Unlike the item below, this is worthy of comment:

Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the Beedie proposal at 105 Keefer, the two-to-three decision definitely puts the role and authority of the Development Permit Board in question – in both the court of public opinion and perhaps the courts.
The DPB was a creation of the TEAM council back in the early 1970s.  It was devised as a way to de-politicize the permit approval process by moving the authority to approve major development projects under existing zoning from a political council to a panel of four (at that time) of senior staff.
The Vancouver Charter allowed a degree of ‘discretion,’ unlike in other municipalities, that introduced a degree of subjectivity in matters of design and even density, in order to encourage architects and developers to consider the context and neighbourliness of their buildings.
The board also had a group of advisers, drawn from the design and development professions, in addition to staff architects, that contributed to the analysis and provided recommendations.  Projects eventually had to jump through many hoops: public meetings, advisory boards, review panels, staff analysis, negotiations, revisions, and finally the DP board itself, at which time presentations from the public and the developer could be heard.
The process itself ensured that projects rarely made it to the board unless they had a reasonable chance of success.  Suggestions for ‘prior-to’ conditions could then be added, requiring some additional tweaking of the design, but those would be adjudicated by the Director of Planning who could then give final approval.
A few things to note: councillors were not involved.  Indeed, they would typically refer those who approached them with complaints, whether developers or neighbours, to the board process without their intercession.  It was considered inappropriate for councillors to even be in the room at the time the project was being reviewed, regardless of the degree of controversy.
If a project was so controversial that a political consideration was believed to be appropriate, the board could refer the project to council for their ‘input’ – while the board still retained the decision-making responsibility.
The board only reviewed ‘major’ projects.  Applications for small projects, like houses or even small buildings, would be considered by the Director of Planning.
But – and this is critical – all projects had to be legal under the existing zoning.  The board could not venture into areas that required a rezoning.  Indeed, the application would never even be streamed into the DP process.  Likewise, council was responsible for all policy which framed the review process itself.  The board could not apply criteria which had not in some way been authorized by council.
So that takes us to 105 Keefer.  And as Andy Yan noted, this also takes us into new territory.  From The Sun:

Urban planner Andy Yan said the rejection is significant for historic neighbourhoods like Chinatown. Design is no longer the only criterion for the permit board; the context must also be considered.
“In this case, we’re talking about (the development’s) fit in an existing site, which has tremendous historic and architectural juxtapositions,” said Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. …
“Yan thinks the rejection will have a broader impact.
“I think it’s saying we’re going to have to change the site-ism that occurs with development in Vancouver — site-ism being defined that developments only pertain to the site. It talks about how we need to begin to consider context towards the social and cultural surroundings of developments. Some may be very straightforward, others are far more complex, as in the case of Chinatown.”

That is a profound expansion of the responsibility of the Development Permit Board.  The question is whether it’s even proper for an unelected board to consider ‘the social and cultural surroundings’ – particularly when they become another way to address, argue and fight the most important questions of policy that affect a community and the city.  Or further, another way to politically contest those issues which democratically must be the purview of elected representatives.  Or further, another way to fight those politicians.
And that’s worthy of a lot of comment.


  1. No wonder housing is so very expensive in Vancouver.
    The ONLY solution to affordable housing is build build BUILD .. and fast and efficient without lengthy planning delays.
    Why not add 20 more W style buildings in the west end ie high density, mixed use, with subsidized and market housing in one building ?
    Add to that the new requirement (apparently not applied here ?) of 25% rental housing and prices will SKY ROCKET even further in Vancouver.
    A sad, but not unexpected, day for those that dream of more and cheaper housing in Vancouver.
    A lose/lose all around: for the developer (who will lose a lot of money and time), for the city (no new housing, no property taxes, no CACs, no fees collected), for housing advocates (no new housing for years and years), for folks wishing to rejuvenate E-Van (no new housing for years and years), for the province (no property taxes), for renters (no new and certainly no low rents), for seniors (no new and certainly no low rents), for the homeless (no new and certainly no low rents).
    Who actually won here for all this joy ?

    1. I’m with you on this one, Thomas. People are full of ridiculous contradictions – like how they can oppose sensible new construction and endlessly bemoan affordability in the same breath. Hopefully this milklivered decision is a one-off and not an indicator of similarly flaccid review parameters going forward.

