This letter has been sent to Mayor and Council by the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:


July 20, 2015

Dear Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver


Re: 555 West Cordova Street and the Future of our Downtown Waterfront

The Central Waterfront Hub Framework, endorsed by Vancouver City Council on June 11, 2009, provides an exciting vision for the downtown waterfront. The Hub Framework shows how the downtown could be re-connected to the waterfront while also providing job space and public gathering places.  At the core of this vision and of the transportation element in the Greenest City Action Plan is the enhancement of the regional multi-modal transportation hub centred around the Waterfront Station.

The implementation of the waterfront vision is dependent on the interest of the two major landowners – Cadillac Fairview and Carrera Management – who have now both expressed an interest in moving forward with the Framework.  Port Metro Vancouver, TransLink, provincial and federal interests also play a key role in realization of a new waterfront.

Vancouver City Council recently gave rezoning approval to the first development proposal within the Hub Framework area. This office building at 320 Granville Street, owned by Carrera Management, is generally consistent with the Hub Framework and therefore raised no concerns regarding the implementation of waterfront plans.

In January, 2015 a second proposal was submitted as a development application within the Hub Framework area. Cadillac Fairview is proposing a large office building on the small parking lot between the Waterfront Station and The Landing.  Unlike the first application, this second application jeopardizes the future planning of the waterfront.  It did not receive support from the Urban Design Panel and over 100 letters were received by the Development Permit Board. There is much public interest in the future of this site and in the waterfront. On June 4, SFU City Conversations held a panel discussion on the future of the downtown waterfront.  It was their biggest crowd ever for this event.  The event was video recorded and can be found here.  (The videos contain images of the Hub Framework and the proposed office building.)

The critical question is whether the proposed development at 555 West Cordova can proceed without compromising the future of the waterfront.  Our citizen’s group, the Downtown Waterfront Working Group, was formed in recognition of the importance of this proposal at 555 West Cordova on the future of the downtown waterfront. We believe much better solutions are possible.  A thorough public evaluation of costs and benefits of various options is essential.  And because the City does not have a site plan or a strategy for implementing the Hub Framework, the time is right to develop in a co-operative way the mechanisms for achieving a wide array of public and private benefits.


Many factors need to be considered before any building on 555 West Cordova can be processed:

1)  The future allocation of density and land uses within the Hub Framework area has not yet been formulated. While the Hub Framework contains an initial Illustrative Concept Plan, the City has not advanced the necessary more detailed Area Site Plan clarifying how the various buildings, cycle/walkways, open spaces, streets,   and other public realm/ infrastructure elements should be integrated taking into account today’s factors, many of which have evolved/changed since 2009.

The Hub Framework stated that a minimum of 1.1 million square feet of office should be built north of Cordova. The first proposal north of Cordova, at 555 West Cordova, is proposing to use 37% of the 1.1 million square feet of office space on a site occupying less than 2% of the land area within the Hub Framework.  We expect that additional office space beyond 1.1 million square feet is possible, as well as retail/restaurant/entertainment and possibly even housing.  A site plan is needed to determine the height , density, and location of these activities. In the absence of a site plan, there is no reason why the “Illustrative Concept Plan” should not be taken seriously as a guide for the proposed development at 555 West Cordova Street.

2)  The sheer size of the proposed building  at 555 West Cordova makes it very difficult to respect the heritage, public realm and gateway values of the site.  The Illustrative Concept Plan in the Hub Framework suggests a building of 11 storeys and 65,000 square feet for 555 West Cordova in order to maximize the heritage, public space and the gateway role of this site. Yet the proposed building is almost six times this floor area at 408,000 square feet and 26 storeys.

3) Plans for expansion of the transit hub need to be advanced to ensure no opportunities are lost. The existing transit hub is inadequate, with severe crowding occurring when West Coast Express, SkyTrains and the Seabus disembark at the same time. People with disabilities, strollers, wheelchairs, and bicycles have a particularly tough time. When the Compass turnstiles become operational, passenger congestion is likely to increase given the limited amount of room. Bicycle storage is very limited. Bus circulation and capacity needs improvement. Given the continued expected shift to walking, cycling and transit as articulated in the Greenest City Action Plan and Transportation 2040, an expanded and more effective regional transit hub is badly needed. The involvement of senior governments, TransLink and Port Metro Vancouver is key to the future of the waterfront and expansion of Waterfront Station for regional transit facilities. As a recent example, we note in the $800 million refurbishment of Toronto Union Station, $164 million was of federal funds and $223 million came from the Province of Ontario.

4) Transportation access needs further exploration. Transportation 2040, approved by Council in 2012, puts much more emphasis on public realm and public spaces and less emphasis on space for vehicular traffic. Traffic analysis for the Hub Framework was completed in 2007. The Hub Framework identifies the Granville Street extension as the key access point to the future Hub lands and that right of way is owned by Cadillac Fairview in the form of a parkade for 200 Granville Street. Council needs a guarantee from Cadillac Fairview that they will enable the Granville extension to be built as a condition to the development at 555 West Cordova. Fortuitously, the Sinclair Centre redevelopment could also make a major financial contribution to the Granville Extension.

