NDP MP Jenny Kwan writes to mayor and council objecting to Chinatown rezoning proposal

Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan’s office released the following letter today:

Dear Mayor Robertson and Council,

I write to oppose the rezoning application for the 105 Keefer which is uniquely located in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood in Vancouver East.

105 Keefer is directly adjacent to the Chinatown Memorial Square which houses the historically significant monument to commemorate the Chinese railway workers and WWII Veterans. This Memorial depicts the history of Chinese Canadians in Canada and is profound in its meaning to our community. It is also surrounded by the Chinese Cultural Centre, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden, and the Andy Livingstone Park; all of which are important cultural sites and spaces for the Chinatown community.

As well, 105 Keefer borders the National Historic Site on East Pender Street where valuable heritage buildings with cultural significance such as the Chinese Benevolent Association and the Chinese Freemasons are located. The building proposed, if approved, will tower above Chinatown at 115 feet high, and overshadow all these culturally and symbolically significant buildings, which are mostly 55 feet to 60 feet tall. The late architect and community leader Joe Wai had written repeatedly in critique of the height, bulk and use of this proposed project for this particular site.

I, like so many others in our community, wholeheartedly agree with his view. Despite numerous design revisions, the height and bulk of the application continues to be excessive for this culturally sensitive site at the heart of Chinatown. Dropping the height from 120 feet to 115 feet is insignificant to say the least. The FSR remains over 7 and the allocation of only 25 low-income seniors housing units, in a community where there is a desperate need for safe secure affordable for low-income individuals, is woefully inadequate.

Given the cultural significance of this site, the development will no doubt have a lasting impact on the future of Chinatown. As Canada’s major historical site and tourist attraction, it is vital that we do everything we can to help revitalize Chinatown in such a way that preserves, protects and reinvigorates the integrity of this historic neighbourhood.

As you know, ongoing immense development pressure is having a direct impact on Chinatown. Even though Chinatown is a recognized National Historical Site, it currently ranks number three on Heritage Vancouver Society’s top 10 watch list of endangered sites in Vancouver and the Top 10 Endangered Places List on the National Trust for Canada.

As stated by the National Trust of Canada:

‚ÄúRelentless development threatens the physical fabric of this nationally significant urban cultural landscape. Design guidelines meant to maintain a “Chinatown look” are often overlooked and building heights have been dramatically increased. At the same time, intense speculation is driving up rents and displacing long-time residents, many of them seniors, who are central to the area’s rich cultural identity. Without better control on new development and efforts to sustain local businesses, Chinatown’s unique character will be lost.”

Having been designated as a National Historic Site in 2011, the Chinatown community finally celebrated the designation on May 13, 2017. Along with the National Historic Site designation, the community also celebrate the commemoration of Wong Foon Sien and Nellie Yip Quong as persons of national historic significance. While the designation and the commemoration of the late community leaders are significant, it is equally, if not even more important that we recognize that the encroachment upon the Chinatown community was not a historical event but an ongoing issue, and that we listen to and respect the voices from the community today.

Jenny Kwan is a regular participant in the annual Chinatown parade.
Stephen Hui

The staff report on 105 Keefer indicates that 75% of the comments submitted throughout community consultation since Beedie’s original Sept 2014 application are in opposition of its approval. It is clear that the community has a different vision for this culturally significant site than what the developer is proposing, and I join with the community to oppose this rezoning application and to call for the site to be developed for the community with special emphasis for low-income seniors housing. I also support the call for the development to provide an intergenerational community space and an extension of the Chinatown Memorial Square.

In recognition of the above factors, the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, the Canadian Military Museum Society, Chinese Canadian youths and seniors living in Chinatown, held a joint press conference last year in support of this vision and requested that all three levels of government work in collaboration to realize this goal.

According to research done by the Chinatown Concern Group, since 2008, Chinatown has seen almost 800 market housing units built and approved while only 22 non-market housing units were built in the same period.

I, along with many community members, are deeply concerned about the future of Chinatown and feel that the proposed rezoning application of 105 Keefer does not add to the unique and distinct cultural identity of Chinatown. In fact, we feel that it will do the very opposite. In addition, we feel that the current rezoning application will only add to the development pressure and gentrification of the neighbourhood.

Not only does the proposed rezoning threaten the heritage buildings in the neighbourhood, many of them owned and operated by Chinese clan associations and provides valuable housing for Chinese seniors and other low-income residents, it also threatens the investments the City itself has made to protect the neighbourhood through the Chinese Society Legacy Program. The Chinese Society Legacy Program is aimed at stabilizing the area’s 12 heritage buildings as important heritage assets and cultural legacies. On May 20, 2017, the community will be celebrating the first of these renovations completed by the Mah Society, which has been recognized with a 2017 Heritage Award from the City. It would truly be a shame to put these hard fought victories at risk.

As we celebrate Canada 150 this year, let us not forget that British Columbia was able to join confederation through the labour and sacrifices made by Chinese railway workers who helped complete the most treacherous sections of the railway. 2017 is also the 70th anniversary of Chinese-Canadians winning the right to vote. Let’s add meaning to our celebrations by recognizing the cultural importance of historic Chinatown and honouring the contributions of Chinese Canadians to our nation by protecting the community that was built out of this history.

Sincerely yours,

Jenny Kwan

MP Vancouver East

NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

NDP Critic for Multiculturalism

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