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Social housing towering over neighbours' concerns in Kitsilano

Kitsilano needs more social housing, and city council is changing zoning bylaws to make it happen. In a unanimous decision,…

By Lewis Kelly , in City , on December 2, 2009 Tags: , , ,

Neil Naiman circulated a petition against re-zoning 2304 West 8th Avenue.
Neil Naiman circulated a petition against re-zoning 2304 West 8th Avenue.

Kitsilano needs more social housing, and city council is changing zoning bylaws to make it happen.

In a unanimous decision, council voted to re-zone 2304 West 8th Avenue to allow for construction of a four-storey apartment complex — despite organized and outspoken opposition from many people who live near the lot.

The apartment complex, which will be built by CPA Developments, owned by BC Housing and run by the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, will contain 30 apartments. Ten of the housing units will be occupied by people with disabilities and the rest by low-income seniors.

Social housing for seniors is in short supply, according to Catherine Leach, executive director of the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House.

“We know that there’s a huge need for affordable housing for seniors on the West Side,” she said, adding that the Neighbourhood House gets calls daily from seniors seeking to apply for social housing.

Leach estimates that more than one thousand seniors in the area live on less than $1200 a month. According to the most recent census, average rent in Kitsilano is more than $1000 a month.

She expects  200 seniors to apply for the 20 apartments.

Neighbours’ object to building’s size and density

In order to accommodate the need for more social housing, the new building will tower over most houses in the area.  It will top every building surrounding it by ten feet or more and house up to ten times as many people.

Some worry that changing the bylaw for this complex will open the door for more high density housing in Kitsilano thereby changing the character of the neighbourhood.

Neil Naiman, who lives next to the re-zoned lot, said the building will increase automobile, bicycle and pedestrian traffic congestion.

“It changes the whole nature of what a neighbourhood is.” He added that he supports social housing in Kitsilano, but opposes the 8th Avenue development.

Naiman and fellow neighbour Adam Policzer helped form the Kitsilano Neighbours For Good Social Housing, a lobby group that argued the building should be scaled-down. He expressed frustration with the decision to put a large development in a residential neighbourhood.

“If this is going to be the only building for paraplegics and seniors, why not make it 50 stories? Why not make it 100 stories?”

The group circulated a petition against the re-zoning that collected 283 signatures.

“We came together because we were concerned about the excessive proposed density for this site, the lack of meaningful consultation, and the undemocratic planning process for this building,” says the group’s website.

Public consultation

For more on zoning in Kitsilano, click the image above.
For more on zoning in Kitsilano, click the image above.

Three meetings that took place between city planning and concerned Kitsilano residents. The first, an open house at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House on June 16th, gave residents a chance to consult with Duane Siegrist, the architect who designed the building.

Siegrist said that he made several changes to the building’s design based on the public’s input at that meeting. The changes include removing a rooftop trellis that added to the apparent height of the building and modifying the exterior to blend in with the buildings around the lot.

Michelle McGuire, the city’s re-zoning planner for the project, met with neighbours twice after the open house on the 16th – an atypical step for a re-zoning application.

McGuire said city planning made Integra change several aspects of the building’s design based on neighbours’ input, such as adding a Handydart pick-up and drop-off area and a visitor parking lot underground. She added that making the building smaller was never an option at the meetings.

Both Naiman and Policzer said the changes resulting from these meetings were cosmetic and trivial. Their chief concern – the number of units in the building – was never addressed.

“Not one thing that we asked for did they grant,” said Naiman. “Why did we do these meetings? We were sucked into what we believe to be democracy.”

City council held a public hearing on the application on the evening of November 3rd. Citizens argued for and against the re-zoning in crowded council chambers. The speakers were divided more or less equally between those in favour of the construction and those against it.

Citizens crowded council chambers to voice their opinions.
Citizens crowded council chambers to voice their opinions.

Council voted unanimously to approve the re-zoning.

Policzer, an architect, estimated that the currently empty lot is big enough for about 20 apartments.

“My feeling is that the site would house, comfortably, around 22 units,” he said. “For eight more units, we have a project that is really over-size.” He added that the height of the building will make it an eyesore for neighbours whose windows look out onto the lot.

But CPA Principal Doug Purdy said reducing the size of the building was never an option because of BC Housing’s requirements. Council’s decision suggests the need for social housing trumps neighbours’ concerns.

Naiman is fed up with the city planning process.

“I feel completely disillusioned with civic politics in Vancouver. It makes me puke.”

Now that the re-zoning has been approved, construction of the building is scheduled to begin in April.

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