Vancouver Sun


Down­town site pro­posed as of­fice tower needs a new plan, Lance Berelowitz says.

- Lance Berelowitz is an ur­ban planner, writer on ur­ban is­sues, and award-win­ning au­thor of Dream City: Van­cou­ver and the Global Imag­i­na­tion. He is the prin­ci­pal of Ur­ban Fo­rum As­so­ciates.

When we look back at 2020 and what we all did to get our­selves, our loved ones, and our com­mu­ni­ties through COVID-19, we can be proud to say we ral­lied to­gether to show our grat­i­tude for B.C.'S non-prof­its. Niki Sharma, Kennedy Ste­wart and Kevin Mccort

Back in 2015, the fu­ture of Van­cou­ver's down­town wa­ter­front was a hot topic. The city had re­ceived a pro­posal for a new 26-storey of­fice tower at 555 Cor­dova St. It is cur­rently a park­ing lot lo­cated be­tween the Wa­ter­front Sta­tion build­ing and the be­gin­ning of the na­tion­ally listed Gas­town His­tor­i­cal Dis­trict along Wa­ter Street. It also of­fers the city's most im­pres­sive panoramic view over Bur­rard In­let to the North Shore moun­tains, one of the only such open spa­ces re­main­ing in Down­town Van­cou­ver.

The site, owned by Cadil­lac Fairview, is also a key piece of the un­re­solved puz­zle that is Van­cou­ver's down­town ur­ban wa­ter­front. And the com­pany has every right to de­velop its lands. How­ever, if ap­proved, the tower pro­posed for this charged site would all but oblit­er­ate that view or use of the space as a fu­ture pub­lic square.

Five years ago, I ar­gued in these pages that the pro­posal should be paused, while city hall con­vened a round­table of all key stake­hold­ers in the broader con­text of the cen­tral wa­ter­front. Af­ter all, this is the wa­ter­front gate­way to our city and also its most im­por­tant pub­lic trans­porta­tion nexus, with mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing Translink (the Se­abus, WestCoast Ex­press, Sky­train lines and bus routes all con­verge here), the Van­cou­ver Fraser Port Author­ity, the rail­road com­pa­nies, and yes, pri­vate landown­ers such as Cadil­lac Fairview and oth­ers. The area ur­gently needs a new plan.

In­ter­est­ingly, while the city had pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped and adopted the 2009 Cen­tral Wa­ter­front Hub Frame­work (which in­cludes this site), it owns no land here apart from the ex­ist­ing street rights-ofway. So it has lim­ited skin in the game, even as its frame­work rec­og­nized and elo­quently de­scribed the huge op­por­tu­nity to re­con­nect Van­cou­ver to its wa­ter­front and cre­ate a world-class mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion hub. So this par­tic­u­lar project — 555 Cor­dova St. — is the first piece of an in­ter­lock­ing puz­zle that will ei­ther de­liver the huge po­ten­tial of a dy­namic, pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble, and re-en­gaged down­town wa­ter­front fo­cused on the trans­porta­tion hub, or seal the area's fate for­ever. To say there is a lot at stake is an un­der­state­ment.

Af­ter a sig­nif­i­cant out­cry, the project was in­deed with­drawn. In the in­terim, the city an­nounced that it would un­der­take a Cen­tral

Wa­ter­front Dis­trict plan up­date and that it re­mained com­mit­ted to re­al­iz­ing the vi­sion es­tab­lished in the Hub Frame­work. Sev­eral years later, this work is still in progress with no new plan yet pub­licly tabled. And now the pro­posal for 555 Cor­dova St. is com­ing back for ap­proval. The project went be­fore the city's Her­itage Com­mis­sion in early De­cem­ber, which op­posed it by a vote of 8-2. It was sched­uled to go to the city's Ur­ban De­sign Panel in Jan­uary for re­view, and then to the De­vel­op­ment Per­mit Board in March. How­ever, this week the ap­pli­cant ap­par­ently asked the city to de­lay all fur­ther steps in the ap­provals process, for an un­de­ter­mined time pe­riod, for rea­sons un­known.

