Policy & Planning
January 25, 2017

What could have been – and what should be

Frank Ducote writes:
Almost 50 years later and there still isn’t a workable vision for our downtown waterfront. (Note where Woodwards is in this picture. Yikes!)

Click to enlarge

Through the efforts of many determined people (Downtown Waterfront  Working Group, in particular), there seems to be renewed interest in the the Planning Department and its new leader to finally revisit this very challenging but fantastic opportunity.

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Shaw Community TV’s Lucas Meijer has been following the events, activities, and aspirations of the Downtown Waterfront Working Group over the past year.
In this community program, Meijer interviews a member of the DWWG, Michael Alexander, to help explore the tremendous potential of the downtown waterfront — as an enhanced transportation hub, as a prime location for lively public spaces at the harbour’s edge, as well as for a mix of activities, including job, entertainment and cultural space. Meijer’s skillful use of visuals brings to life all the wonderful possibilities for what could become Canada’s most exciting waterfront development.

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Facebook page here.

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Via the Downtown Waterfront Working Group

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A REMNANT OF THE FREEWAY THAT NEVER WAS

With The Guardian article on Vancouver’s freeway battle, it is fitting to point out a remnant from that era- 200 Granville Square. In our last post we lamented that one of our premier streets, Granville Street, terminates in a parkade. The office tower at 200 Granville Square was designed for the freeway passing to the north. We know level P1 of the parkade is structurally designed to accommodate traffic but we don’t know for sure if was designed to provide the freeway entrance as shown in the sketch below.

The City’s Central Waterfront Hub Framework (endorsed by Vancouver City Council in 2009) shows a way to undo the mistakes of the 1960s era and re-open Granville Street to the harbour.

And here is a link to Gord Price’s blog entry on the famous Project 200.

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Talk about deficient urban design! As if the Nelson-to-the-bridge problems aren’t enough, the north end of the city’s once-upon-a-time-most-important street is a train wreck, to mix metaphors, at the point where it intersects the CPR railyards. Where’s the waterfront?
Christina De Marco, spokesperson for the volunteer Downtown Waterfront Working Group, submitted an update to PriceTags and the Straight, where you can read the full article. (Full disclosure, as they say: I have attended some of the DWWG meetings partly due to my concerns about impacts on heritage Waterfront Station and the entrance into Gastown.)

In 2009, the City of Vancouver endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework—a boring name for an exciting vision for the downtown waterfront. One of the most innovative and insightful aspects of the hub framework was reconnecting Granville Street to the waterfront. This would open up the potential to develop the woefully underused lands north of Waterfront Station for an exciting mixed-use development with public spaces and greenways overlooking the harbour.
It would also provide the opportunity to link the east side and Gastown area to Coal Harbour via Canada Place—and the extension of Granville is necessary to achieve this. When the convention centre was being planned, similar thinking and proactive planning led to the bicycle and pedestrian connections from Coal Harbour to Burrard Landing.


The sketch shows a reconfiguration of Granville at Cordova, looking north – what it might become.

When council endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework back in 2009, we are sure that it did not intend it to collect dust for years on end. Council realized the federal government would need to be actively involved, especially with significant land holdings owned by Port Metro Vancouver. With a change in federal government and its interest in sustainable, vibrant cities, transit, the environment, heritage, and culture, now is the opportune time to get going on implementing the hub framework and reconnecting the downtown to the waterfront.

The DWWG got a kick-start 15 months ago due to the Cadillac-Fairview proposal for a large tower on the east side of Waterfront Station, which would have overwhelmed the potential plaza (now a parking lot).
Does it take a controversial design/development proposal to galvanize opposition and begin a new planning process, or will the city revisit this in an orderly way under a new Director of Planning?

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Kenneth Chan writes in VanCity Buzz about the newly revised tower being proposed for 555 W Cordova.  To me, it seems to be an unusually detailed article, with illustrations galore.

Within the constraints of the new design principles, the building will be pushed back towards the rear of the development site next to Waterfront Station and rotated 90 degrees to open up the space on the West Cordova Street frontage to create a large plaza area. With the rotation, the building is positioned in an east-west axis instead of a north-south axis.
In addition to the shifting and rotation, the design of the building’s lower floors in relation to the cornices of both Waterfront Station and the adjacent Landing office building have changed. The ground level is now porous, as requested by the UDP, so that the public can walk through the site and see views of the harbour and mountains.

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

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July 20, 2015

Dear Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver

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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.

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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,

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City Conversations – The Future of Our Downtown Waterfront

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Vancouver’s downtown waterfront suddenly is in play, and many projects and opportunities are on independent tracks. Do landowners and developers make independent decisions, or does the city act as a coordinator, facilitator and advocate for the public?

Our presenters are Graham McGarva, principal of Via Architecture; Anita Molaro, Assistant Director of Planning at the City of Vancouver; and Frank Ducote, representing the citizens’ Downtown Waterfront Working Group.

Please feel free to bring your lunch. Because of the number of presenters and interests involved, this conversation will be extended to 2 pm.

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Thursday, June 4

12:30 – 2 pm

Room 1700, Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street

Free – no registration required

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The issues paper from the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:  

 

 

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The Future of the Downtown Waterfront: Piecemeal Development or a Cohesive Plan?

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SUMMARY

  • In 2009, Vancouver City Council endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework which outlined a vision for the Central Downtown waterfront. Council has not yet taken any steps to implement the Framework. 
  • It contains some very exciting ideas such as the re-opening up of Granville Street to the waterfront and multi-use development/public space creation over the railway yards. 
  • A recent development proposal at 555 West Cordova is the first development proposal for lands located within the Hub Framework planning area. It is located on the last remaining Downtown waterfront parcel. 
  • Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited owns Waterfront Station, 555 West Cordova, and 200 Granville Street, including the parking structure occupying the Granville Street alignment north of Cordova, on the west side of the Waterfront Station. The implementation of the Granville Street extension should be figured out in tandem with the consideration of the 555 West Cordova development proposal. 
  • The recent announcement of a potential redevelopment of the Sinclair Centre, as well as other development projects, gives added impetus to re-thinking the future of Granville Street as the gateway to the waterfront. 
  • The City of Vancouver is not obligated to approve the proposed development at 555 West Cordova because the density associated with the site is not “outright” but has to be earned by complying with all of the City’s plans, policies and guidelines. 
  • To date, the City has not agreed to convene any public process for either the future of the waterfront or 555 West Cordova, other than procedures required by the Development Permit Board. 
  • The Downtown Waterfront Working Group is a newly-established group of citizens who has come to together to help realize the spectacular potential of the waterfront.

We are concerned that a decision made on 555 West Cordova without taking into consideration the wider context will close down options for the future of the waterfront.

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The Downtown Waterfront Working Group is requesting the City of Vancouver to:

  • Re-fresh the Central Waterfront Hub Framework to incorporate changes in the key drivers since 2009 when the Framework was adopted, including alternatives for the transportation circulation network. 
  • Consider the development proposal for 555 West Cordova only after the Central Waterfront Hub Framework is updated in the context of what Cadillac Fairview and the other landowners can do to help implement the Hub Framework, enhance downtown waterfront access, heritage values and public spaces.

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This is the proposed office complex site at 555 West Cordova: Photo by Michael Alexander

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[The full issues paper continues below.]

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