Frustrations reach new heights over building
On the heels of the controversy over 105 Keefer in Chinatown, the city has another hot potato on its hands in a heritage neighbourhood.
Last year, a proposal to redevelop the historic Stanley and New Fountain hotels was rejected by the Gastown community.
The plan called for the Stanley and New Fountain to be demolished, except for their facades, and three new structures built in their place, with a mixture of social and market rental housing. One of the buildings would have been 11 storeys and 33.5 metres high, which exceeded the Gastown height limit of 22.8 metres.
A revised proposal for the site at 33 West Cordova has been submitted to the city that reduces the building height to 32.6 metres, which is just under a metre less than the plan that was rejected.
Gastown resident Glenda Bartosh says the revised plan did make some changes to fit into Gastown’s character, such as having more of a “sawtooth profile” to the new buildings and adding details like cornices.
But she said she’s “really disquieted” by the proposal.
“It is way, way outside the basic guidelines for Gastown as a national historic area,” said Bartosh, who sits on the Gastown historic area planning committee.
“It’s still too high and too massive in scale. What are supposed to be so-called rooftop setbacks are totally visible from the street. Worst of all, two really important heritage buildings that you can never replace are to be torn down.”
The revised proposal would have 80 social housing and 62 “secured market rental” units, with retail and restaurant use on the ground and basement floors. It’s smaller than the original design, which was for 134 market units. A proposal for a 600-seat bar has also been nixed.
There would be two buildings on the site, as opposed to three in the original proposal. A 10-storey building would go up on the site of the Stanley, which is three storeys and was built at 21 West Cordova in 1906. The New Fountain was built at 45 West Cordova in 1899, and would be redeveloped from two to five storeys. The site is owned by B.C. Housing, the provincial body in charge of social housing, which bought it for $2.95 million in September 2015. The market rental and retail part of the project would be handled by Westbank, which used to own the site.
Who would pay what is unknown, as is how much the project would cost. Rajvir Rao of B.C. Housing said the project is a “joint partnership” between B.C. Housing and Westbank, the powerhouse developer that did local landmarks like Woodward’s and the Shangri-La.
“Costs have not yet been finalized as the project is still going through municipal process and approvals and elements are still subject to change,” Rao said in an email.
Eddie Emmerman of the Blarney Stone pub on Carrall Street also thinks the project is too tall.
“It’s going to cast a shadow, particularly in the wintertime, on Water Street,” said Emmerman.
Emmerman said building social housing in Gastown is a “very politically charged issue, in that people want to keep public housing in that area.” But he thinks B.C. Housing may be trying to shoehorn too much into a heritage site.
“I don’t really see the point of making a nationally designated historic area if we’re going to tear down the buildings, and then say we’re doing it because we need (social) housing,” said Emmerman.
“There’s 2,000 square kilometres of Lower Mainland where you can put (social) housing that don’t have those kind of (heritage) resources.”
The city held an open house on the proposal on Nov. 7 at the Woodward’s Atrium.
It will go before the Development Permit Board on Jan. 8. The board rejected a proposal for a nine-storey building at 105 Keefer on Nov. 6; the 33 West Cordova project could be just as contentious.
“I don’t want to prejudge (33 West Cordova), because that will come to me as a (development) board member,” said Gil Kelley, the city’s general manager for planning, urban design and sustainability.
“But there is a burden on (the developers) to show that ... it is meeting the context in a substantial way. There are other boards and committees that will weigh in before we get to see that, and we will take their opinions into account in our judgment at the Development Permit Board. I think in heritage districts in particular like Gastown and Chinatown, context is very important.”
An architectural rendering depicts a proposed redevelopment at 33 West Cordova in Gastown, looking south from Blood Alley.