A major Vancouver developer thinks a downtown parkade could be put better use with a 46-storey all-rental tower, but so far, the city has been slow to act, even in the midst of a housing crisis.

Reliance Properties has proposed the tower on the site of a parkade at Thurlow and Melville streets, behind the MacMillan Bloedel Building on West Georgia, which it also co-owns.

The proposal calls for 478 homes, over 100 of which would be targeted at essential workers earning between $39,200 and $78,500 annually. 

Reliance Properties President and CEO Jon Stovell says he’s hopeful the city will be receptive to the idea, due to a major shortage of affordable rental housing in the downtown core and recent public proclamations by the mayor to clear the housing backlog.

“From ambulance paramedics, nurses and firefighters to grocery clerks and construction workers, COVID-19 highlighted the vital role of essential workers,” says Stovell. “Vancouver needs to focus on workforce housing to fill the gap for middle earners and their families – people who are employed, don’t qualify for government assistance, and cannot afford to buy or pay market-rents in the city in which they work.”

Looking north on Thurlow Street at concept for rental apartment tower by Reliance Properties at Thurlow and Melville streets. Credit: Reliance Properties

Stovell is hopeful council will make an exception for the site, given the large amount of office space already under construction in the downtown core. His firm has five other office towers already in the works downtown, part of 5.5 million square feet of office space currently under development.

“Existing policies already allow this site to be considered primarily for residential use after seeking initial advise from City Council,” he says. “The policy that precludes residential in the CBD is 10 years old and out of step with current realities for a resilient work force and affordability for city workers. There is also an abundance of new office space currently available in the CBD.”

Thurlow and Melville parkade
Street view of Thurlow and Melville parkade. Credit: Google Maps

The concept for the residential tower was put together by Hariri Pontarini Architects of Toronto, with IBI serving as the local executive architect. The all-rental tower would include ground-floor retail — primarily intended for a restaurant — as well as second-floor commercial space.

Stovell says he’s hopeful the city’s planning department and its new director will advance this project, and council will prioritize and approve it due to the scarcity of workforce housing and rentals downtown.

Earlier this week, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart told the Vancouver Sun he was committed to clearing a backlog of rental housing proposals currently before the city, representing thousands of units and billions of dollars in investment. City council recently approved his proposal for an “internal development application and permitting modernization task force,” which will make recommendations on how to improve the process and share data with council and the public.

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