Rezoning application filed to keep Western Front operating as artist-run centre

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      The 91-year-old  Western Front building in Mount Pleasant is the subject of a rezoning application filed at Vancouver City Hall.

      But unlike other rezonings, this won't involve significant changes to the building or to its uses.

      If council approves the application, it will ensure that the Class B heritage structure at 303 East 8th Avenue will continue operating as an artists-run visual- and performing-arts centre well into the future.

      According to a report going to council on Tuesday (December 17), the Western Front is "one of Canada's oldest and largest artist-run centres and is a local, national and international hub for the development of contemporary visual, media, dance and music arts in Vancouver".

      It's also one of the few artist-run centres in a residential neighbourhood.

      The report by Kent Munro, assistant director of the current planning division, revealed that city inspectors "identified code safety issues" in 2009.

      In addition, the inspectors determined that none of the cultural activities were consistent with the building's RM-4 zoning, which allows for multiple dwellings, but not arts and culture.

      Council is scheduled to vote on whether to refer the rezoning application to a public hearing.

      Owner Hank Bull is seeking a CD-1 designation (comprehensive development) on behalf of himself and three other owners—Peter Bingham, Jane Ellison, and Eric Metcalfe—to allow the Western Front to continue on the site.

      The building was originally owned by the Knights of Pythias, which used it as a lodge hall and social club. After the current owners bought it in 1972, it became home to the Western Front.

      Metcalfe is one of the who founded the Western Front as a venue for exploring and creating new art forms.

      In 1982, the nonprofit EDAM Experimental Dance and Music became a tenant.

      On its 20th anniversary, a commemorative book was created, Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at th Western Front, covering the history of the centre and many of its highlights over the years.

      City staff are backing rezoning application, which would not increase the floor-space ratio.

      If approved, the owners will be able to build a new foundation and basement, which would add 4,000 square feet of below-grade space.

      The rezoning application states: "The intent of this rezoning request is to legitimize the arts and cultural uses of the property and to secure this public benefit for the future. While no new construction or renovation is proposed at present, a planned renovation could include heritage restoration, new foundations with poured concrete basement, and improvements to the public and domestic spaces."

      The rezoning also seeks restoration of the marquee, which was made of cast iron and was hung as a canopy.

      The building includes two residential apartments—one on the ground floor and another on the third floor—as well as a performance and assembly hall, an art gallery, a library, a rehearsal studio, multimedia production facilities, offices, a staff kitchen, and storage.

      Planning staff are not recommending any development-cost levies or community-amenity contributions because they've concluded there will be no increased floor area and no rise in land value.

      "The proposed rezoning of the site of the Western Front would permit the current uses in the existing building thereby enabling the lawful operation of the artist-run activities of one of Vancouver's most important contemporary art facilities," Munro states in the staff report. "Planning staff conclude that this rezoning proposal is consistent with the Mount Pleasant Community Plan and the Culture Plan and support rezoning the site to CD-1."



      Alan Layton

      Dec 16, 2013 at 8:37am

      This building definitely needs rezoning and my dream would be for this area to continue to grow as an art center. There are a number of artist-only buildings a few blocks to the north so there is already a strong presence of the arts in this area. It would be a shame to lose this building due to improper zoning. Vision has their eyes on completely redeveloping the neighbourhood along Main St and there are already a number of new condo towers across the street from TWF. Anything that can be done to protect it is a positive move IMO and I'll keep my fingers crossed that Hank Bull (et al) is successful.


      Dec 16, 2013 at 8:56am

      The building should receive a Heritage Designation as part of the rezoning.

      The artist-run centre can stay and operate legally.

      The community receives benefit with a protected heritage building.

      Win-win for all.