Century-old tulip tree may be “a goner” in West End

At a public hearing on May 17, West End residents overwhelmingly called on Vancouver councillors to preserve from a developer’s chainsaw a neighbourhood tree that is almost as old as the city.

The saga of the more-than-a-century-old tulip tree, believed to be the tallest of its kind in Western Canada, represents a story typical of modern times. It has to be chopped down to give way to a parking lot and an 18-storey luxury condo at a lot on 1245 Harwood Street.

With the city celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, local resident Denis Bouvier believes that the property can serve a better purpose.

“Our proposal is to save this place to become a centre of interpretation of the history of the West End as a gift to Vancouver for its 125th anniversary,” Bouvier told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview a day before he spoke before council.

By most indications, nothing may be able to save this tree that has survived what nature has thrown at it for over 100 years.

As Vision Vancouver councillor George Chow put it during the hearing, the tulip tree “seems to be a goner”.

A numbered company represented by Bing Thom Architects originally proposed in 2007 to preserve the tree as well as an old Victorian-style mansion on the property in exchange for a density bonus.

While the mansion can be saved, council decided in June 2010 that the tree cannot be designated as a heritage resource because 40 percent of its root blub is located in a neighbouring lot. The owner of this adjoining property made no commitment to protect the root.

The project proponent submitted a new application in October 2010 involving the preservation of the heritage house but not the tulip tree.

During the hearing, Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor David Cadman noted that the owner of the property is allowed under current circumstances to demolish the house, chop down the tree, and put up a building 11-storeys high.

But residents like Simon Robinson aren’t giving up hope. “Ways can be found and should be found to send this monstrosity back,” Robinson told councillors in an emotional statement against the 18-storey high-rise.

A handful of people—such as Janet Leduc, executive director of the Heritage Vancouver Society—expressed support for the development. Leduc told council that the mansion at 1245 Harwood Street is one of the three remaining heritage houses of its kind in the West End that predate the estates of the affluent and historic Shaughnessy neighbourhood.

Council will resume the public hearing on Thursday (May 19) starting at 7:30 p.m.




May 18, 2011 at 5:14pm

A little more detail on Councillor Cadman's comment is necessary. "...Cadman noted that the owner of the property is allowed under current circumstances to demolish the house, chop down the tree, and put up a building 11-storeys high." But the Floor Space Ratio on the site (a maximum of 2.2) limits the total amount of floor area to 38,000 square feet. It's highly unlikely that a developer would build an 11 storey building with 3,400 squre feet on each floor. It's far more likely the developer would build a lower building with a larger floorplate. The current proposal requests a total FSR of 3.7 or almost 64,000 square feet of floor area. For many neighbours, the requested 26,000 square feet of bonus floor area associated with the heritage house is simply too much. Particularly since it comes with the loss of this cherished tree.

Policy Observer

May 18, 2011 at 8:16pm

Another property in the West End at 1090 Nicola Street is also a heritage house. It's also under application for re-development. It's also proposed to be moved on the site to accommodate new housing. But it DOESN'T involve a large density bonus and the construction of a glass tower. So what's the difference for this site? Council needs to the send the developer back to the drawing board for something that doesn't damage the quality of life for the rest of the neighbourhood.


May 19, 2011 at 1:53am

Why did Heritage Vancouver feel it necessary to come out and support this proposal? Why is this development eligible for such a large FSR bonus (1.5) when others such as the Abbott House mentioned at the hearing received only 0.56.

Darling House at 1090 Nicola Street is currently proposed to be restored with no density bonus.

Why different at Harwood Street city funded Heritage Vancouver?


May 19, 2011 at 8:25am

The allowed and outright zoning on this property is FSR 1.00, maximum outright height is 6 storeys or 18.3m as per RM-5A zoning. This is all an owner would be entitled to; the existing house already takes up around 0.45 fsr. Planning staff in their presentation admitted that neither the proposal doesn't conform to the minimum tower separation nor the block face tower separation. Why can't City of Vancouver Planning simply follow their own rules?


May 19, 2011 at 1:21pm

Clearly our greenest of green city councils is right on track to making this the greenest city in the world.

That is, unless a big old tree gets in the way of the city’s plans for a big glass highrise for wealthy off-shore buyers - then it’s suddenly chainsaw time!

Is it actually possible for Gregor and Co. to be bigger hypocrites?

PS: Don't we have a tree by-law or something in this city? (Someone might want to inform they mayor)