Proposed Vancouver highrise development divides neighbourhood

A proposed highrise development at Kingsway and Broadway is being both praised as a model of dense and sustainable urbanism and denounced as a way-too-tall monolith that will escalate gentrification in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant.

Opinion is divided over whether a 19-storey condo tower, developed by Rize Alliance Properties, would undermine or enhance the cool vibrancy of the trendy Main Street corridor and the livability of the adjacent neighbourhoods.

“We feel high-density development in this location, with such good accessibility to transit, merits a higher form of development. So we thought that 19 storeys was a reasonable fit for the site,” said city planner Matt Shillito.

The full-block site, bounded by Broadway, Kingsway, 10th Avenue, and Watson Street is one of three sites identified for taller buildings in the new Mount Pleasant Community Plan.

Rize originally intended to build a 26-storey tower but lowered it to 19 in response to negative feedback from the community.

The height reduction hasn’t satisfied the project’s critics, including Chris Brayshaw, owner of Pulpfiction Books on Main Street, near Broadway.

“There is concern that the Rize building will replace this community’s vibrant street culture with something more monolithic, corporate, and esthetically and ideologically out of keeping with the neighbourhood.”

But Gideon James, owner of Main Street’s wedge-shaped hipster hangout Gene Café, where bookseller Brayshaw gets his espresso, backs the Rize development.

“I’m supportive of this project because I’m supportive of density in urban centres. The arguments for that are clear on sustainability grounds,” said James.

“As a renter and someone who will never be able to buy property in this city, I’m happy to see density moving into the neighbourhood where I’ve lived most of my adult life. The more the better, really.”

The Rize project, which will include 241 market condos and a two-storey commercial base, goes to a public hearing tonight at city council. The proposal consists of four distinct buildings of five, five, nine and 19 storeys.

City staff have recommended approval of a rezoning application for the Rize project. But council is expected to get an earful from speakers warning that the development will be a visual blight on the landscape and a threat to what they say is the Main Street area’s low-scale, edgy, bohemian retail culture.

Rize, under the rezoning proposal, would provide a $6.2-million Community Amenity Contribution, with $1.75 million going to affordable housing projects in the neighbourhood and $4.5 million to cultural activities.

The rezoning application is a tricky one for the Vision Vancouver council: the party favours density around transit nodes, but resistance to the 19-storey Rize tower comes from within the centre-left party’s natural support base.

The Residents Association of Mount Pleasant (RAMP), which was formed to oppose the project, has argued that nothing less than the neighbourhood’s future is at stake in the Rize rezoning application.

“I think the area’s character would change completely. This is about the heart and soul of Mount Pleasant,” said RAMP activist Stephen Bohus, raising the spectre of the Main Street corridor gradually becoming another Yaletown.

“I see this as a watershed development for Mount Pleasant that would set a precedent for many similar glass towers.”

Rize vice-president Christopher Vollan said there are few spots better suited for density in Metro Vancouver than the southwest corner of Broadway and Kingsway given its access to current and future transit options.

“The city is growing and we have to put people somewhere,” said Vollan. “If not here, then where?”

City councillor Raymond Louie said the city has no intention of allowing extensive highrise development in Mount Pleasant.

“The Mount Pleasant Community Plan is very clear that this is one of three sites for dense development,” said Louie.

“I do not see it as a Yaletown or False Creek North or South scenario coming before council.”

Developer Vollan said the design of the Rize development will rely mostly on brick and stone, not glass. “We agree this shouldn’t be a Yaletown building. And it will not be.”

RAMP activist Bohus said that his group is not opposed to densification, but fears that a project the size of the Rize development will spur land speculation and the escalation of property taxes.

“It will displace lower- and middle-income earners here — students, artists and people just on the edge.”

Gene Café owner James said the Rize building shouldn’t become a “flashpoint” for debate about the gentrification that has hit Mount Pleasant in recent years.

“As far as what is happening to this neighbourhood, this project is completely neutral. Gentrification has been happening, and it’s an ongoing and inevitable process.”

James said restricting the supply of new housing is not going to halt the rise of property values in Mount Pleasant.

“Property taxes in this neighbourhood have already advanced so far that this project isn’t going to make any difference,” said James.

“There is masses of new development going on around here and people moving in. This is just another project.”

James added that “I can’t really believe that by restricting supply, you’re going to put a lid on property values or rents.”

The recent census found that Mount Pleasant was one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods in Vancouver between 2006 and 2011.

Developer Vollan said that the rise of property values in Mount Pleasant stems from increased demand and demographic changes. “I think it’s something that comes whether it’s four storeys or 40 storeys.

“And I don’t see this having any significant impact on lease rates along Main Street. I do see it having a business benefit in providing 3,000 to 4,000 new residents in the neighbourhood to support local business.”

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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