff risk ? That is the disconnect and one of the many reasons for very high costs of condos in Vancouver.
      More on this here and here

      1. Dated a planner for a while. She was paid less than comparable private sector market, vacation and hours policies were more restrictive than private sector, they had trouble retaining people due to wages. The only saving grace was a decent benefits plan and job security. Perhaps her situation and those of her department colleagues were unique.
        I would interested to see you provide a comparison that balances land prices, building costs, and administrative costs to clearly illustrate your point. Based on your comments, housing in other metro municipalities should be much cheaper after accounting for the difference in land prices. They don’t appear to be, but maybe you have information to support your assertions?

        1. The two links seem to indicate that approval cycles and costs are far higher in Vancouver than other MetroVan communities.

  3. I see this as a failure of planning in established neighbourhoods more than anything else. If there was an in-depth urban design plan for Chinatown negotiated in advance with residents with input from all informed sources, and with built-in flexibility to account for market volatility, then everyone would have a fair idea on what to expect in advance.
    A series of workshops would challenge residents to determine what density / height / income mix they would actually accept in future, and also challenge developers and council to respect cultural history and the bounds of social cohesion of the residents.
    The debate is clearly about more than supply and demand and the commodification of housing. If there was ever a call to compromise, or better yet, start over with a more mature process, this is it.

    1. Do these residents pay taxes ? What power do we allow residents to play in a city with strong immigration ? Why do we allow residents with little invested, or often none at all, to stop developments from going ahead ? Or is this mere catering to (impoverished) Vision voters in E-Van / downtown east side? Who represents future renters and future buyers ?
      That is why they formed the BARF group in San Francisco – founded by Sonja Trauss – to bring people to meetings that do not yet live there: Des such a group exist here ?

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