SAC Opinion on 105 Keefer Rezoning Application

The following comments have been sent to Council in a letter. Our Chair will also be speaking to the matter at today’s Public Hearing at 6pm.

The Seniors’ Advisory Committee is a civic agency appointed by Vancouver City Council to provide advice on matters presently under consideration which affect older adults and their families. The re-zoning application for 105 Keefer Street is of particular interest to the Committee given the serious implications it may have for seniors’ housing affordability and livability in Chinatown.

We have heard and considered a wide variety of opinions on this application, and discussed it at length during our June 17, 2016 meeting. While the Committee recognizes the need to increase the availability of different types of housing throughout the city, we remain concerned about the impact that this proposed development will have on housing affordability and overall livability for seniors in Chinatown.

Our primary concerns are the following:

  1. Of the 25 social housing units proposed for the second floor, we feel that there are an insufficient number of units designated for low-income seniors. This is of great concern given the high proportion of seniors in Chinatown living at or below the poverty line and who are at risk of homelessness.
  2. Dedicated cultural spaces are critical for fostering social connectedness—a priority concern for our Committee and the Social Planning Department. While we welcome the dedicated seniors’ cultural space proposed for the ground floor of this development, we are unsure whether it will be affordable for groups that would most benefit from its use.
  3. This proposed development represents the beginning of gentrification in Chinatown. While gentrification has its benefits, it also comes with costs. In particular, we are concerned that developments like this will increasingly displace affordable, culturally-appropriate amenities for low-income, monolingual seniors, such as Chinese grocery stores and pharmacies.
  4. Although commenting on architectural design is not generally within the Committee’s purview, we echo the concern that the current proposal remains out of scale with neighboring buildings and landmarks—both in style and size—and is not adequately sensitive to the historic nature of Chinatown. This threatens the unique character of this nationally-designated historic site and diminishes the sense of place and belonging that is so important for the well-being of seniors.

As many may recall, Council approved a motion on October 8, 2013 that the City work toward seeking World Health Organization designation as a “Global Age-Friendly City.” Among the requirements for seeking this designation, Vancouver must ensure that there is adequate and affordable housing for low-income seniors; that services and amenities are culturally appropriate; and that seniors feel socially connected and integrated with their communities.

In its current form, this proposed development—and the future developments it will likely inspire—appears to be inconsistent with the characteristics of an age-friendly city. We therefore cannot support the proposal at this time and we recommend that it undergo further revision to address the concerns we have described.

More generally, we recommend that the City consider steps to mitigate the potentially negative impact of gentrification in Chinatown, such as commercial-nonprofit partnerships to create culturally-appropriate, multi-use facilities in the area, and preserving the character of Chinatown.

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4 Responses to SAC Opinion on 105 Keefer Rezoning Application

  1. Toben says:

    I respectfully disagree with this position of the SAC. Seniors’ and social housing must be mixed in with market housing to prevent ghettoization of the neighbourhood. Additionally, more families and young people moving into the neighbourhood will help current and future businesses in Chinatown thrive.

  2. S. Ma says:

    @Toben As someone who has worked in Chinatown for the last 7 years (at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden), I disagree with your forecast for this situation. The mix you noted may be appropriate in theory, but in practice we have seen that it does not benefit a neighbourhood such as Chinatown, with unique cultural and economic needs. Chinatown is not going in the direction of ghettoization with or without this building. Good things are happening in the neighbourhood, and it’s happening from within. This building will not be what revitalizes the neighbourhood; it is being revitalized by the youth, seniors, merchants, philanthropists, economists, architects, and other professionals that have been actively engaged in the community for the past decade, or more. What a building of this scale will do, in that sensitive location — in the heart of the historic district — is further push a washing over of the heritage businesses and essential cultural services in Chinatown. The impact of gentrification has been carefully measured in the last few years, and we are keenly aware of the tangible and intangible consequences they are having on people who live and work there. SAC, I applaud your thoughtful consideration of the matter.

    • Shirley Chan says:

      I supported the rezoning mistakenly thinking it would help Chinatown’s economy. Instead of helping more businesses locate here, the higher heights approved increased value of land, driving out small green grocers , restaurants due to higher taxes. The condo dwellers who moved in don’t shop and eat in Chinatown. They hop in their cars or bikes and go shop at Urban Fare and eat at Whitespot.

  3. Shirley Chan says:

    It was pointed out that my opposition to the current rezoning was unclear in my above comment. I supported the 2011 rezoning which allowed the additional height in HA-1A as it would help the revitalization and preservation of Chinatown. Instead, we saw redevelopment with huge, bulky buildings of 7 and 8 Floor Space Ratios as the zoning did not include a density limit. Yaletown has FSR limit of 5!!!. Additionally, this site was to have been specifically excluded for heights above 90 ft. as in 2010 Council had passed a resolution that this site was particularly sensitive due to its location adjacent to the Memorial Square and across from the Cultural Centre and Chinese Garden. It could go to a maximum of 90 ft. if it met strict conditions of excellence in design and enhanced Chinatown character.