Further study is needed to determine whether an additional north/south artery is needed to access the waterfront. A 2014 study by Bunt & Associates shows a 16% decline in vehicle movements in the pm peak at the Cordova and Granville intersection. Should, for example, the Cordova Connector be designed for pedestrian and cycling access only, in light of the very problematic intersection at Cordova and Water Streets?  It would be a serious error for the City to require Cadillac Fairview to finance road construction costs of Cordova Connector when a road may not be needed.
City Council need not be silent on such a critical issue, even though 555 West Cordova is a development application and not a rezoning.  In the Central Waterfront Hub Framework, Council authority and responsibility is clearly articulated:

Eventually, through further, more detailed planning, it is the City’s presumption that there will be revisions to the ODPs and subsequent rezonings. In the meantime, the City will endeavour to ensure that no rezoning or development occurs that would contradict the vision put forward in this Framework. The Framework will be used as a supplementary “overlay” to guide further planning, including ODP amendments and rezonings, bearing in mind the need for flexibility to respond to evolving City land use, built form and density policy directions which could impact the Framework area. (page 5)


The Downtown Waterfront Working Group looks forward to working with the City, other members of the public, and all of the stakeholders in creating a sensational new waterfront. We are asking, as first steps, for Mayor and Council:

1)      Given that the two major landowners are now actively engaged in the future of the waterfront as well as the recent interest by the federal government in the Sinclair Centre redevelopment, direct staff to update the Central Waterfront Hub Framework to incorporate changes in the key drivers since 2009 when the Framework was adopted and prepare an implementation strategy as per Council instructions in 2009. Wide public input is essential to the success of an updated Framework.

2)      Direct staff that no development applications or rezonings be processed within the Hub Framework area until a site plan and implementation strategy is approved by Council.

The Cordova application, as proposed, would seriously compromise the ability of other important components of the Hub Framework from ever being implemented. This involves an equitable amenity-generating  distribution of densities and the ability to create a major transportation interchange in a creative way, both architecturally and in the design of vibrant public places. Vancouver deserves no less- and this is the moment when such a vision can be realized, or lost forever.

Michael Alexander

Christina DeMarco

Frank Ducote

Michael Kluckner

Tom Phipps

Gord Price

Ray Spaxman


Steering Group of the Downtown Waterfront Working Group*

The following persons have also endorsed this letter:

Dorothy Barkley

Larry Beasley

John ( Jack) Blaney

Peter Burch

George Challies

Roger Chilton

Patrick Condon

Barry Downs

Nadine Einarson

Marguerite Ford

Marion Jamieson and the Board of the Upper Kitsilano Residents Association.

Penny Gurstein

Ronda Howard

Henry Hawthorn

John Haylock

Mark Hornell

Richard Johnson

Tom Lancaster

Mike Kemble

Brent Kenny

Bev McDowell

Nick Milkovich

Alice Miro

Anthony Norfolk

Doug Paterson

Tamim Raad

John Stiel

Penny Street

Brent Toderian

Gale Tyler

Mariken Van Nimwegen

Vancouver Public Space Network Board


  1. Newsflash:

    Small group of white male boomer homeowners (with one token female) take issue with the only daring bit of architecture to be proposed in Vancouver in a long time.

    The self appointed “Working Group” calls for more “consultation” and “study”, ironically utilizing the key rallying cry one of their members cites at the technique of any other NIMBY who doesn’t share his world view.

    Yes please, give us more of their vision; sterile, bland crap we’ve been consuming for too long. God forbid that anything creative gets built.

      1. No Richard, although a reasonable assumption. The extension of Granville St. north of Cordova is called the Granville Extension. The Cordova Connector is a 20M ROW on the east edge of the 555 W. Cordova site, alongside The Landing building. You want to go to, and search for the Hub Framework study from 2009.

  2. Quote – “The future allocation of density and land uses within the Hub Framework area has not yet been formulated”

    Really? The obvious use for this land is for office tower developent. We actually have to sit down and formulate this for how many years?

    This site sits at the fringe of Gastown where there are plenty of other office towers. And really, what difference does it make whether its 11 stories or 26 stories? Stand in front of Waterfront Station and tell me you’re conscious of the fact that the over 500 foot Sears Tower looms above you. Once you’re past 10 stories or so, it makes no difference to the person on the street how tall the building is.

    We are simply running out of room for development in Downtown Vancouver. The formula is obvious.

    Also, good to hear that the Downtown Waterfront Working Group is looking forward to working with other members of the public. Thanks for listening.

    1. Logan – the “allocation of density” for this site that was formulated in the 2009 Hub Framework Plan is 65,000sf and 11storeys. The current proposal seeks over 400,000sf and 26 storeys. See the disconnect? The vast bulk of density (over a million sf) was proposed to be in air space over the tracks. This proposal represents about 40% of that total on just one very constrained site.