  2. “The ONLY solution to affordable housing is build build BUILD” actual places to live, and not just “Luxury Condominium Homes” primarily designed as investment vehicles for speculators.

    1. That is working ONLY with government subsidies or forced mandates such as the 25% rental mandate as land prices are now $500+/sq ft in Vancouver. Low cost or even moderate cost housing has left Vancouver in the 1990s to NEVER come back.
      As such ONLY buildings like the W make sense in downtown (ie mixed use, high density, market and sub-market affordable rentals forced in exchange for higher density), even dilapidated parts like E-Van. If we build 20 W style buildings we can actually make a dent into housing, but not with the current zoning.
      Perhaps this rejection is a wake-up call that the current process is deeply flawed and that only build build BUILD will make an impact !

  3. Apart from the fact that the developers have “as-of-right” the power to build the last version of the project proposed – It’s politics coming into play.
    Remember when Concord Pacific proposed condos at 58 West Hastings – and the DTES community created an uproar that the site should become social housing? Concord got their project approved, but abandoned its project/fled the area and eventually donated the site to the city in conjunction with rezonings at the Cambie bridgehead. Now social housing is planned for the site.
    The development of the sites in question ignited the communities and served/will serve as a litmus test for implementing change.
    So for Beedie – it’s fish (sue the City, anger politicians and the community) or cut bait (even if they are right).
    Concord Pacific chose to cut bait.

  4. Wow. The three year olds of the world need to come to Canada, and learn how to whine from our business community. Two rejections in eleven years and the price of housing is “going” to skyrocket, and the development community is lost in a bureaucratic nightmare. What will our local developer billionaires do? The crying over this and a proposed then killed $120 per year tax increase for small business/self employed has to be heard to be believed in a nation with one million food bank users and a shameful child poverty rate.
    Every proposal that makes the news is a spot rezoning dance. Proposal comes in, larger than the zoning. How many times do we have to go through this? No wonder it takes years to get a project approved, if you submit a design that is over height or over dense why on earth would you expect approval. What a bullshit process when developers feel they can try it on. After the inevitable rejection, the proposal is resubmitted, sans affordable housing or whatever the city was looking for to address the housing crisis. And so the city is left with almost no rental housing stock built for decades, we are just now starting to see some projects being built.
    If developers are worried about the costs of permitting, maybe they should follow the rules for height from the start, and all the other parameters and stop submitting proposals that are illegal. Or maybe we should give up on spot rezoning and densify the city full stop.

    1. There are some aspects of this project that you seem not to understand, Keith. For example; “if you submit a design that is over height or over dense why on earth would you expect approval”. Well, because there was a Chinatown Plan, that took around 10 years to develop, that said in a few places in Chinatown developers could submit a rezoning to add a little extra height and density, in exchange for providing community benefits. So a developer acquired the site on that basis, and developed a scheme (which had several redesigns to get the Urban Design Panel’s support), and then still failed to get enough members of Council to vote for it a the Public Hearing.
      So they resubmitted a different proposal, that wasn’t as high, or as dense, and that met the zoning – it wasn’t a rezoning any more. Now that version of the project has also been rejected, but this time by the senior City staff who make up the Development Permit Board.
      In relation to your statement “And so the city is left with almost no rental housing stock built for decades” – actually in the past five years (2011 to 2016) according the recently published census numbers the City of Vancouver added 11,315 units occupied by owners, and 19,215 occupied by renters. Some of that stock is purpose-built rental, and some of it will be rented condos (so less secure as rental in the long term). There was actually even more rental stock added, because non-market projects usually aren’t considered to be rental by Statistics Canada, they’re ‘collective dwellings’, and not counted as dwellings.

      1. How much rental stock was lost during that time period? I drive by at least four three story walk-ups during the course of my week that all have For Sale or Development Proposal signs up. Has there even been any discussion Pricetags over the whole block of affordable rental and strata housing being lost on Barclay so Bosa can erect some more towers?

        1. The numbers above are net change in occupied dwellings – so how ever many were lost, they were all replaced and over 19,215 more were added in 5 years.
          The Bosa project on Barclay has 490 strata units, but it also has 190 social housing rental units that would be given to the City. So there’s a net gain in affordable housing in that proposal as well.
          To bring the topic back to 105 Keefer – no housing, rental or otherwise will be lost; it was a gas station for many years, with an older building that housed a Chinese Theatre at the back of the site on Columbia Street, that was demolished man years ago.

