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Cambie plan increases residential, but affordability remains elusive

Running in the corridor Vancouver’s recent approval of the third phase of the Cambie corridor redevelopment plan sets the stage for the biggest transformation of the area.

Running in the corridor

Vancouver’s recent approval of the third phase of the Cambie corridor redevelopment plan sets the stage for the biggest transformation of the area. While boosters tip it as the largest neighbourhood redevelopment since the West End in the 1950s, it makes more sense to frame it as giving Vancouver – long dominated by the metropolitan core – its own municipal town centre.

While detached homes surrounding Oakridge have long lent a suburban charm to the area, what’s about to roll out is more along the lines of the Metrotown, Brentwood or Lougheed town centres (with gentler density, the city’s chief planner, Gil Kelley, has promised).

It’s been a long time in the making. Work on a statement regarding the future of the 28-acre Oakridge mall site began in 2004. When presented to Vancouver council on March 15, 2007, it outlined plans to boost retail space at the mall by 50%, to 950,000 square feet, and more than double office space to 326,000 square feet. Residential space would total 1.2 million square feet.

Then the Canada rapid transit line opened and a plan was put forward for a wholesale makeover of the mall within the context of the city’s Cambie corridor plan.

City plans for the Cambie corridor call for 32,000 homes, of which 6,500 units will be secured rental and non-market housing, as well as jobs space for 9,200 people. This is where redevelopment of the Oakridge mall site stands alongside its counterparts in Burnaby, because it will represent a sizable portion of the jobs space – up to 3,000, by current estimates, spread over 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space. Approximately 2.8 million square feet of residential space in 2,914 units is also planned, including 580 units of secured market and non-market rental housing.

Undertaken by QuadReal Property Group in partnership with Westbank Corp., the Oakridge makeover will be joined by 2,100 units of housing at Langara Gardens, a 20.5-acre site Concert Properties Ltd. plans to remake with Peterson Investment Group Inc. Concert expects 1,000 of Langara Gardens’ units will be rental.

Redevelopment plans for a third major site, the Oakridge transit centre acquired in 2016 by a joint venture of Intergulf Development Group of Vancouver and China’s Modern Green Development Corp., have yet to be announced.

Speaking truth

The local chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) hosted a candid panel discussion in partnership with marketing firm MLA Canada, coinciding with MLA’s latest survey of the pre-sale market.

Kudos for the best quote go to Brendan Piovesan, associate counsel with the law firm Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP.

“If the development community got everything it wanted, in the long run it would be shooting itself in the foot. It would be detrimental,” Piovesan remarked, encouraging a balanced approach that must surely resonate with every opponent of greater density.

MLA partner Cameron McNeill didn’t embrace the endorsement of moderation, however, urging no minimum size for condo units. Homes need to shrink to accommodate everyone who wants to live in Vancouver, he argued.

“They’re buying into the city, not the 200 square feet,” he said.

His comments echoed those of Tsur Somerville, director of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, at another ULI event in September 2010.

“They’re finding public experiences that replace private experiences,” Somerville said of people embracing smaller condos as the region’s population expands.

Yet regardless of unit size, all four panellists last week felt affordability was elusive, if not impossible.

The most optimistic speaker was another lawyer, Richard Bell of Avesdo Inc., who questioned Vancouver’s bid to ensure 25% of new units are affordable to households earning $30,000 to $80,000 a year.

“I don’t believe what they hope to achieve,” he said.

A more realistic target for Bell? Ten per cent. •

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