Proposal for higher buildings in downtown Vancouver criticized in advance of city council vote

A proposal to allow taller buildings in downtown Vancouver received strong criticism from some residents gathered at the city’s public library Tuesday evening.

At a public forum organized by West End neighbourhood activist Randy Helten, speakers and audience members raised concerns about the potential impacts of taller buildings on view corridors, the environment and on housing for residents of the Downtown Eastside.

City council is scheduled to vote on staff recommendations for two reports, the Vancouver Views and Higher Buildings in the Downtown report and the Historic Area Heights Review, at a planning and environment committee meeting on January 20.

YouTube video featuring highlights from the public meeting (with a somewhat misleading title, because nobody in the video mentions 80-storey buildings)

The Vancouver Views report recommends that allowances be made for taller buildings at seven sites in the downtown area.

Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project said her organization will be asking city council to reject staff recommendations on the Historic Area Heights Review out of concern for the potential impacts of gentrification on Downtown Eastside residents.

“What we’re concerned about with tall buildings is the impact of gentrification on human beings and on the lives of vulnerable people who have really no place to go if they’re pushed out of their own community by condo towers,” she said.

She said condo buildings can have a “ripple effect” on the area’s low-income residents.

“Condos push up land prices in surrounding areas,” she told the group. “With higher land prices, hotels increase their rent so low-income people can’t afford to rent a cheap room, which is the last stop before homelessness.”

In a presentation during the public forum, Steve Bohus argued that the building heights report is misleading in illustrating how much view corridors could be impacted by the proposed taller buildings.

Randy Chatterjee voiced concerns about the energy costs of high-rise buildings.

“These things use about 10 times more energy to heat than the low-rise houses that some of us like,” he said.

“There’s no way around it, these things are dinosaurs. Whether you believe in peak oil or just the higher prices of energy, these things are a disaster waiting to happen.”

Helten, who has started up the website, said concerns about the way in which the building heights report was introduced are symptomatic of what he sees as an unfair system for land use planning in the city.

“Information is released late, at the very last moment, decisions are made as quickly as possible before people can notice what’s going on, information is either got errors in it or it is inaccurate or misleading - there’s a lot of problems,” Helten told the Straight following the meeting.

Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said the view corridor issue is not a new one.

“The issue of view corridors was debated at length last year,” Meggs told the group Tuesday. “The issue was should we relax the view corridors...and council’s decision was very clear – no...the views stay.”

Helten argues the city doesn’t have enough information on either of the reports, and he wants to see council get independent reviews on the staff recommendations before voting on them.

“They’re saying that there was consultations...but the point is not the length of the discussion, it’s the quality of the discussion, and the depth of it, and the independent views expressed, and that’s what we’re not hearing,” he said.

COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth said she plans to introduce a motion to city council next Tuesday asking city staff to inform councillors of all the density across the city and what can be developed in other areas, and “not to proceed with these tall towers until we have that information.”

The city’s director of planning, Brent Toderian, announced the city will be holding a public information session next week in advance of the January 20 meeting. Staff are scheduled to vote on the staff recommendations following presentations from the public.

“I heard some continued misinformation here, so we’re working on making sure that we get the accurate information as to the nature of staff’s recommendations on the website, and that’s why we’re going to hold another information session before the 20th,” he told the Straight.




Jan 12, 2011 at 8:46am

Councillor Meggs noted: “The issue was should we relax the view corridors...and council’s decision was very clear – no...the views stay.”
The views except the one from Queen Elizabeth Park. So was council's decision really "very clear"?
Why is there always an asterix, that says "except under certain conditions" or "except when a heritage density bonus is considered" or "except when window-washing cranes on the Shangri-la will be permitted to hover over the city"?
The public may wish to ask whether council would have delayed this decision or whether the Planning Dept. would have been holding any additional information sessions had there not been some questions asked by the community about this process and its long-term impacts on the city.


Jan 12, 2011 at 9:18am

'Misinformation' in doublespeak means the truth.


Jan 12, 2011 at 10:44am

What is wrong with people? Why do you live in a city if you don't like tall buildings? Absolutely ridiculous that people are opposing taller buildings in the DOWNTOWN, where most cities put their tallest buildings. Those who would prefer that Vancouver be frozen in time forever please move to Spuzzum, things there don't change much, you'll be much happier.

Randy Chatterjee

Jan 12, 2011 at 10:55am

A video recording of the full meeting is available here: The 2hour-20minute meeting can be viewed starting at any point, and you can skip around by dragging the "playhead" along the long grey line below the video. Brent Toderian announces at 2:11:10 that Planning Staff will hold an informational "Q&A" meeting with the public before the Council vote on the 20th.


Jan 12, 2011 at 11:39am

Taller buildings don't just block view corridors from City Hall, they also steal sunshine, views and open sky from the entire West End. If we need greater density, let's let the rest of the city help out. I'm sure the developers would love the views available in other neighbourhoods.


Jan 12, 2011 at 11:48am

How do larger buildings use 10 times more energy?? Is that net energy use or per capita? Makes no sense to me.

"trust me, I'm a planner"

Jan 12, 2011 at 12:54pm

Thank you to the organizers. I watched the stream live last evening. I suspect some scrambling going on at city hall as they plan for this last minute Q&A. However, shouldn't there be more notice leading up to the Q&A? IF in fact it can be organized for one of the 3 days next week. (I can't imagine it will be tomorrow or Friday). When I lived in a little 40 unit strata we had to give 2 weeks advance notice of the AGM. It's usual practice in a well-run business that there is adequate notice.

a corridor is not a community


Jan 12, 2011 at 12:59pm

City planning is based on the unquestioned belief that increased population growth is inevitable and a good thing. There needs to be more dissent about this. I like the idea of growing smarter, more efficient, more healthy, more beautiful - increased growth is not the only way to increase productivity or value. Sprawling out onto the extremely limited farmland BC has available in the Fraser valley is just stupid. Increases in population could be accepted by other places in BC, while Vancouver learns how to become more efficient and make the city more livable for the population it already has.
I don't think tall building zones are necessarily bad, but improving natural light at street level is something to work on. As for the West End, I think many of the buildings should be updated anyway - if just to get rid of the bedbugs! - which may improve living quality for residents at the same time as increasing density. Community plans or whole renovations (as Haussmann did in Paris) are extremely necessary, I think, to develop a city well - the piecemeal approach just creates turf wars and other problems. Davie and Denman streets, for example have undersized aging storefronts (many former houses still). Rebuilding whole sections of the street, with stepped-back living levels above might improve local commerce, while providing many additional rental spaces close to where people work and shop (especially handy for the disabled or elderly).

Sean Bickerton

Jan 12, 2011 at 1:03pm

Residents in towers have the smallest ecological footprint per resident of any type of housing.

The Woodwards building now houses more than 250 people that used to live on the street.

Height allows for economies of scale that make housing affordable for families that can't afford to buy a $1,000,000 lot in the city.

Those that want green, affordable housing are talking about towers. Those that want transit need towers and density to support its rapidly increasing costs. Those that want to live downtown instead of out in the suburbs, need towers. Those that want to provide housing for the homeless are talking about towers.


Jan 12, 2011 at 1:09pm

Every mention of new tower clusters makes me think back to my years in Toronto and St. James Town, the ultra-modern super-dense complex built in the 60s as hip homes for swinging singles. Not sure if it's still like this, but in the 90s you used to have to watch for plummeting 2L pop bottle bombs filled with water. Long story short, towers may be hip now, but in 30 years you'll be back to being scared of the people who live here. here's an idea - why not just let low-income people stay in their homes and communities?