Former city councillor Anne Roberts predicts that the recent announcement regarding the future move of the Vancouver Art Gallery to a site in Northeast False Creek signals the start of a development rush in the waterfront area.
Roberts noted that relocating the gallery to this area ties in with the move to renovate B.C. Place Stadium, which is operated by B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), a provincial Crown corporation. These parallel moves were announced on May 16 by B.C. premier Gordon Campbell.
“The art gallery is like the frosting on the cake,” Roberts told the Georgia Straight. “It makes it look like”¦it’s a sport and art complex. But I think what’s really going on is development of condos and $20-million penthouses and other sorts of that kind of development opportunity. Maybe it’s a lot more housing than people might realize when they’re just focusing on, ”˜Oh, isn’t it nice that the art gallery has a new home.’ ”
According to Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan’s Web site (www.mayorsamsullivan.ca), the “development and the sale—or lease—of lands around B.C. Place are expected to generate more than $100 million”.
Sullivan spokesman David Hurford told the Straight that development activities in Northeast False Creek will not receive preferential treatment from city hall. “These developments would go through all the normal development processes,” Hurford said.
The idea of redeveloping Northeast False Creek has been on the ground for quite some time.
On May 3, 2007, council approved conducting a study to develop a new plan for the area to include land use, urban structure, built form, and public amenities. The study, called the Northeast False Creek High Level Review, is expected to be completed in January 2009, according to a staff report.
The same staff report also recommended an assessment of a proposal made by PavCo to amend the False Creek North Official Development Plan, with the aim of having a public hearing on this matter in October 2008. Council approved the recommendation on January 31.
“PavCo is proposing to pay for the costs of rehabilitating the stadium through the sale or lease of the surrounding development sites,” the report stated. It also noted that the stadium site is the only one in the Northeast False Creek area to have “no development allowances” in the official development plan.
“Earlier planning studies showed it to have the potential to accommodate about 730,000 sq. ft., and more may be possible,” the report stated.
The same report noted that land use is the “key issue” in the Northeast False Creek High Level Review. It added that the official development plan allows for 1.7 million square feet of nonresidential floor space on the “remaining” lands in the area owned by private developers (Concord Pacific, Aquilini Investments, and Canadian Metropolitan Properties). The council-approved terms of reference for the review include considering “residential use in amounts and locations as may be compatible with other objectives”.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is moving to a site at the Plaza of Nations, which is owned by Canadian Metropolitan Properties. A provincial news release stated that PavCo has been working with the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and CMP to move the gallery to the site.
“In return for future development considerations from the City of Vancouver on its False Creek property, Canadian Metropolitan Properties is providing the Vancouver Art Gallery with a waterfront site for its new 320,000-square-foot facility,” the same release stated.
Roberts claimed that while she chaired council’s planning and environment committee, Concord Pacific had already set its sights on developing the provincially owned stadium lands. She also noted that the Aquilini family, which owns nearby G.M. Place, had abandoned its plan to put up office towers in the area because they’re not as profitable as residential development.
“So now it seems to be—irrespective of ideas about livability and city planning—the province seems to just say, ”˜Well, let’s just open her up for development and let ’er rip,’ without really looking at the quality of the kind of housing that would be built around there,” Roberts said. “We’re losing track of planning and figuring out how to build a better city. We’re just looking at development opportunities.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said the ongoing review of the Northeast False Creek plan has to reconcile compatibility issues, meaning how much land should be allocated to residential, commercial, and entertainment sites. “And, of course, developers are looking for the best bang for their buck, which is residential,” Deal told the Straight.
COPE councillor David Cadman noted that council has yet to hear about the full nature of the proposal to renovate B.C. Place Stadium and the Vancouver Art Gallery plan.
“It’s a little bit cart-before-the-horse in the sense that we were trying to look at this for a comprehensive study [of Northeast False Creek],” Cadman told the Straight. “You’ve got B.C. Place Stadium, you’ve got G.M. Place, you’ve got the [Edgewater] casino area [at the Plaza of Nations], and now into this you’re going to have a full-blown proposal for the art gallery and I don’t know what else.”