Condos proposed for Pantages Theatre site draw opposition in Downtown Eastside

Yolande Cole

Opponents of a development proposal in the Downtown Eastside held a demonstration in Vancouver today. Georgia Straight by Yolanda Cole.

A development application for the 100 block of East Hastings Street is being opposed by a group of Downtown Eastside organizations, who are concerned condos could impact low-income housing and services in the area. A group of Downtown Eastside residents and activists presented a letter outlining their concerns to architect Tomas Wolf at the Studio One Architecture office in Vancouver today (July 21). The firm is designing the project proposed for 138 East Hastings.

“Adding more condos to our neighbourhood is like dropping a bomb in the neighbourhood,” Carnegie Community Action Project organizer Wendy Pedersen told reporters. “That bomb means that rents go up nearby, and people are displaced because of that.”

Social housing advocates foresee condos on the block having an impact on rental prices in the surrounding area, which is mainly comprised of single-room occupancy hotels, and on services such as the supervised-injection facility Insite, which is directly across the street from the proposed development.

“These kinds of projects create mass forces of displacement, exclusion and hostility to people who already live there,” said Dave Diewert of the organization Streams of Justice.

But Marc Williams, the owner of the site, said the proposed development won’t displace any residents at the site of the historic Pantages Theatre, which is currently under demolition.

“The development isn’t displacing anyone,” he told the Straight in a phone interview.

“The site only contained vacant commercial buildings.”

A development permit application has been submitted by Studio One Architecture for a mixed-used six-storey development called Sequel 138, which would include 18 social housing units, 79 “affordable home ownership” units, and 12 commercial units.

Under the official development plan for the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer district, a minimum of 18 social housing units are required for a project the size of Sequel 138. The developer’s proposal would see18 units sold to a non-profit housing group to house seniors, people with disabilities, or individuals and families “of low income”.

The below-market condos would be targeted at purchasers “with low and moderate income levels”, and would first be offered to buyers who are associated with non-profit groups, and who currently live or work in the area.

Williams noted a letter of intent has been signed with the non-profit group Art Space Action Society to purchase about 2,500 square feet at a discounted rate for an arts facility on the main floor.

The application also includes a proposal for a “community breezeway” linking Hastings Street and Chinatown.

Opponents of the development called the number of units proposed for social housing “token amounts”, and said they plan to continue fighting the project.

Thirty four groups have signed a community resolution calling for the City of Vancouver to reject the development permit application, and for the site to be dedicated to resident-controlled social housing and community space. Over 1,100 signatures have also been gathered on a petition endorsing the resolution.

In a letter dated July 20, MLA Jenny Kwan and MP Libby Davies backed the group’s concerns and urged municipal, provincial and federal governments to work with members of the community to determine the nature of the facility.

“Residents of the 100 block of East Hastings Street and the surrounding neighbourhood have voiced understandable concern over what would happen if a private-market development featuring primarily market-priced condominiums were introduced to this block,” the letter reads.

“We echo their concerns that such a development will significantly impact the affordability of nearby housing, as well as the ability to provide crucial front-line services in the area.”

According to a public notification letter distributed by the City of Vancouver, the application requires a decision from Vancouver’s director of planning, due to the site’s existing zoning.

Neighbours of the site have until August 12, 2011, to submit written comments on the application.

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