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Proposed Chinatown High Rise leads to Community Shock and Dismay


Proposed Chinatown High Rise leads to Community Shock and Dismay


Friday, November 14, 2014

[Ming Pao News] Certain real estate developer has plans to re-zone and build a 13 storey mixed use high rise building on a site right in front of the Vancouver Chinatown Monument commemorating the contribution of the Chinese Workers. This building will become the tallest structure in this part of Chinatown. Citizens concerned with the future of Chinatown react with much horror and disbelief in that the plan will destroy the visual character of historic Chinatown. They are asking the City Council to impose a moratorium on such development until the community has been consulted as to how the historic character of Chinatown could be preserved. Urban development in Chinatownas now become a hot issue in the Vancouver civic election. While Vision Vancouver has refuse to consider any kind of moratorium, both NPA and COPE parties have indicated they agree with a moratorium for the purpose of thorough consultation.

The site of 105 Keefer Street / 544 Columbia Strret is situated in the very heart of historic Vancouver Chinatown. In front of this site is the monument dedicated to the commemoration of the contributions of Chinese workers. This site was acquired by the developers about 2 years ago and they have applied for re-zoning with plans to erect a 13 storey mixed use tower, including 137 residential units. The ground floor and the second floor will be reserved for commercial use. This area of Chinatown has been considered a historic heritage area and the development of which has been closely monitored by many. However, the City’s consultation period happens to fall on the final days of the civic election when the public’s attention is totally focused on the state of the electoral campaigns. Most people concerned with Chinatown are unaware of the fact that Thursday Novermber 13, 2014 was the final day when public opinions regard the rezone of the site could be submitted to City Hall in writing. In addition, although the perimeter of the Keefer site has been fenced off, the usual “Re-zoning Application” sign is conspicuously absent. Surprised by the commentary deadline, many of the concerned citizens phoned City Hall yesterday complaining about the suddenness and the brevity of the commentary period. City Hall has since announced that it will extend the period by one month.

Henry Yu, a history professor from UBC, is one of the many concerned citizens opposing this particular kind of developmental scheme. He has been actively involved in the planning and revitalization of Chinatown for more than 10 years.

He said that the City of Vancouver spent a decade together with tens of Chinatown organizations reached a mutual understanding. In 2011-2012, a “Chinatown Vision” was formally adopted where it was agreed that while attempts were made to revitalize Chinatown from an economic perspective, every effort will be made to protect and preserve the historic and cultural character of the community. However, for the past few years, the stated policy has not been translated into action. Neither has been there any by-laws formulated to protect and preserve Chinatown’s historic and special cultural identity. He added that architects must have workable and specific by-laws to guide them and enable them to come up with designs consistent with the preservation of such goals. Without these guidelines, developers are left free to pursue what will be their best commercial interests while ignoring the special needs of the community. He said he is angered and disturbed by the actions of the City, describing what has happened as a “bait and switch” — Baiting the Chinatown community to support the “Chinatown Vision” while actually behaving in a totally different manner. It was done in the absence of any meaningful by-laws and has made the adopted policy of “Chinatown Vision” now a blank sheet of paper of empty talk. He has staked his personal and scholastic reputation in the support of the City in these past decade, and is now all for naught.

Professor Yu proposes that there should be a moratorium on all Chinatown urban development until the City has fully consulted with the community, come up with a specific meaningful set of by-laws and guidelines where architects can follow. Falling this, Chinatown will face a future with no resemblance of its cultural past. He asked why must such a building be in the heart of historic Chinatown when it could fit just as well in Yaletown or False Creek?

He added that if the City Council decides unilaterally to approve this re-zoning application without genuine consultation, the mutual trusting relationship between the City and the community will be destroyed. The City Council could face an “open, ugly and vicious political war on City Hall that makes the freeway fight look like a nostalgic moment of togetherness”.

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