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Municipal Politics
Urban Planning + Architecture

Don’t Let the City and Development Endanger Vancouver’s Mountain Views

If the city allows False Creek towers to pierce a protected ‘view cone,’ other developers may get the same treatment.

Sandy James 24 Jul 2018Price Tags

Sandy James is a city planner who champions walkable places and spaces. She is the director of Walk Metro Vancouver, an editor of Price Tags (where this piece originally appeared) and was formerly the greenways planner for the City of Vancouver.

What is the biggest industry in the province?

It is construction, and it employs thousands of people. When former Premier Christy Clark extolled the virtues of a multi-billion dollar Massey Bridge that was overbuilt and in the wrong location, she said it needed to be constructed because of “Jobs!”

And the ex-premier was right. Construction and people associated with construction drive this place and the economy. The Northeast False Creek Plan will have lots of jobs for designers and construction because the rezoning of the area contains a too-tall tower and oppressive massing that is substantially over the size recommended.

It is no surprise on the day that the Northeast False Creek rezoning is going to be considered for council approval that a Daily Hive article suggested that the view cones “have hurt the city’s true economic potential.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Vancouver’s View Protection Policy was designed to ensure that significant views of the mountains and ocean could be seen from 27 viewpoints established in the city. Set up in 1989, view cones limit building heights at key locations to allow for expansive mountain and ocean views from all over the city.

This policy is groundbreaking because it protects in perpetuity universal access to the city’s most iconic attraction: significant views. This policy has been admired and replicated by other cities, but often too late, when significant views have already been lost.

Build outside the view cone corridors and there are no such restrictions on height. But it is no surprise that developers, architects and real estate agents want to maximize profit and build the tallest buildings possible to privatize what are under public policy protected views for all citizens within the view cones.

The misunderstanding of the importance of maintaining the view corridors is also lost on Mayor Gregor Robertson, who remarked that this precedent is “a small change in terms of view corridors” which shows that this council does not value nor understand Vancouver’s uniqueness in public access to the city’s well-loved iconic views.

The current Vancouver city council is considering an application from PavCo today as part of a plan to build a “gateway” of three over-height towers in the Northeast False Creek Plan. The extra height over 30 storeys proposed for three towers will corrupt the Cambie view cone which provides views down Cambie Street from Queen Elizabeth Park.

Despite the fact that three 30-storey buildings could be built as per the design guidelines for the site, the plan is overbuilding the site by about 20 per cent and also insisting on three towers, two at 42 storeys and a “smaller” tower at 40 storeys.

What no one is saying is that additional height the city is giving to the developer is equivalent to an additional 32-storey tower, as well as allowing the overbuild of about 20 per cent more density on the site.

And the Community Amenity Contributions collected from the developer for the too tall towers and additional density? None!

Three previous directors of planning have spoken out against piercing the view cones, all pointing out that the development could be built within the view cones.

Even the developer submitted an “Option B” to council: a design that fits within the view cones, and has a better relation and massing to the street.

Perhaps the best word is from well-loved and respected global urbanist Larry Beasley, the former co-director of Vancouver planning. Beasley told the Globe and Mail that while he liked other aspects of the Northeast False Creek plan, “allowing the tall towers undermines the city’s ability to resist other developers who want the same.”

“If Vancouverites were asked to weigh in on what public amenities matter to them, the view cones will be right up there with the seawall and beaches as a treasured public asset,” he said.

Calling the “current willingness” of the city to bend the policy in Northeast False Creek a “disaster,” Beasley stated, “The first intrusion means the view is gone. You can’t let one group in and not others. How do you look everyone else in the eye?”

Update from July 25, 8:40 a.m.

City council approved the view-piercing 400-foot tower on the condition that it be 100 per cent market rental housing. If developer PavCo doesn’t want to go the rental route, they can build a bulkier 300-foot tower of market condos with the same square footage. PavCo would still need to apply to the city’s development permit board and a review by the urban design panel.  [Tyee]

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