Report: Pre-demolition info meeting at Maxine’s/Alexandria (1215 Bidwell/1718 Davie) on STIR, rezoning, heritage and “the ghost”

With the planned demolition of a heritage asset near English Bay, West End Neighbours held an information meeting on Thursday August 25th, 2011. Many details on the STIR program, rezoning, and history of the development of the site was summarized by Randy Helten, speaking as president of West End Neighbours:

Alexandra English Bay Properties plans to develop the site. Concord Pacific and Millennium are now jointly involved in the development (the Alexandra on English Bay). The development company was previously known as Millennium English Bay Properties, which was one of the ‘Millennium’ owned assets that was used in the collateral for Olympic Village. Due to the receivership of Olympic Village, the City of Vancouver also has claims on the property with Maxine’s (1718 Davie). As a major creditor, the City of Vancouver could have had significant leverage on the outcome of development of this property. It now looks like the luxury condo (and STIR) tower is proceeding, as the demolition of Maxine’s is imminent; only the facade facing Bidwell street is to be preserved.

Helten pointed out that the rezoning under the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing program was a very profitable deal for the developer, but a bad deal for the community.

  • Luxury condos were approved by the Vision Vancouver dominated council in December 2009 as part of the deal, which includes 49 small (under 400 sq ft) rental apartments that will be rented out at the top price the market will bear (i.e., not “affordable” by the regular understanding of the word).
  • The STIR program, adopted earlier that year with virtually no public input was used in this rezoning to permit dramatic increases in height (from 60 feet “outright” to 210 feet) and building floor space (permitted FSR was increased from 2.2 up to 6.27), while letting the developer off the hook for millions of dollars in costs and “development cost levies” that would normally have to be paid for public amenities.
  • This project is “the tip of the iceberg” in the West End, and all of Vancouver, with many STIR projects and major rezonings being pushed through against strong community opposition. The voting record of the current members of council speaks for itself. This particular project was the first rezoning under the STIR program.
  • As information for consideration as the public observes the City’s dealing with the two other major partners in this project Concord Pacific donated over $35,000 each to Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association in the 2008 election, and Millennium donated $3,500 to Vision Vancouver. (Source: Vancouver Sun campaign contribution database.) Is it a challenge for Councillors to be objective in critical land use decisions knowing who helped them win the election through campaign contributions?
  • Many of the speakers who spoke in favour of the rezoning at the December 2009 public hearing are closely affiliated with Vision Vancouver.
  • Helten urged the City and property owners to provide timely and accurate information about the development to the public in order to avoid misunderstandings and misperceptions.
  • He also urged renters and owners in the immediate vicinity of the site to meet directly with Concord Pacific and Millennium to discuss was that their new corporate neighbours will do to minimize negative impacts of the upcoming demolition and construction.
  • Neighbours near 1401 Comox (St John’s Church) learned that the Vancouver Building Bylaw (to be amended, and needing public input) failed to protect residents from major disturbances (5000 pound demolition ball smashing concrete, causing ground tremors for blocks around, for weeks) as it has no reference to monitoring or controls on ground vibration (in contrast to Toronto and other cities). Citizens need to be more proactive to protect themselves from disturbances caused by demolition and construction.
  • We have word that asbestos will be removed from the site until September 8.
  • He closed by mentioning that citizens need to be vigilant, watch what goes on at City Hall, and talk to individual candidates to learn their personal principles and commitments in the lead-up to the November 19, 2011 civic election.

The history and folklore of Maxine’s in the West End at 1215 Bidwell Street (now 1718 Davie Street) was told by another member of West End Neighbours (WEN). The description of the building’s colorful history includes liquor smuggling, a restaurant, unique architecture, and stories of Maxine’s ghost.

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