Rental units proposed for Rogers Arena

VANCOUVER — Special to The Globe and Mail

Fan wave towels before Game 1 of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins at Rogers Arena. (Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Aquilini company’s unusual decision to put hundreds of rental apartments in three towers pressed up against its Rogers Arena will force the city to change its financial plans and noise bylaws for the area.

In spite of that, council appears to be headed to approving the unique project this Thursday, because it gives Vision councillors something they promised voters in the election: more purpose-built rentals that can’t be yanked out of circulation the way condo rentals can.

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The city will lose about $35-million in developer contributions to community facilities in the Northeast False Creek area that would have been collected if the buildings had been condos, according to calculations city planners just made public.

That’s not a concession to the developer to get the rental units. It simply reflects the fact that the city’s system of collecting money from developers is geared to condos, the dominant form of apartment building since the 1980s.

As well, the sound bylaw will have to be amended to allow higher noise levels from concerts and sports events in the arena, only a few metres away from many of the apartments.

Aquilini’s move to build 614 rental apartments, which will sit atop several floors of office space in the towers, has mystified city staff and councillors, even as they welcome it.

“I’m very puzzled why Aquilini would build rental over strata,” Vancouver’s director of real-estate services, Michael Flanigan, said at a public hearing last week.

But Aquilini Development president David Negrin said the company, owned by the Aquilini family, has advantages over other developers, who usually see rentals as high risk and lacking the immediate profits that condos produce.

“The family has been in rental a long time and they know what it takes,” he said. “And our cost of land is lower.”

As well, Negrin said, that arrangement will ensure that the company doesn’t put on too many events at the arena that would disturb the nearby tenants.

“We will lose some concerts, we know that. But we need to rent the places. It is in our best interests to control [the noise],” Mr. Negrin said.

As well, the Aquilini development and its neighbour, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, are working together to meet city quotas for rentals and community services in Northeast False Creek.

///The size of the Aquilini development means CMP will not have to come up with rental apartments on its own planned project – a startling arch-shaped glass building with a cluster of lower towers around it.

CMP will contribute a hockey rink as a Canucks practice facility and part-time community centre for the neighbourhood. ///

That arrangement has prompted two local resident groups to give a strong thumbs-up for the project.

“This will bring much-needed community benefits to this area,” said Patsy McMillan of the False Creek Residents Association.

She said the group, which has been lobbying for well over a decade to get a park and other services on the former industrial and Expo 86 land in Northeast False Creek, recognizes that the city is losing the $35-million on developer contributions.

But it will get the arena, a daycare, and a pedestrian skybridge across the area, Ms. McMillan said.

The Aquilini’s apartments will rent for going market rates, something that has drawn criticism from the Vancouver Renters’ Union and others who say that does nothing to improve affordability.

They want the city to subsidize the rentals to make them more affordable.

But city councillors have long said they believe that the new rentals will provide a stock of housing equivalent to the many walk-up apartments built in Vancouver during the 1960s and 1970s.

Those were originally rented at high prices for the day, and now provide older and cheaper housing for thousands.

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