In a not surprising but still stunning reversal  the proposed 12 storey tower by Beedie Development on Keefer Street was rejected by a Council vote of 8 to 3. In exchange for extra storeys the development was to contain 106 market housing units and 25 low to moderate income seniors’ units with public spaces on two lower floors.

There was passionate response for and against the project  which in the words of one commenter, “could make Chinatown more like Gastown”. As Mayor Robertson noted “In my almost nine years as mayor, no issue or project has yielded such a passionate, emotional response as this rezoning application. The Beedie group put significant effort into this project over the years … and went to extraordinary lengths to adjust and revise the project based on public and community feedback. Yet, council heard overwhelming opposition from several generations of Vancouver residents on the rezoning for 105 Keefer, and concern about how to manage Chinatown’s pace of change. For that reason, I voted “no” to this rezoning proposal.”

While there is clearly the need for more housing for Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood, there were concerns about overshadowing the Chinese Classical Garden and detrimental impacts from allowing a large for profit strata in the area. Many of the people who came out to speak to Council against the development had also been involved in stopping the freeway in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A new generation of concerned citizens also got involved in understanding and championing the issues.

Matt O’Grady in Vancouver Magazine notes that the Chinatown conversation is also being played out in other Vancouver neighbourhoods. How do you allow density but still keep a neighbourhood relevant to locals with neighbourhood character? In his article Matt speaks about Director of Planning Gil Kelley’s observation that it is not density that will move us forward in this conversation, but a look at how to make 20 minute walkable neighbourhoods, where locals can access all shops, services and walk their kids to school. He notes that while this can be accomplished by a certain percentage of increased density in most neighbourhoods, Chinatown already is tangibly walkable for local residents. The question is how to ensure that housing affordability and the conservation of cultural attributes are preserved for the future.

As Gil Kelley says”“I think we can rescue and preserve Chinatown and revitalize it so that it’s not simply a museum but actually a thriving place again. It may not be exclusively Chinese. And that’s okay.”