Height review and rezoning policy for Chinatown historic area

Description

Vancouver City Council approves a rezoning policy and bylaw amendments to design guidelines for the south part of the Chinatown historic area, allowing for increased height limits.

Vancouver's Chinatown

Photograph from the Vancouver Chinatown Revitalization Committee

Potential Significance

  • The Chinatown Historic Area Height Review was the result of the city’s efforts to determine how to maintain the character and low- to mid-rise scale of historic Chinatown and give it a much-needed economic boost.
  • In 2011 the city retained a San Francisco-based consulting firm to help develop an economic action plan for a revitalized Chinatown. A community workshop was held to launch the program, at which participants expressed concern about evening  inactivity, safety issues, buildings in disrepair and competition with Richmond.
  • The rationale for allowing more height was that it could enable the city to support innovative heritage, cultural and affordable-housing projects; increase the number of residents, thereby supporting local businesses and street vitality; and to stimulate economic revitalization.
  • Two large mixed-use projects featuring residential towers were subsequently approved and built on Main St. (at Keefer and at Georgia). They, along with an increase in coffee shops and expensive stores, brought complaints that Chinatown’s character was not being reflected and that long-time residents were being pushed out.
  • In 2016 city staff were preparing an update and three-year review of the Chinatown Economic Revitalization Action Plan (pdf) and were proposing revisions to development policies to improve the form of new development, provide clarity on density, protect Chinatown’s historic character and encourage a wider mix of uses.

Background

  • City staff said the intent of the Chinatown rezoning policy (HA-1A district) was to provide clear direction on where and how rezonings for higher buildings in the historic area will be considered.
  • The proposed rezoning policy and bylaw amendments to design guidelines for the south part of the Chinatown historic area initially was to allow a maximum building height of 120 feet, with a limited number of sites permitted at 150 feet, or up to 15 storeys).
  • After five public-hearing sessions, in which 112 people spoke, mostly in opposition (22 in favour, 82 against and 8 neutral), council decided to change what had been a discretionary height limit of 90 feet to outright approval.
  • Residents expressed concern about the effects of gentrification, increased density and high-rise buildings and their effect on affordable housing. However, some Chinatown organizations, including the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, wanted the city to move ahead because the once-thriving neighbourhood was full of empty storefronts and was at risk of drawing land speculators and businesses that have no connection to the area. Council adopted the Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan (pdf) and Revitalization Strategy (pdf) in 2012.
  • The Chinatown rezoning preceded the planning program for the Downtown Eastside, for which the city’s local-area plan was approved in 2014. Chinatown is part of that plan.

Sources