Posted on July 24, 2023

VCC's Campus Plan includes thousands of new homes for surrounding community

Rendering of VCC's proposed new Broadway campus and surrounding area
Illustration showing an early concept for the Broadway campus.

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun.

One of Vancouver’s largest and most interesting new real estate proposals comes not from a typical development company, but a school.

Vancouver Community College, which has a history stretching back more than a century as an educational institution, is eyeing its first residential real estate venture — and it’s a major one.

The first phase of VCC’s planned redevelopment of its East Vancouver property was the subject of a press conference last week, where B.C. Premier David Eby appeared on the campus announcing an investment in a new facility.

That new building, which is also the subject of a report going to Vancouver council next week, is touted as an exciting future hub for clean-energy technology education. But it is also only one early — albeit crucial — piece of VCC’s much larger vision for the rest of the 3.1-hectare campus.

Vancouver Community College president and CEO Ajay Patel said the province’s commitment of $271 million toward VCC’s new Centre for Clean Energy and Automotive Innovation — 93 per cent of the total $291 million capital cost — enables the college to move forward with the next, larger part of its plan, which includes both new educational space as well as a series of residential towers of up to 25 storeys that could include more than 3,300 homes.

The mix of housing is yet to be determined, but Patel hopes to make as many as possible rental homes, aiming for as much affordability as possible, depending on government support.

It would be a huge undertaking for VCC, which has never developed housing before, and it could provide a good chunk of rental housing in a city with a serious shortage. For context, if even half of those 3,300 homes are secured as purpose-built rentals, this one development could provide more than the annual total built across the entire city in recent years.

“It’s transformational for the Broadway corridor,” Patel said. “It is unlocking the potential to serve the whole region in ways beyond our academic mission. I think this is trail-blazing … how we can better leverage public assets to meet community needs?”

With the multi-year project, VCC hopes to provide long-term financial stability for the college, modernize its educational facilities, and contribute to the broader community’s needs by producing badly needed housing and amenities, such as child care and a community centre.

VCC submitted a development application last month for the eight-storey, clean-energy education facility on the current site of a parking lot on Great Northern Way, across from the VCC-Clark SkyTrain Station. If that application is approved this year, as Patel hopes, construction could begin in 2024.

With the centre’s development application proceeding through city hall and the crucial provincial funding secured, Patel hopes to soon release a request for proposals seeking to work with a local real estate company to plan and rezone the rest of the development. Based on preliminary work and the vision in the city’s Broadway Plan, VCC expects there could be an opportunity to add three million square feet of buildable space to the property just west of Clark Drive, stretching from East Broadway to Great Northern Way.

This would include a second new educational facility on the parking lot beside the planned cleantech centre, as a future home for the educational programming offered in VCC’s existing buildings on the property’s southern part, toward Broadway. That would then free up most of the site for the residential towers.

The project provides a rare opportunity for a large-scale, transit-oriented development with no displacement of existing renters, Patel says, which is one reason provincial and municipal government employees seem eager to support the endeavour.

If things go according to plan, Patel hopes VCC and its chosen partner can submit a rezoning application to the city by the end of 2024.

Rezonings in Vancouver — especially those that are large and complex — can be notoriously slow, sometimes taking many years. But Patel is hopeful VCC’s rezoning could get through the process in time for a decision before this council’s term ends in 2026.

It seems like a project that could be well received at city hall. The ABC-majority council has repeatedly emphasized a desire to get more homes built as quickly possible, and the city planning department wants to add thousands of rental homes in the Broadway corridor, while minimizing displacement of residents and destruction of existing rental housing. This proposal could tick a lot of boxes.

Real estate is big business in Vancouver, and VCC is only the latest long-running institution to get into the game. Some of the city’s biggest current development projects are coming from entities other than traditional real estate companies.

TransLink launched a real estate development arm last year and its first project is a 30-storey, 200-unit apartment building proposed for a site across the street from the Arbutus subway station under construction in Kitsilano.

Several religious institutions are unlocking the value of their considerable property holdings with developments such as the 57-storey Butterfly building, one of Vancouver’s tallest, that is being built alongside a social housing project beside First Baptist Church downtown.

Perhaps most notably, the original stewards of these lands, the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, have become major players in real estate both individually and together, with a multi-billion dollar portfolio of prime urban real estate and plans to build tens of thousands of homes.

Soon, VCC could join their ranks.

Read about the new Centre for Clean Energy and Automotive Innovation