Today is another page in a long saga in the West End — the story of St. John’s Church site at the corner of Comox and Broughton Streets. The construction crane is coming down (though work continues on the exterior and interior of the building.)
The project may have been a done deal from day one. The yellow rezoning sign appeared on the church’s lawn, with no prior outreach to the neighbourhood, in early November 2009. Most people learned about the plans from a front-page story in The Province. The surprise plan by Westbank Projects Corp and Henriquez Partners Architects set off a backlash in November 2009, and was one of the projects that triggered a petition of over 13,000 signatures demanding a more comprehensive land use plan for the West End. Vancouver City Council approved the West End Community Plan in November 2013, not without controversy. Below are some photos from the past few days to capture in images the experience of the community.
Included in this whole saga is Mayor Gregor Robertson’s infamous “f-bomb” incident in the Council Chambers in July 2010, the creation of a “task force” (WEMAC or the “West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee) hand-picked by politicians soon thereafter, more open houses, a demolition of St. John’s Church, a controversial public hearing in June 2012, Council approval of the tower with only cosmetic changes from the original proposal, then many months of noisy construction disruptions, thousands of truck deliveries of concrete and materials, and what may have been the largest number of complaints (vibration, noise, parking, traffic, violations and for general disruptions) on any building construction project ever done in Vancouver. There is also an ongoing lawsuit (in court April 2014) relating to the City of Vancouver’s developer-incentive STIR program. A blog site has captured the history going back to 1901, and the chronology of the construction experience over the past year, and may be used as a reference to reform City bylaws to better protect neighbourhoods from the negative impacts of demolition and construction. Other mature and densely-populated neighbourhood may wish to take note.
The address at this site has changed from the original 1401 Comox Street address of St. John’s Church to become 1061 Broughton, but it appears to have settled now as 1051 Broughton, with the building being named “The Lauren.” Occupancy is likely to begin within several months, but with rents significantly higher than what was indicated during the public hearing process – 400 square foot “junior one bedroom” apartments are expected to start at $1400 a month and go up from there..
For the record, below is what was permitted (top) under the original zoning on this site when Westbank purchased it from the United Church of Canada in 2009, compared to what Westbank (the developer) and Henriquez (the architectural firm) requested (bottom), and essentially got approved.
And for comparison, after the project has been completed and the dust settled, it may be interesting to compare the comments of urbanist Ned Jacobs in his comment to The Georgia Straight in the midst of debate about this development, published on March 11, 2010: Ned Jacobs: 22-storey tower at 1401 Comox Street would degrade livability in West End.
We are reasonably confident that the building will do little to help address housing affordability in the West End or in the City of Vancouver, and the negative impacts of this project in terms of urban design, privacy, and shadowing far outweigh any benefits it could have.