Just to be clear, Cadil­lac Fairview is not the prob­lem. In fact it can, and should be, part of the so­lu­tion, be­ing one of the key landown­ers in the area. It owns not just the ad­ja­cent her­itage sta­tion build­ing, but also the Granville Square de­vel­op­ment at the foot of Granville Street to the west. The city's hub frame­work en­vis­ages the cur­rent parkade struc­ture that forms a podium to the Granville Square tower above as be­ing partly re­moved and Granville Street be­ing ex­tended north­ward to Canada Place and the wa­ter­front. This will re­quire Cadil­lac Fairview's co-op­er­a­tion, both with the city and other stake­hold­ers.

That is the key word for achiev­ing the precinct's po­ten­tial: co-op­er­a­tion. And to get this, there has to be a process of good­faith ne­go­ti­a­tions, in which all key stake­hold­ers both get some­thing of value and give some­thing, for the greater pub­lic good. Govern­ment, at all three lev­els (the feds con­trol the port through a Crown cor­po­ra­tion, as well as reg­u­late the rail­way com­pa­nies, and the B.C. govern­ment con­trols Translink) will need to lead this process, in or­der to find win-win so­lu­tions that un­lock the area's best de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial. And as I wrote five years ago, im­ple­men­ta­tion can­not be achieved on the backs of pri­vate landown­ers solely.

Will our elected of­fi­cials and se­nior civic man­age­ment show the vi­sion and lead­er­ship re­quired, and will we suc­ceed? It will take time, so­phis­ti­cated ne­go­ti­a­tions and po­ten­tially com­pli­cated trade-offs, and the out­come is not guar­an­teed. One thing is clear though: A busi­ness-as-usual ap­proach to pro­cess­ing a dis­crete de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion for a tower at 555 Cor­dova is not the right ap­proach. It should be paused un­til a com­pre­hen­sive wa­ter­front plan emerges from the process I pro­pose above. There is far more in play than the de­sign of one sin­gle build­ing on such a charged, his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant site. And ap­prov­ing it could pre­empt some of those pos­si­bil­i­ties.

For ex­am­ple, the 555 Cor­dova site has the po­ten­tial to be a true ur­ban square in the sense of be­ing a pub­lic space carved out of the fab­ric of the city, as op­posed to an open block sur­rounded by streets. And what a dy­namic pub­lic space this could be, with an­i­mated uses fram­ing an un­beat­able view across Bur­rard In­let, and pub­lic con­nec­tions down to the wa­ter­front and along the rear edge of the Gas­town her­itage build­ings down Wa­ter Street.

How­ever, the de­vel­op­ers still need to re­al­ize their le­git­i­mate de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ests. Just not on this site. So per­haps there could be some form of land ex­change with ad­ja­cent landown

Our ur­ban wa­ter­front should be more than just a de­vel­op­ment site for the high­est bid­der.

ers, or a den­sity trans­fer to an­other lo­ca­tion, to com­pen­sate the landowner and pre­serve this site for pub­lic use. This is not with­out prece­dent in Van­cou­ver.

Our ur­ban wa­ter­front should be more than just a de­vel­op­ment site for the high­est bid­der, al­though pri­vate de­vel­op­ment is part of the so­lu­tion and can help pay for the pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture.

So again, I urge the city to con­vene a round­table and in­vite key stake­hold­ers to par­tic­i­pate in a process to shape a down­town wa­ter­front that is com­men­su­rate with our as­pi­ra­tions as a sus­tain­able “green” city that is care­fully planned and bal­ances le­git­i­mate pri­vate in­ter­ests with the greater pub­lic good. Many other great wa­ter­front ci­ties have done this suc­cess­fully in re­cent years — think Syd­ney's Cir­cu­lar Quay, Barcelona's Vell Port, San Fran­cisco's Em­bar­cadero, or Cape Town's V&A Wa­ter­front, to cite just a few ex­am­ples. It is not too late for Van­cou­ver to do the same.

 ?? LANCE BERELOWITZ ?? The 555 Cor­dova site down­town has the po­ten­tial to be a true ur­ban square, says Lance Berelowitz.
LANCE BERELOWITZ The 555 Cor­dova site down­town has the po­ten­tial to be a true ur­ban square, says Lance Berelowitz.

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