City of North Van to give East Keith Road project a second look

Infill rental adjacent to Victoria Park was scuttled in 2018

One year after it was rejected, a revised version of the 151 East Keith Road infill project is getting a retrial following a 6-1 council vote May 13.

Located a stone’s throw from Victoria Park, the project would put two four-storey rental buildings – one apartment and one townhouse walk-up, housing a total of 40 units – alongside the site’s 15-storey apartment building.

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The previous council rejected a similar proposal in April 2018 over concerns the then three-building proposal encroached on Victoria Park.

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea to crowd the park,” Coun. Holly Back said at the time.

The new proposal includes six three-bedroom units – four more than was first pitched.

While she applauded the reconfiguration of the project at Monday’s meeting, Back remained concerned about nearby residents.

“I know that the neighbours are still very upset,” she said, calling for the developer to “try and come up with a design that makes everybody happy.”

The project includes four units to be operated by Hollyburn Family Services and rented to “vulnerable seniors” for about $800 – 47 per cent below current market rates.

Those units are crucial, according to Hollyburn Family Services social worker Isabelle St-Jean, who described a caseload largely consisting of seniors who’d been renovicted or pushed out of rentals.

“Many of my clients have been nurses, professionals, engineers,” she told council. “They are finding it extremely difficult to find decent housing that they can afford.”

St-Jean described one case in which a senior was informed she could rent a $900 suite as long as she was willing to live without a bathroom and instead use a nearby gas station.

“I believe it’s time to assist seniors and to address this really difficult housing crisis,” St-Jean said.

Rents would revert to mid-market rental rates if the contract with Hollyburn Family Services is terminated, according to a city staff report.

Noting the city’s 0.8 per cent vacancy rate, Coun. Angela Girard was enthusiastic in sending the development to public hearing.

“The need to support vulnerable seniors is very real,” she said.

Coun. Tony Valente concurred.

“I know there’s a lot of concern about this development in terms of the impact on the park,” he said. “However, I think that what this is bringing in terms of studio units – which are great for people of all ages – [and] three-bedroom units for families, is going to be very helpful.”

Coun. Don Bell, who voted against the previous incarnation of the proposal, remained unconvinced Monday, suggesting the project wasn’t ideal for the site.

“Because it’s rental doesn’t mean it’s good everywhere,” he said.

The project would need a variance to allow a 5.3-foot setback on the townhouse building’s south side as well as an eight-foot setback on the apartment building’s north side.

Despite his opposition, Bell assured his colleagues he would proceed with an open mind.

“I don’t think it should go to public hearing but, having said that, I will go to a public hearing and listen,” he said.

Calling the proposal “smart land use,” Coun. Jessica McIlroy said she was happy to see more rental as well as the diversity of housing units.

The development offers “much needed” housing choices, “which is what we want to see in our city,” agreed Coun. Tina Hu.

Applicant Starlight Investments has stated no displacement would result from the project’s approval.

Including the 1975-era building, the project’s floor space ratio – which measures a building’s total floor space against its lot size – is 3.17.

The public hearing is tentatively set for June 17.

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