City green-lights condo against community objections

by Jackie Wong

Despite 200 protest letters and 40 people speaking out against it at a development permit board hearing Monday (June 23), a 160-unDD condominium project at 58 West Hastings Street — in the heart of the Downtown Eastside — was given the green light by City staff.

The decision follows angry criticism from community advocates, who say the site should be used for much-needed social housing in the area instead of luxury condos that Downtown Eastside residents couldn’t possibly afford.

Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) organizer Wendy Pedersen has been leading the charge of community members speaking out against the development, which is to be called the Greenwich. CCAP is one of 45 community groups and politicians against the condo project, including Lord Strathcona Elementary School, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and the Fairview Baptist Church. Pedersen and her peers have been working to get the project’s development company, Concord Pacific, on the side of residents for the past month and a half, with little success. Their best result of repeated efforts to meet with Concord Pacific developers was a closed-door meeting last week with company CEO Terence Hui. Attendees weren’t allowed to take notes.

“[Hui] has three different agendas he has to deal with day to day,” says VANDU president Richard Utendale, who went to Hui’s meeting. “That’s social benefits, responsibility to the community as a developer, and responsibility to his company. At the end of the day, what’s best for his company is gonna win.”

Utendale noted that Hui also needs to maintain a reputation as one of Vancouver’s top property developers. “He needs to be concerned about his reputation in the development community,” he says. “But if you really believe in social housing and if you really believe something can be done about that, then stand up and say something about it.”

Despite a number of phone calls and e-mails to Concord Pacific developers over the last three weeks, WE did not receive a response by press time.

Now that City staff have granted Concord Pacific and architectural firm Busby Perkins + Will the go-ahead on the project, CCAP and other Downtown Eastside advocacy groups will continue the push for social housing on the site instead of the ground-level retail space and condominium units in the works. “We lost [at the development permit board hearing], but I think people in our group have the fantasy to break through the system,” says Pedersen. “We’re resolute that we want 100 per cent social housing on that site.”

Work Less Party mayoral candidate Betty Krawzcyk is a vocal supporter of CCAP’s initiatives, and is disgusted that the development currently slated for 58 West Hastings is named after an historic bohemian neighbourhood in New York City. “It should be named the Blair Witch Project, because it’s a horror show,” she says. “The bohemian village in New York was not a place where people lived in abject poverty. There were a lot of young people there. You did not have this intense problem with drug addiction. I think they are really over-reaching their comparison there.”

Grant Murray, VP of Sales for Concord Pacific, says the name is inspired by New York’s Greenwich Village. “It’s a flavour of the different people that will be there,” he says. “It takes a bit of the New York atmosphere with the stone buildings.”

Peter Busby, managing director of Busby, Perkins + Will, argued at Monday’s hearing that the Greenwich condominium units will be suitable for people entering the real-estate market. “This is affordable housing,” he said. “This is something first-time buyers can get hold of.”

According to Concord Pacific’s website, condominium units at the Greenwich currently range in price from $300,000 to more than $500,000.