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Development company appeals rejection of condo in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown is where Beedie Living aims to build a condo project, which has been rejected by a permit board.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

One of the most controversial building proposals in Vancouver's recent history – a condo project in historic Chinatown – is headed for another attempt at approval.

The development company Beedie Living is appealing a decision to reject the project at 105 Keefer, claiming Vancouver's development-permit board had no authority to refuse the proposal and that the decision has caused "significant hardship" to the company.

The Beedie project was rejected last month – the first outright rejection in the permit board's 43-year history – after vocal protests by housing advocates and Chinatown residents. The nine-storey development, which had already been cleared by other city agencies and committees, has become a symbol of gentrification and change in Chinatown, a neighbourhood that has seen a decline since its heyday in the 1970s.

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The city suggested the company could come back with revisions to its proposal, which had already been changed at least four times to respond to concerns. Instead, the company has asked the city's board of variance, which hears appeals on issues such as zoning and development permits, to review the decision.

Specialist real-estate lawyer Neil Kornfeld, who submitted the application to the board of variance Dec. 6 on behalf of the company, emphasized in the filing how much the years-long effort to get city approval has cost Beedie Living and the harm it has done on several fronts.

He also points out that city staff had recommended the nine-storey, 111-unit project go ahead, with a list of conditions that Beedie was prepared to comply with.

Mr. Kornfeld noted that Beedie has lost money on consulting and professional fees and had to pay extra for carrying costs over the years.

"The applicant has suffered and continues to suffer damage to its reputation in that the development permit board's refusal of the application on the ostensible basis of lack of compliance with design guidelines, when such was not the case … has lessened the applicant's standing in the community," says the application, obtained through a freedom-of-information request.

After the project was turned down by the city's development-permit board in November, the city's planning director, Gil Kelley, said he hoped to see the company submit a new application and was prepared to work with the company's architects on that. Others believed the company might sue the city.

If Beedie's application is successful at the board, that would give it the right to build according to its current plans. If it submitted a new application to the development-permit board, it would probably need to make significant changes, including a reduction in its bulk – something that board members commented on as a problem.

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Houtan Rafii, executive vice-president of Beedie Living, said in a statement that the permit board's decision was wrong.

"For two of the board members to reject it outright on the basis of design, especially without providing us specific areas for improvement, is simply not supportable by the evidence that came before the [development permit] board, and leads us to believe that this decision was outside their purview."

Opponents have argued that the site where the condo building is supposed to go is significant for Chinatown, across from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden and next to a war memorial, and needs a building that fits in with the character of the historic area. As well, many in the community wanted to see social housing rather than a market project.

City councillors rejected one version of the project in June that would have required a rezoning. That version included 25 units of social housing, an amenity the developer was offering in exchange for an increase in the height up to 120 feet. After that rejection, Beedie eliminated the social housing and lowered the building to 90 feet, which meant that it complied with existing zoning rules.

But the development-permit board, made up of the city's three top bureaucrats, voted 2-1 to reject it, saying that it needed a more sensitive design for the community.

The project has generated huge community response.

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Some support the project, saying it would bring new life and activity into Chinatown as envisioned when the city changed the neighbourhood plan for the area in 2011.

Many others, including groups of young second-generation Chinese-Canadian activists who have flooded into Chinatown in recent years, oppose it, saying that it is out of keeping with the neighbourhood.

Board secretary Louis Ng said the board had originally scheduled a meeting for February but has now postponed it to March in order to prepare for the anticipated crowds.

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