Mt. Pleasant's development push comes under fire
// Colin Spensley

The District, Lido, Majestic On Main, Meccanica by Cressey, and The Rize are a few titles which have been given to the newest development projects slated for construction on the north side of Vancouver’s popular Main Street. What functions to some residents as a vibrant and passionate community is simply a transportation hub for many others in the area, and as large-scale condos and apartment complexes continue to push their way out from downtown core into the less densely populated areas of the city, advocates for stronger communities and social housing have spoken out in force regarding what some are referring to as the monoliths of Main Street.

The Rize development project, which would occupy the entire west corner block of the Main & Kingsway intersection, has residents of this community divided on the issue of sustainability versus community, and growth versus culture. Originally projected as a 26-storey high rise in 2007, the aptly named Rize project has quickly been reduced to a 19-storey complex after members of the community spoke out about the vastness of a 260-foot tall building placed in the center of a part of the city known for its low traffic and hip culture.

“We feel high-density development in this location, with such good accessibility to transit, merits a higher form of development. So, we thought that 19 storeys was a reasonable fit for the site,” said city planner Matt Shillito in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.

And he's not alone in this belief: advocates for sustainable city planning practices claim that vertical building is the answer to urban sprawl, and this is clearly the case with the 421 additional apartments that would be added to the area upon the completion of the Rize project.

“In conformance with the Mt. Pleasant Community Plan and alongside the city, we submitted our rezoning application in 2010 for the original 26-storey building,” says Christopher Vollan, Vice President of Rize Alliance Properties. “On request from city staff we reduced the building plan from 26 storeys to 19 storeys. The only modification since then was the removal of the artist amenities space as requested by the city [instead giving] a cash donation to the area which worked out to $6.25 million.”

One of the most debated issues since this revisal of the building plan has been the artist spaces, although city council feels the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Most of the concern from the opposition comes from the community plan itself and three other identified sites that could become high-rise or high-density,” says Vollan regarding the outcry of disapproval from a large part of the community.

The Mt. Pleasant community plan itself does call for restriction on many high-rise buildings but condones them in certain areas: “Mostly low to mid-rise buildings, high-rises only on selected sites. Emphasize infill opportunities in achieving density objectives.”

“What we want to see is visible positive change with the funds provided going towards the community,” says Vollan on where the $6.25 million would go. “We would have preferred to keep the artists space, but the money is in the city's hands now and we have no say what is done with it.”

Although where this donated money will go in the community is yet to be determined, Ivan Drury of the Carnegie Community Action Project, a housing activist group, would very much like to see the money donated by Rize go to more social housing.

“CCAP wants all three levels of government to build social housing in every neighbourhood in Vancouver. Every neighbourhood, even the richest, has low-income people, low-wage workers, women fleeing abuse, people grappling with addictions and other health issues, and every neighbourhood needs social housing,” he explains.

Drury also warns of the effects high-rise development could have on surrounding areas the proposed high-rise: “Immediately to the east of the Rize project are blocks and blocks of apartments where a lot of low-income families, low-wage and irregular workers, racialized migrant people, and Aboriginal people live. Those blocks are some of the only places where some people are able to leave the Downtown Eastside and find housing.”

He adds, “I'm afraid that these apartment blocks may be eyed with interest by speculators and investors if Mt. Pleasant becomes attractive to condo developers.”

With the public hearings still under way at City Hall, it is unclear what city council will do regarding the outcome of the Rize project. With a clear and urgent outcry from a large majority of local residents, the project's future is still uncertain. Public hearings regarding The Rize continue at City Hall on Mar. 27 at 7pm local time, and can be viewed live via City Hall's website.

//Colin Spensley, columns
//Photograph by Jason Jeon

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com