        2. How affordable are those new units compared to those lost? Are they charging exactly the same rates? If not, it’s a loss for affordability.

        3. The problem on the unit numbers is that we are losing large old houses, for example in the commercial drive neighborhood, that have up to 8 rooms and provide unauthorized but real and affordable rental housing. This was the “densify in place” reality that Gordon Price has mentioned of the last 50 years or so.
          If that house is knocked down and replaced with a couple of half duplexes, there is a loss of affordable rental housing for perhaps 10 people. It all gets back to replacing affordable rental stock, with more units of unaffordable homes, be they market rental or condo ownership, is adding supply without addressing demand at the existing affordable price point. We don’t have these numbers, but we do have a crisis of affordability. We may lose the affordability battle, but I wish we were going down in a fight, instead of a free market whimper.

  5. Two of the three Development Permit Board members, Gil Kelley and Jerry Dobrovolny, were entirely within their mandate in voting Refusal to the 105 Keefer proposal. The third member, Paul Mochrie, Deputy City Manager, who voted Approval, needs to be given a quick course on the founding principles of Discretionary Zoning, of which the pertinent HA-1A is but one of many discretionary zones in Vancouver. This application was “conditional” under the zoning, subject to assessment under Council-approved design guidelines. On height, as one example, while a maximum of 90 ft. may be permitted, that maximum is not an entitlement, but subject to testing against the Chinatown HA-1A Design Guidelines which speak to several contextual issues such as neighbourhood and street character, building scale, massing, open space, architectural components, among others.
    Specifically, the Guidelines Intent statement encourages “new development that is responsive to the community’s established cultural and historic identity” and seeks “a response to the contextual circumstances of any particular site”. Under the Neighbourhood and Street Character; Public Open Space Section, the Chinatown Memorial Square is cited as HA-1A’s primary open space, hosting community events, festivals, memorial services, etc. Not specifically cited in this Section but equally as important, if not more so, is the 2-storey Chinese Community Centre with its distinctive green tile roof and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The Section on Guiding Design Principles: New Buildings states: “It is critical that the planning and design of new developments contribute to achieving the Chinatown Vision Directions and enhancing Chinatown’s distinct sense of place”.
    The pertinent question that the Board confronted in this qualitative context was – How did this proposal contribute to any of these criteria, particularly to Chinatown’s “sense of place” at this absolutely unique location in terms of its culture and history, with its prominence soon to be amplified as a gateway to the precinct with the removal of the Viaducts. Their judgement, correct in my view, was that there was not enough in terms of its design at this critical location immediately adjacent to such important symbolic spaces and functions.
    The outcries that this unusual decision will undermine the entire development process are overstated. What it can underscore is the need for greater care by both City staff and developers/architects in thoroughly identifying neighbouring context issues on development sites at the enquiry stage, rather than on the floor of the Development Permit Board meeting.

  6. Ralph: Not sure Mochrie needs the lesson you say. I listened to the audio of the meeting. Staff (Anita Molnar) said that height was NOT something the DP board had discretion with. That’s why, you’ll notice, none of them referred to height as a reason for turning it down, only the more general “massing” and “design” and “facade.”
    I guess what I am left wondering, and intend to pursue, is what could the developer possibly do in a re-design to make this acceptable. Almost none of the opponents were concerned about the design. In fact, one of them told me later they wouldn’t really care about the design or massing if it was social housing. They object to the use. They want social housing, not condos. And they want a guarantee of traditional Chinese businesses, not chains or gentrifying restaurants.
    My sense is that Beedie could spend the next 20 years re-designing and re-designing this. It will never be acceptable to the opponents.

    1. Good for you Frances. My thought exactly regarding discretionary height.
      An easily understood example of discretionary height is in the C-3 District schedule:
      4.3 Height
      4.3.1 The maximum height of a building shall be 9.2 m.
      4.3.2 The Development Permit Board may permit an increase in the maximum height of a building with respect to any development, provided that it first considers:
      (a) the intent of this Schedule, all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council and the relationship of the development with nearby residential areas;
      (b) the height, bulk, location and overall design of the building and its effect on the site,
      surrounding buildings and streets and existing views;
      (c) the amount of open space, including plazas, and the effects of overall design on the general amenity of the area;
      (d) the provision for pedestrian needs;
      (e) the preservation of the character and general amenity desired for the area; and
      (f) the submission of any advisory group, property owner or tenant.
      P.S. The C-3A Guidelines provide guidance for the maximum height which will be considered in various sub-areas, subject to various considerations.
      There is no such formulation in the HA-1 and HA-1A Schedule.

