November 27, 2017

There Goes Neighbourhood Commercial~The Story of 33rd Avenue and MacKenzie Street

Sometimes the best way to understand a problem is just to go through it. That is exactly what Kerry Gold does in her latest Globe and Mail article describing the situation of a group of residents in Vancouver’s MacKenzie Heights who are concerned about the redevelopment of the interesting commercial strip at West 33rd Avenue and MacKenzie. That little commercial area is a walkable retail area with affordable rents. Services include a dentist’s office, a barber, a florist, and an insurance agency, among the eight shops and offices on the block up for redevelopment. A large independent grocery store anchors the block across the street.” 
Sounds great, right? And it is because of its functionality for the adjoining neighbourhood that residents are worried about the impending rezoning and redevelopment of one side of the  block, as they fear that the tenants that currently occupy the shops and offices will not be able to afford to stay.  And those tenants cannot afford to go elsewhere to higher priced commercial space rentals.
The retail  property has been flipped a few times in recent years and there is now a proposal for a three level building with eight luxury units and commercial ground level space. The architect for the site, Ian Egloff  observed “I work very hard to make things better. But I am limited in what I can do.It’s a global market issue more than a local issue. I would love to live in Point Grey, where I grew up. I certainly don’t like the situation, but I don’t see anything that will change it in stopping this project. And the community group hasn’t come up with any viable options that would affect that kind of social change.”
The architect has expressed frustration that the community group is talking about things he cannot change. He can amend and argue for  building height, massing and setbacks, but he cannot provide a place for displaced commercial tenants during the rebuild, or promise affordable rents in the building once constructed. Owned by foreign buyers, it is likely the units will be sold off shore but as the architect said “that is the nature of the housing market…We are basically not a self-sustaining society. There is no other way to provide amenities we need…currently land and development is one of Canada’s biggest exports.”
Even if the commercial units were well priced once built, the merchants displaced by the development cannot go on hold for  four years until the development is completed. Residents also worry that this development will spur more, taking out all the retail use at this intersection. And this is how the unravelling of a commercial community crossroads begins, when the heart of a local shops and services precinct is taken out to provide higher and best value for a foreign buyer’s market. And the price gains on the property have been fantastic-sold to a numbered company for $5.430 in January 2015 it was flipped in four months for a gain of one million dollars.
As the architect bluntly stated “Would these be marketed offshore?’ I said: ‘That’s a possibility.’ And to be honest, that’s quite likely. There isn’t a developer who’s going to find a more lucrative market for their product.”


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