Vancouver city councillors have unanimously approved rezoning for a property in Dunbar Southlands, despite vocal opposition from neighbours and the hiring of a development consultant to speak against it.
The vote garnered attention on social media due to planning and development consultant and former city planner Chuck Brook speaking in a paid professional capacity in opposition to the rezoning.
Peter Waldkirch, a local lawyer and director with non-profit Abundant Housing Vancouver, is one of the individuals who spoke out on social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter).
“I'm a big believer that rezonings like this are urgently needed. And when I was watching it, I realized that there was a significant organized opposition to this quite modest rental apartment, including neighbours who actually spent their money to hire a paid consultant, a high power development consultant to fight this rezoning,” he said.
“When I see this sort of opposition to badly needed housing, I started paying attention.”
The rezoning will allow the construction of a five-storey secured-rental apartment building off Dunbar Street at 6081-6083 Collingwood Pl. The project is expected to deliver approximately 30 rental homes. It is located near a high-capacity urban road, also known as an arterial road, in addition to being located near transit to the University of British Columbia (UBC), according to discussions in the hearing and a staff presentation.
Council added an amendment to the motion for the applicant to “fully explore allowing vehicular access to the building off Dunbar Street.”
Debate and opposition over the proposed rezoning focused on the impacts the project would have on congestion and traffic in the area, access for emergency vehicles and a lack of sidewalks on Collingwood Place.
Submissions to council highlighted potential safety issues with increased traffic as well as issues with firefighters being able to access the street following a previous fire in May 2023.
Submissions in support cited the need for more density and rental housing in the area, with some even saying the building should be six storeys.
Another submission pointed out that the rezoning proposal is similar to the approved rezoning of 5995-6015 Dunbar St., approved in April 2023, nearby on Dunbar Street. This application was also for a five-storey apartment building where all units are secured-market rental.
Brook spoke in opposition to the proposal, citing issues with there not being a viable means of accessing the parkade and the zoning type of the building not fitting with the characteristics of the neighbourhood.
The rezoning of the property is made possible through the Vancouver Secured Rental Policy (SRP). This allows for four- to six-storey apartment buildings to be built in specific areas of the city along main arterial roads and local streets.
The rezoning application was approved to change the zoning of the residential property to a Residential Rental (RR) district schedule. RR rezonings have a simplified process and do not require architectural drawings at the rezoning stage.
Bro0k described the zoning issues as being a “round peg in a square hole.”
“When I look at the guidelines, the RR guidelines, I really can’t see how Collingwood Place or Collingwood Street fit within those guidelines,” he said.
“This is so completely unsuitable for the area of Collingwood Place, that I feel I need to come forward and alert you to the fact that, as far as I can tell, this rezoning application does not comply with the RR-2 guidelines based on the nature of Collingwood Place and Collingwood Street.”
Brook highlighted that the streets in area are not in a grid system and often have dead ends or cul-de-sacs. In this particular case, he said, an RR zoning designation would not work and a project with townhouses or stacked townhouses may be better suited for the area.
“Chuck, so just to clarify then, you’re speaking in a paid professional capacity and you we’re hired by folks who live in the vicinity, in opposition to this project?” asked Coun. Pete Fry.
“Correct,” Brook responded.
This is not the first time a development consultant has been hired to oppose a rezoning in Vancouver, said Jens von Bergmann, a data scientist who has studied housing data in Vancouver.
“It was interesting that it got that level of pushback. We've seen this on other projects where people in the area, hire the consultant to help them oppose a building,” he said.
The amendment that directs the parking entrance to be located on Dunbar Street is “weird” as this would fall under the expertise of traffic engineers at the city, von Bergmann said.
“Unfortunately, it's not too atypical for buildings to be subject to sort of extreme scrutiny. That being said, up until now, SRP projects have gone very smoothly. This one is the only SRP I can think of that has received anything like this level of micromanagement from politicians,” said Waldkirch.
The actual design of the building will be determined and approved in the development permit process.
Coun. Lisa Dominato said that while the project is modest, it touches on the importance of having more secured rental housing for students who want to attend post-secondary institutions in Vancouver.
Coun. Mike Klassen said there's a very clear need for rental housing in the city and that this project demonstrates how the city will have to be flexible when it comes to a lack of laneway access and closed-off street ends.