City Council considers controversial proposal for 1401 Comox rezoning: Massive bulk and height remain unchanged

The City of Vancouver has now published the Staff Report on the market rental STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental) development project at 1401 Comox Street (site of former St. John’s Church).  The City Council will consider this item at its May 15th meeting:

The link to the Agenda is here and you can find the Staff Report here:

The staff recommendation in the report is that the rezoning and development application by Henriquez architects on behalf of Westbank Projects/Peterson Investment Group is supportable and should be referred by City Council to a Public Hearing.

The most recent (and current) version of the project was submitted in November 2011 and reviewed by the public at an Open House in February of 2012.  The proposal includes rezoning of the site from the existing RM-5 (Multiple Residential) zone to a new CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District to accommodate a 22-storey market rental apartment building with 186 rental suites, and an increase in density from the existing 1.50 FSR (or approximately 26,000 square feet of floor area) to 7.19 FSR (just over 123,000 square feet of floor area).

The current version of the project includes:

  • 186 rental suites under the STIR program in a mix of studio, one, two, and three-bedroom units
  • 22 storeys with a total building height of 61 m (200 feet)
  • rents proposed to range from $860 to $2,541 per month
  • 6 studio units for seniors under the SAFER program with a rent reduction of approximately $300 per month, but only for a total of five years
  • removal of the previously-proposed 3,500 square foot community facility (for “Qmunity” and Gordon House)
  • 79 parking spaces for the 186 apartment units
  • changes to the top 15 floors of the tower in an attempt to reduce shadowing of the existing Broughton Mini-Park

Residents are encouraged to review the report and consider whether it gives an objective summary of the trade-offs associated with the density increase in exchange for market rental units.  WEN is analyzing the staff report and will provide more information on the conclusions.

As a start, residents may wish to consider that new apartment rentals at Jervis and Robson (Pacific Palisades) are currently renting at monthly rates starting at $1,500 for a one bedroom.  The Planning Department’s report to Council indicates that rents for a one bedroom unit at 1401 Comox Street will be in the range of $1,128 to $1,465 per month (including in-suite laundry, which the Pacific Palisade units lack). As there are no rent controls proposed on these units, it is reasonable to expect that they will rent at rates equivalent to or higher than the Pacific Palisades units.

The Planning Department report concludes that the building as proposed – with a density higher than almost any other building in the West End – is consistent with the existing development guidelines and “represents an acceptable urban design response to the site and context and is therefore supportable.”  Further, the report indicates that the applicant has “worked hard” and made “extensive revisions” to the project to address residents’ concerns.  Yet the massive bulk and height of the project through its three incarnations has remained essentially unchanged.

What’s the process?

  • Council will consider referral of the project at its meeting of May 15th.
  • A public hearing will be scheduled – likely for early to mid-June.
  • The public will have an opportunity to speak at the public hearing.
  • Council will make a decision on the rezoning.

What can you do?

  • Sign up for WEN newsletters for new information as it becomes available.
  • Review the Planning Department’s report to Council.
  • Think about the future of your community.
  • Talk to your friends and neighbours, both in and out of the West End.
  • Speak to Council at the public hearing or if you can’t speak, submit something in writing.

Based on experiences with recent development projects, the only chance to affect the outcome of this development application process is to encourage large numbers of people to share their opinions with City Council at the public hearing.  So consider carefully, especially as we begin a process toward a new community plan for the neighbourhood, is a looming, bulky, steel and glass tower part of the future that YOU see for the West End?

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