Jen St. Denis

freelance journalist

Month: February, 2012

Bob Rennie in the West End

Community space disappears at 1401 Comox

Rendering of proposed development 1401 Comox

On Feb. 10, I wrote about an open house for the proposed 1401 Comox development. The developer had made some changes based on community feedback, and was presenting the changes at the open house.

The changes included lowering the height by one story and reducing the amount of space the building takes up on the lot. The developer had also removed a community space which had been in the original proposal, which City of Vancouver planners had described as “a little gem on the site.” The site had housed St. John’s United Church, which had provided space to many community groups.

I contacted Pottinger and Associates, a real estate consultancy firm who is working with the developer, Westbank. They sent me this explanation:

The feedback from the general public during consultation on the earlier plan was that the inclusion of the community space wasn’t perceived as a benefit for the entire community, and it did not outweigh other considerations felt to be impacting the immediate neighbourhood like the adjacency of the
proposed building to nearby, existing buildings.  As a result, the design has been modified with the removal of the community space (Westbank met with both Agencies to discuss this) which resulted in a smaller building with larger set-backs and a proposal to close off Broughton to Comox Street to cars, creating an extension to the existing Broughton mini-park and a large open, gathering space in front of our site to be used by the general public.

Does a tiny park with a tiny playground make up for the loss of a community space? I also have to wonder how “large” and “open” the gathering space would be, and how exactly this would be different from a park.

Renovation creates smaller, pricier apartments

1075 Burnaby Street, at Thurlow (photo: Gordon Nelson Investments)

When developers Jason Gordon and Chris Nelson bought 1075 Burnaby, the building “wasn’t awful.”

“But it was run down, it was dirty” says Gordon. “The maintenance hadn’t been kept up.”

The three-story dingbat, once painted a Miami-like shade of peach, is one of those older West End buildings that fairly shouted “artists and eccentrics live here.” The penthouse balcony overflowed with a collection of tropical plants. Cats lounged against the windows. Patterned curtains blew in and out of the basement apartment windows.

In order to completely renovate the building, Gordon Nelson Investments evicted the tenants, a move which was not without controversy. At least one tenant had no idea where she would find another bachelor apartment for $600, the price she paid to rent at 1075 Burnaby.

The building under renovation

The renovation has been going on since spring 2011, and Gordon and his partner, Chris Nelson, plan on adding 31 units to the existing 20 apartments. Gordon says they are doing this by breaking up the existing apartments, which were relatively large units. They will also be building on the roof, where the penthouse apartment is currently, to create a fourth story.

Around 40 of the units will be bachelor-plus-dens (they need to call the extra room a den, says Gordon, because it doesn’t meet the permitting requirements to be called a bedroom). Twelve or 13 of the remaining units will be one- or two-bedrooms.

Many of the doors and windows have been boarded with plywood during construction

“We try to get looks for less,” says Gordon, calling their approach “affordable luxury.” For instance, Gordon says, they are putting in IKEA kitchens and some stainless steel appliances.

He says they are trying to keep the building affordable by offering smaller units that can be rented for less.

So how much will it cost to live at the new 1075 Burnaby?
$1150 for a bachelor
$1400 for a one-bedroom
$1800 for a two-bedroom

I have a feeling the building might not be housing any more free-spirited Davie Street eccentrics for a while.

1401 Comox: a glass tower in the West End?

Concerns about parking, traffic, and the growing income gap were on West End residents’ minds on Thursday.

At an open house held at the Coast Plaza, residents got a chance to look at a revised rezoning application for 1401 Comox Street. The proposed development is a 21-story, all-rental tower, which is being proposed under the STIR program.

A model of the proposed 21-story tower at Comox and Broughton

The developer has lowered the height of the proposed 22-story building, reduced the amount of space the building takes up on the lot, and has increased the number of townhouses from four to six. Because of the reduced building height, an amenity room for tenants which was to have been built on the top floor of the building will now be located on the first floor of the building.

These changes seem to have come at the expense of a proposed community space, which would have been available to groups like Q-munity and Gordon Neighbourhood House.

I noticed a real us-versus-them feeling at the meeting, a feeling that introducing a whole wack of people who could afford to pay a minimum of $1,100 for a one-bedroom apartment would change the character of the neighbourhood. There also seemed to be an assumption that the renters would be moving in from outside the neighbourhood.

Several people said they were worried that if this building were approved, more tall towers would follow, and the West End would eventually turn into a “forest of towers” like Yaletown.

The developer is also proposing to build 79 parking spaces, including 2 car-share cars. For some at the meeting, this conjured up visions of traffic congestion and battles over already-scarce parking spots.