      1. Putting politics aside, purely from planning perspective, what makes the most sense for this site? Here we have a development that will have a direct connection to the busiest transit hub in the downtown core. Would we not want to maximize land use and create another Burrard Station, with thousands of jobs directly connected to mass transit?

        Do you and your group seriously think that a paltry 65 000 sq ft is the appropriate density for this extremely transit friendly site? Once again I thank you and your group for engaging the public and providing direct answers.

        1. logan5 – the plan (policy) says yes, the application says no. The answer could be either of these extremes or something in between. Remember that downtown zoning is entirely discretionary, i.e., conditional. There is no absolute outright “right” to development potential. Our group feels that the vast discrepancy between the COV policy and the proposal puts the entire credibility of the framework plan in jeopardy because it is essentially meaningless, i.e., whimiscal. So clarifying for us all what is appropriate in massing and scale and neighbourhood relationship (not to be confused with “style”) and what is not is very, very important. I hope you can at least find some truth in this point.

  3. We have a Planning Department, a Heritage Committee, a planning process, existing zoning, and elected officials that serve us well.

    The DWWGs know better?

    They condescend to work with us? in an effort to knock down an old parkade? which some of them approved in the first place? because now they have a better hubba bubba idea?

  4. “We are simply running out of room for development in Downtown Vancouver” is misleading given these are mostly spec developments. Current office vacancy rates actually suggest there’s an oversupply of space. There’s a strong argument to get the planning right first before approving a spec building like 555 Cordova.

  5. Considering this area is probably the best served by public transit in BC or maybe Canada. I believe this area should maximize the density of either office or residential space. I am ok with increasing the office vacancy rates as this should lower office rents and encourage more downtown office developments rather than office parks that one has to drive too in a suburb.

  6. REPOSTED Vanessa Catalano May 21, 2015 2:15pm

    The arm-chair retirees behind this are profoundly disconnected. Going through the laborious process of re-doing a plan that was done 6 years ago cannot resolve the fundamental deal-breaker; the railyards. During original consultation, CPR & PMV said rail yards aren’t going anywhere, yet the city still did the plan with the proviso of requiring to take away tracks, and bump them towards the water, oddly where there’s no room; Waterfront Road is already between track and water’s edge. It’s not even something that excessive money could correct. It is, i m p o s s i b l e.

    More critically, the critical need for railyards (caused by immense demand for container traffic), has soared in the last 6 years, and the Port and terminal operators are scrambling to increase container lands on constrained sites. There’s now a much better, justifiable case to relocate the SkyTrain & West Coast Express tracks, to make room for more railyards.

    And their “exciting idea” of access to the actual edge of the waterfront at that area (instead of views towards it) is plain goofy; walk down there sometime. On the west side of the SeaBus (towards Canada Place) is the PMV staff parking lot and an aquatic parking lot for a cruise ship. On the east side, a Heliport. It is not worthy of connection, particulary for the substantial prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. There are so many other places not far away to access the waterfront.

    And all of that is of no reason to moratorize active projects. This smells of a poorly-conjured attack on 555 West Cordova, something that these Group members were subjected to themselves for years, from cranky, irrational people in opposition.

    Vanessa Catalano May 22, 2015 10:10am

    Firstly I should correct myself and others; there was a ‘study’ which resulted in a report entitled as a ‘framework’. The retiree group have been misleading by claiming that this is a “existing approved plan” although they concede it “WAS a bold plan.” Other policy (half a dozen) and regulatory plans (by no means dormant) are in effect in this area and that is what all parties rely on.

    Secondly, I do not find the study valid or useful. It was all before I immigrated, but I overheard that the initiative was in response to a football stadium proposal, which had advanced swiftly and significantly in private, so that when released, developed substantial traction and fan cheering, but caught the City off guard. So, the response to slow things down was “let’s have a study.”

    As Brian Jackson recently asserted (as rationale for ignoring further study), “The technical analysis was done.” And that analysis determined implementation was pointless. It’s in the document in several places, not hidden or euphemized, so surely, no one believes that the Council’s ok to implement was sincere.

    I open it and immediately saw it was very much an extra-jurisdictional study; excluding the national-owned (and regulated) PMV lands and waters, and the nation-regulated railyards, only about 1/3 of the study area is purely within City control. And, the City owns no lands in the area, except for road ROW, which, if further excluded, means that the actual amount of the buildable study area to which the City has absolutist control is ….. fractional. Which makes it all more precious, keep reading.

    Finally, the sample “concept plan” (which was stressed ONLY for the illustratively-challenged), shows the Cadillac site as 65,000sf, BUT that was contingent on almost 1.3 million sf of floorspace (some as high as 26-storeys), being erected on PMV/CPR lands, which have zero chance of implementation.

    Given precious available land in the business district, and any narrowing of roads won’t be going towards buildable, there’s now a much better, justifiable case for the Cadillac site to be even higher.

  7. Vanessa – you may not be aware that the owner of the air space is actively pursuing development scenarios at this time. So, at least in their eyes and those of our group’s, there’s far more than “zero chance of implementation” there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *