May. 2, 2016 – Vancouver Sun
Beedie’s new submission to the city shows a slightly smaller development with 119 market condos, down from 127 last year and 134 when it was initially submitted in 2014.
The overall structure is still 13 storeys, but the western facade has been dropped two storeys, and the top four floors have been set back, making it appear smaller from the street.
The province’s BC Housing may take over the 25 social housing units proposed for the second floor of the building, and a new community group, the Vancouver Chinatown Seniors Cultural and Recreation Coalition, has signed on to rent a 1,000 sq. ft storefront.
But the changes aren’t enough to satisfy University of B.C. history professor Henry Yu.
“They’ve changed architecturally some elements, the set-back roof and things like that,” he said.
“But I think the core problem that they’ve faced in the previous proposal has not been addressed … the idea of how this fits in with the surrounding area as a kind of core heart of Chinatown.”
A public open house on the rezoning will be held at 5 p.m. May 16 at the Chinese Cultural Centre, 50 East Pender.
Houtan Rafii of the Beedie Group said the design changes were in response to the community feedback.
“It’s not only community concerns, we thought we had some constructive feedback from the Urban Design Panel (a civic advisory body) as well,” said Rafii.
Rafii said the project has been moved back 10 feet from the Chinese war memorial at Columbia and Keefer.
“That’s not only a physical but also a ceremonial recognition of the importance of the (war memorial) plaza: we’ve set the building back 10 feet,” said Rafii.
“In addition, we’ve dropped the facade that faces Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden (on Columbia) an additional two storeys, to give the building a much smaller look and feel. Then we’ve set back the upper portions above 90 feet, an additional 20 feet.”
The new design by Merrick Architecture incorporates a lot of brick in the lower floors, which Rafii said fits into the traditional architecture of Chinatown. The building is designed so it looks like it’s a series of 25-foot wide structures, which blends into the Chinatown streetscape.
The big change is the addition of the Vancouver Chinatown Seniors Cultural and Recreation Coalition, which hopes to turn its storefront into a hive of activity for small arts and cultural groups.
“We have been looking for space for ourselves for a couple of years,” said the coalition’s Eric Szeto.
“Because we are small we don’t have the financial capability to rent our own spaces. We decided to come together to form a coalition and find a space that is affordable so that we can share the space and expenses.”
Szeto said if the building is approved, the coalition will be paying half the market rent on a 10-year lease.
“We are very happy and excited about the project,” he said.
Others feel differently. Bill Yuen of the Heritage Vancouver Society sent a letter to city council in January expressing “concern” about the previous plan for 105 Keefer, and doesn’t think the new plan is much different than the last one.
Yuen said the revisions are mainly an “architectural response” to previous criticism.
“What the community is looking at, and the Heritage Vancouver Society when I wrote the letter, is more of how that building is going to interact with the area around it, with the community, with the people in the area,” he said.
“This is a historic area,” said Henry Yu. “It’s designated as a historic area by all three levels of government. This is not meeting the bar of that, still, after a third attempt.”
The irony in all this is that, until recently, the 105 Keefer site wasn’t considered all that important to Chinatown. For decades it was home to a garage, and in recent years has been vacant, a so-called “brown field” site that will have to be remediated before any development can proceed.
The Beedie Group paid $16.2 million for two parcels of land at 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia in 2013. The site is 149 feet wide east to west, and 121 feet deep.
Beedie bought the site after the city rezoned parts of Chinatown, hoping to revitalize the neighbourhood. Developers quickly moved in, drawn by Chinatown’s cool factor and proximity to downtown.
“We like the site, because although it’s challenging, it gives us the biggest opportunity to do something that is meaningful,” said Rafii of the Beedie Group.