November 2, 2018

Berkeley Tower: The Next 105 Keefer Street

A strategy for community and housing activists emerged from the fight over 105 Keefer: Choose a development that, though following proper process and may be allowable under the existing zoning, is out of touch with the sentiment in a changing community – in this case, Chinatown.

Fight like hell.  Make it a cause celebre.  Get media attention.  Change the terms of the debate.  Go to public meetings and contest the assumptions, ideally culminating in a decision, whether from council or an authorizing board, that rejects the current proposal and changes everything that follows.

The biggest public meeting imaginable just occurred.  The civic election.  And the results have changed the assumptions about what kind of development will be expected, what will be approved, and what’s required  from developers.

That’s clear:

It’s still an open question as to how much this council will change the status quo if it involves changing the scale and character of existing neighbourhoods – but without doubt there will be unity and an enthusiastic willingness to protect the existing rental stock, physical and affordable, and the long-term tenants.  That was the lesson from Burnaby.

So this is likely the first test to come forward:

The Berkeley Tower at the south east corner of Davie and Denman was one for the first highrises to be built in the post-war boom that transformed the West End.  The architect, Warnett Kennedy, was also an NPA alderman.  He took the basic slab of the pre-balcony era and twisted it 45 degrees, maximizing the views to English Bay.

Other than the rebuilding of the commercial frontage, it hasn’t changed much since the late 1950s.  Until now.

This is what the tenants say is happening:

In 2016, the building was purchased by Reliance Properties Ltd. Just two years have passed and Reliance is now promising to use renovations to justify evicting every tenant, starting in the spring of 2019.  An eviction means a  new lease – the only way Reliance can substantially increase rents.  This is what the conversation is really about – Reliance needs these evictions to charge more rent, and the renovations are the road they’re choosing to achieve that.

There are always more facts and points of view to come (what has Reliance offered?) – but one thing is likely clear.  City Council isn’t going to side with the developer.

Jon Stovell is the president and public face of Reliance Properties.  He is also chair of the Urban Development Institute.

He is sitting right at the cusp if not the cross-hairs of change, as a personality, a president and a chair.

Watch what he has to say next about Berkeley Towers.


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  1. Surely you are not arguing in favour of this proposal? Fewer units and more parking for the wealthy who can afford the renovated ones.

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