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Condo developer seeks to reassure Vancouver's Mount Pleasant residents

Will Lin is pledging to turn a 19-storey headache into a masterwork.

The president of Rize Alliance Properties Ltd. is still feeling bruised after sharp criticisms last spring over his company's plans to develop a 1.25-acre property in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood on Vancouver's east side.

Rize wants to construct a high-rise condo in the vibrant district known for its artists, coffee shops, heritage buildings and leafy streetscape. The tower is the focal point of an ambitious project that will also feature three other major structures, one slated for nine storeys and two others at five storeys each.

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Mr. Lin said Rize officials will be reaching out next month to residents, including those who vehemently opposed the developer's rezoning application. Rize won that crucial battle, and is now preparing to submit a development permit application to City Hall within weeks.

The development site is at Kingsway and East Broadway, an important transit area where residents are able to take a short bus ride to the Canada Line's Broadway-City Hall station.

Before bulldozers will be allowed to rev their engines to clear the way for construction, Rize must first present new details on its plans for 241 housing units, as well as retail space envisaged for much of the first two commercial floors.

The Residents Association of Mount Pleasant hammered Rize for allegedly understating the size and scope of its project during the rezoning process. But Mr. Lin wants to sound a conciliatory tone in the months ahead, saying Rize has learned a valuable lesson about nurturing community relations after enduring barbs over what many critics saw as a subpar effort in the design of the project, especially the 19-storey high-rise.

Developers need to be more vigilant in getting residents onside, especially investing extra time and money into nailing down details instead of painting broad strokes, Mr. Lin said in an interview at Rize's office on the 32nd floor of the Bentall Four tower in downtown Vancouver.

"If we had been able to present a more accurate, final architectural form, some of the opponents would have become supporters. We didn't deliver that because we didn't think the architectural details formed part of the consideration at that rezoning point," he said.

Developers will be reluctant to pour money into getting architects to carry out duties normally set aside for later planning stages. But given the controversy over Rize's foray into Mount Pleasant, "maybe it is an investment that a developer should consider now if you're going into a project that potentially will have a lack of support," said Mr. Lin, whose other properties include the Rolston condo venture under construction on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver.

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Instead of dwelling on the past, Rize is aiming to be an open-minded developer. Mr. Lin said he has given the go-ahead for Acton Ostry Architects Inc. to have lofty goals in the final designs. "It won't be a coliseum, but it will be something that will reflects the spirit of Mount Pleasant. It won't be an imported idea from elsewhere where people wonder, 'Where did that come from?' We're trying to extract the essence of Mount Pleasant and give it a modern interpretation. You know, the 2012 version – the integrity and also the character and the whole feel of the neighbourhood," he said.

Randy Helten, the outspoken co-ordinator of City Hall Watch, said the public's trust has been eroded.

"It's too late to apologize," said Mr. Helten, who argues that Rize scored a major victory in securing the rezoning and it will take vast improvements in the final plans to forge credibility with critics.

Christopher Vollan, Rize's vice-president of development, said the company is striving to understand the community's needs, wants and fears.

"But if we are hit with fear-mongering and misinformation, it halts the conversation and it halts our city from growing productively and intelligently."

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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