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Affordable housing proposal back with developer

Proposed 111-unit complex would offer micro apartments


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A Vancouver developer hopes he has part of the answer to Pemberton's affordability problem — he just needs Village of Pemberton councillors to get behind his proposal.

"I've done incredibly well in Vancouver, and I can afford to give back — and this is a project that would give back," said Greg Coombs of the 111-unit apartment complex he wants to build on an empty lot on 7360 Crabapple Court, across from the Mile One Eating House.

But to build it, Coombs said he needs the expressed cooperation of Pemberton council, which has some concerns about the proposal. The complex, made up of two buildings, would have identical 450-square-foot (41.8m²) micro-apartments with space saving features such as a Murphy beds, washer/dryer combos, and condensed kitchens. The apartment buildings would be managed by a full-time caretaker, with rents starting at $1,050 per month and going up to $1,300 per month for top-floor view units. Renters would have to demonstrate specific incomes to qualify for 27 of the units.

Coombs believes that the makeup of the buildings — exclusively one-bedroom apartments — fits in will with Pemberton's needs, noting that Statistics Canada found that 61.2 per cent of Pemberton households are made up of one and two bedroom houses in its 2011 census.

But Pemberton's mayor, Mike Richman, said that while affordable housing is top of mind for council, it doesn't feel that Coombs's project, in its current form, is the right fit for Pemberton.

"We definitely recognize the need for affordable housing," but the density of the project is problematic, said Richman, noting the dramatic increase in traffic it would bring. "I would be open to a proposal that showed predominately apartments for singles and couples — but not that many, not to that scale. Having 111 units, just geared to singles and couples, that's one of the concerns that made us say, 'we might need to rejig this a little bit.'"

At a Feb. 6 council meeting, council rejected Coombs' request for it to send a letter of support — in which the Village would commit to signficant building concessions — to the Canadian Mortage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Without the expressed cooperation of the Village, an affordable housing option for the lot is not possible, said Coombs. "For this to stay affordable, we need the CMHC," he said.

Specifically, Coombs wants council to coommit to reduced development levies, a height variance to allow for four floors, and a variance to cut down on the number of required parking stalls.

According to Coombs the parking lot requirements and development fees, which are based on units rather than square footage, are "biased" for the kind of dense, affordable project he is proposing. "The way we allot (development fees) and parking is biased towards affordable housing because they require the same amount of parking for a one-bedroom apartment as they do for three-(bedroom apartment)."

During the Feb. 6 council meeting, concerns were also raised about the project bringing a transient population to Pemberton's downtown core. But Coombs dismissed the idea. "This whole thing of transient, or trying to make it sound like it's going to be a dormitory — I'm going to have $24 million in this project. My name is going to be on it. Do you think I'm going to get involved in a project like that? These aren't transients, they are people that need to get a start."

In a letter to Coombs following its decision, council committed to "considering an affordable housing development in Pemberton" and invited Coombs to submit a revised proposal.

But Coombs said that without concessions, the project is a non-starter.

"If (Richman) was to say 'let's sit down, let's work out these problems — and these are all easy problems — then I would move forward full tilt," said Coombs.



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