  7. Yes, Frances and Phil, you are correct that the HA-1A height regulation (4.3.1) does, on its own, provide for an outright height of 90 ft. So my poke at Paul Mochrie was unwarranted (Apologies to Paul). However, the Intent statement of the HA-1 and HA-1A District Schedule is, I believe, unique in the City’s Zoning and Development By-Law (I haven’t checked every Schedule!) not only in its quite detailed description of Chinatown and the need for its evolving activities (i.e. new development) “to be accommodated contextually” but further, in its direct citing of the design guidelines, stating: “The guidelines are important for achieving an appropriate level of design sensitivity.”
    But we are getting into regulatory minutiae here. The bottom line on this highly unusual Refusal, as I’ve argued in my previous post above, is that this particular site, arguably the most sensitive development site in Chinatown in respect to its immediate context fronting on the Memorial Square and across from the Community Centre and Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, required, under the guidelines, a very contextually responsive design. Two of the three Board members judged the proposal, as presented, to have not met that challenge. There could also have been a sense that the developer, after numerous re-designs, would have been unwilling to make the further design moves necessary to properly address the proposal’s “fit” in this specific context.

    1. I wish the same level of oversight had been applied by city staff to the big developments at 611 and 633 Main, which are blocky, looming, and make only the slightest nod to the Chinatown Design Guidelines. A few of us on the Heritage Commission thought those projects were utterly generic except for a little tweak of colour here and there; 105 Keefer is no better.

      1. No kidding in agreement with Michael’s response. Some of what is going on here, though not all, is the result of the backlash that occurred after the first three buildings went up on Main Street.

  8. But back to one of my other points. Ralph, I do not see how more changes to the design is going to solve anything. NONE of the opponents to this project said, Oh, if only the design were a little better, we would support this. They want social housing, not condos, which is something the DP board and the zoning have no power over. It seems almost disingenuous to suggest that this issue is primarily related to design. And I’m not sure why you think they were balking at making changes. They went through five iterations with Paul Merrick, an architect who, I’m pretty sure, you would not put in the category of people insensitive to context and history.

  9. In subsequent published comments Mr. Gill indicated his big concern was the lack of a strong design response of the building to the site locus (Memorial Square and Dr. Sun Yat-sen Gardens).
    In essence, design, history, culture and neighbourhood context matter when reviewing development applications in established neighbourhoods. I interpret that as a good thing.
    Further, expecting the development community to build affordable housing on this or any other site will not happen, and expecting anything to be built anywhere in the name of Supply is not a viable city-building approach, unless you want Dubai or Houston on English Bay.
    Market housing is not affordable over large swaths of the Metro, but is particularly egregious in Vancouver. Therefore, a non-market response is required. I suggest council should be challenged to purchase this site and build non-profit rentals with a proportion of the units subsidized, while getting the design and site planning right. Then continue on to engage the province and the feds to chip in and build tens of thousands of non-market rentals on public land over the next few years.
    It’s easy if you try.

    1. An excellent question, Jolson. I have proposed non-profit public rentals in comments here several times before, modeled after the 14 city sites slated for housing the homeless built by the province. This should come easier for the NDP who are ideologically better aligned to the policy than the BC Libs and Rich Coleman were, despite their accomplishment on that file.
      I differed on this one to make a rhetorical point more in line with the community’s desire for affordable and social housing while also aligning with the comments about design. Many knocked the second last rejection with incredulity about it being a mere existing parking lot, which ignores the social, cultural, urban and historical context of the site. Unfortunately, being owned privately, you’re not going to get a lot of public housing of any kind without trading it for height and density and, as we just saw, good quality design.
      Gil and Jerry need to be congratulated for promoting higher design standards on important sites surrounding by some of the deepest context we have. I suspect they may have approved the project with slightly greater height and social housing units if the design wasn’t so token bricky Chinatown lacework without a proper scale and facade design facing the important heritage and cultural elements to the south and west.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *