Vancouver councillors must decide Tuesday whether to approve a 21-unit rental townhouse project that the city’s younger residents say is desperately needed, but supporters of a neighbouring hospice say it will damage a needed tranquil space for the dying.
The pitched battle over the stacked-townhouse project, on Granville near 29th in the heart of the city’s upscale Shaughnessy mansion district, has reached peak levels of vitriol on social media in the past three weeks, and over three nights of contentious public hearings earlier in June.
“We are just trying to defend the dying. We were pretty surprised by the opposition to that,” Stephen Roberts, the chair of the Vancouver Hospice Society board, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. The board oversees the eight-bed facility that was opened in 2014 despite some objections from residents then.
Mr. Roberts said the hospice fears it may have to close for two years during disruptive building, despite developer assurances that they will work to reduce the noise from construction, and that the peace of the hospice will be compromised long-term by having so many new residents next door.
But a raft of younger people said the project is one of an array of new, affordable kinds of housing needed to allow their generation to stay in one of North America’s most expensive cities.
“We want a future where more than a narrow swathe of people can live. We need everything; we need the full diversity of homes. I’m a bit surprised to see it’s being opposed by so many,” said Alexander Wright, a proponent of the project and the first speaker to kick off the public hearings. There were 75 speakers in all, as well as 600 letters for and against. The letters were almost evenly split, while the anti-townhouse speakers outnumbered the supporters by 2 to 1.
The townhouse project is one of about a dozen that have been proposed to the city under a policy dating back to 2012 that allows developers to build multifamily housing along main streets in traditionally single-family home neighbourhoods. The developers, Jagmohan Singh Pabla and Kamlesh Rani Pabla, bought the property in 2011 for $2.3-million. The large site, exactly the same size as the hospice lot next door, is now assessed at $4.7-million.
The developers haven’t applied for any city incentive programs for the project. However, they will have to pay about $325,000 in development-cost levies that will be used largely to upgrade sewers in the area.
The city has no ability to limit rents for the project, but the developers’ architect, Neil Robertson, said the rents will be about the same as the maximums set in Vancouver’s Rental 100 incentive program: about $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom; about $3,500 a month for the several three-bedroom units. Both the hospice and the proposed townhouses are on Granville, a major commuter street that sees 33,000 to 40,000 vehicles a day, including buses from 10 routes.
Senior city planner Yan Zeng said city staff did not recommend lightly the townhouse project, which needed to demonstrate that it fit the context of the neighbourhood. But, she said, in the end, it fit current city policy aimed providing new rental housing.
“The hospice is part of city fabric. But it should be able to adapt to city changes,” she said as the third night of hearings wrapped up.
While Green Party Councillor Pete Fry suggested during the hearings that he was sure the city ”can find a way for [the project and the hospice] to co-exist,” Mr. Roberts said he hadn’t heard anything during the public hearings that made him think that was true.
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