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Vancouver’s first tall residential tower in an area along the Broadway corridor south of downtown is headed for one of the city’s fiercer public debates, with hearings beginning Thursday that will weigh the potential impact on the neighbourhood against a desperate need for new housing.

Opponents say the 28-storey, 86-metre rental-apartment building planned for central Broadway doesn’t blend with the neighbourhood and will put more pressure on crowded schools and community centres in the area.

Retired planners, some local residents and other critics also say the project is being pushed ahead even though there is no comprehensive plan yet for how Broadway will develop after a planned subway line is built.

“It’s such a radical change, it calls for a plan,” says Frank Ducote, a former Vancouver city planner who helped most recently with a phase of the Cambie corridor plans for increased density.

Ian Crook, a retiree who lives in a condo nearby, has mobilized opposition, partly through a website, saying the building is out of scale and will strain already overloaded local schools, parks, and community services.

On the other side, business associations, other former planners and a loose collection of younger people who have been calling for more housing in Vancouver say it will provide desperately needed rentals on a busy corridor that’s part of what many call the city’s second downtown, including 58 apartments that will have guaranteed below-market rates starting at $950 for a studio.

“We’re in an emergency and this is a marginally viable way of getting a dose of affordable housing,” says Ian Robertson, a master’s of architecture graduate who has worked on a similar project in the architecture firm he’s at, one that didn’t go ahead. He says the profit margins are so tight that a lot of developers aren’t even bothering to put in proposals, which makes it important to support those who do.

Mr. Robertson lives a block and a half from the site and says, in spite of the scary visualizations opponents are sending out about how big the building is, it won’t be noticeable among the many tall, boxy office buildings that already line Broadway, along with the taller, new condo buildings dotted nearby.

Groups such as the South Granville Business Improvement Association and Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association are supporting the project, saying the city needs affordable housing.

In a sign of Vancouver’s current attitude toward the project, the city has received 277 messages in support of it, 93 opposed, while another 55 people were on the list to speak at Thursday’s public hearing by Monday night.

The building, proposed by local company Jameson Development Corporation, is one of 20 projects that are part of a pilot that the Vision Vancouver council introduced a couple of years before being swept out of power in 2018. Eight have been approved so far.

The experimental policy gives developers extra density for a site if the building is not just all-rental, but provides 20 per cent of the units at below-market prices.

Jameson had approval already to build 16 stories at market rental, where studios likely would have started at around $1,700 a month.

It’s on a section of Broadway that is part of a growing office district, including a hospital precinct a few blocks away with one medical tower that is 91 metres high.

But the area is also home to a lot of low-rise apartments off Broadway, some rented, some owned, from the 1960s or earlier.

The big east-west arterial is due to see dramatic change in coming years, as a new subway extension is put in.

The city’s planning director, Gil Kelley, has put the brakes on speculation, which had driven escalating prices as investors anticipated the new SkyTrain line, by introducing interim measures to limit rezoning and types of residential housing until a final plan is developed.

Once there is a plan, it will mean a lot of the current one-, two- or three-storey older commercial buildings that still exist in spots will eventually be replaced by much bigger buildings, likely with a focus on rental apartments where residential use is allowed.

But in the meantime, the Jameson proposal introduces a very tall residential building to a part of the city that hasn’t seen anything like that before.

While Vancouver has a global reputation for embracing urban density, tall residential buildings have been confined to the downtown peninsula or the city’s periphery, such as the developments at the south foot of Cambie or the far eastern edge near Kingsway.

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