West End towers in draft community plan

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      Vancouver city staff are eyeing a skyscraper that would top even Donald Trump’s tower.

      The idea of a 70-storey high-rise near the corner of West Georgia and Burrard streets was conceived as part of a draft community plan for the West End.

      The building would surpass the 63-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver that the flamboyant American businessman announced in a visit in June. It would also outstrip the tallest structure currently in the city, the 61-storey Shangri-La hotel, condo tower, and office building. Both are on West Georgia Street.

      West Enders who missed the three-day open house hosted by the city in June can learn more about the proposed plan at a forum on Wednesday (August 28). The event is being organized by the West End Neighbours.

      According to WEN director Randy Helten, the plan involves “dramatic increases of height and density” in what is already one of the most tightly packed neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

      “There’ll be quite a lot of people affected by these changes in height,” Helten told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “You can create a wall, actually, along Robson, Alberni, and West Georgia.”

      The 204-hectare West End is a vibrant place. It’s home to the Davie Village, the heart of the city’s LGBTQ community.

      More than 44,000 people live in the district. They’ll have 10,000 additional neighbours by 2041, according to the 30-year plan drawn up by city staff. It calls for up to 4,500 new residents on Burrard Street; 1,500 on West Georgia Street; 1,500 on Davie Street; 750 on Robson Street; and 1,750 in other areas. The plan also makes room for more than 8,000 new job spaces.

      Among the new tall buildings possibly coming to Davie Street is a 40-storey tower near the corner of Burrard. This would dominate all existing and planned structures on Davie, from Burrard to Denman.

      Denman Street would see new developments of up to 15 storeys.

      The 42-storey Empire Landmark Hotel will continue to stand supreme on Robson Street. The proposed plan provides for additional buildings of up to only 30 storeys on the strip.

      “There’s still a huge amount of discussion needed regarding the impact on views of the [North Shore] mountains,” Helten noted.

      But the former mayoral candidate also pointed out that planners are leaving untouched several residential sections in the neighbourhood, where apartment buildings are six storeys maximum. “That is somewhat acceptable,” Helten said.

      The West End community plan is one of four policy documents being prepared by the city for neighbourhoods across Vancouver.

      It’s a process that has proven to be contentious in the Downtown Eastside, Grandview-Woodland, and Marpole.

      The Downtown Eastside–based Carnegie Community Action Project has dismissed directions that city staff have identified for the neighbourhood as a “recipe for displacement”. Residents of Grandview-Woodland were incensed at the idea of putting up high-rises around the Commercial Drive and Broadway transit centre. In Marpole, hundreds showed up at an August 18 rally to protest the planned rezoning of single-family properties to accommodate growth in the coming years.

      So far, things have been quiet in the West End.

      Helten suggested that residents have grown weary after vigorously protesting “lightning-rod projects” that were eventually approved by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver caucus. These include the infill development of 133 rental homes at the Beach Towers complex. The project was given the go-ahead in February.

      In June 2012, council approved a 22-storey rental building at 1401 Comox Street, despite opposition from West Enders.

      “People have participated in public hearings, and generally public opinion has been ignored in favour of development,” Helten said. “There’s a fair amount of fatigue…and cynicism about city processes.”

      City staff Brian Jackson and Kevin McNaney—general manager of planning and development, and assistant director of planning, respectively—will be at the August 28 forum moderated by Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith. The event at the West End Community Centre (870 Denman Street) starts at 7 p.m.




      Aug 28, 2013 at 11:43am

      Density is good for the environment, the economy, and for affordability in the city.
      The only reason to resist tall buildings in logical places on the downtown penninsula is a profound sense of selfishness and entitlement.
      The economic wellfare of the many sometimes has to trump the aesthetic complaints of the few.


      Aug 28, 2013 at 12:11pm

      I think the city should allow a high-rise near Gregor's new house in Kits!!


      Aug 28, 2013 at 12:50pm

      Since when was Georgia & Burrard ever a part of the West End? It's downtown!

      Arthur Vandelay

      Aug 28, 2013 at 3:38pm

      “People have participated in public hearings, and generally public opinion has been ignored in favour of development,” Helten said. “There’s a fair amount of fatigue…and cynicism about city processes.”

      The ignored public opinion to which Mr. Helten refers are the opinions of the few people that live in the immediate vicinity of a rezoning who are generally white hot about anything possibly interrupting anything to do with their daily lives (or property values), real or imagined. These are the people that come to public meetings on rezonings. That usually constitutes about 100 - 200 or so people, depending on the neighborhood. It in no way reflects the many more thousands of people who may potentially be interested in these new living spaces as homes or the hundreds of thousands of Vancouverites’ opinions in general about planning matters for the future of their city.


      Aug 28, 2013 at 5:43pm

      Emily - that's not true at all about densification being better for the environment (great article in Maclean's in 2012 citing academic studies that found no environmental benefit with densification). As for the economic welfare part - also not true. Foreign investors walk into these places and snatch them up - lots of time with cash. There also options on purchasing that come into play as well.

      Don't buy into the Vision lemonade - their efforts are not going to benefit low to middle income earners and they are risking ruining the visual beauty of the city as well as driving it into bankruptcy over the long term. Much like many of the welfare states of Europe (which for some reason people keep pushing Vancouver to be more like).

      Harwood Street

      Aug 28, 2013 at 5:52pm

      The supposed majority of residents who favor a Yaletown density for the West End is conspicuously silent in their advocacy, especially when it comes to petitions, surveys or street conversations. My experience puts this "majority" at five percent. Many more have simply given up because they know that the political dice are loaded in favor of the developers and offshore investors who would be the primary beneficiaries of an aggressive rezoning policy. They know they will not be able to afford what gets built here, no matter how many units (and few of them will be truly affordable) are built here.

      If the West End were some dismal part of nowhere with nothing going for it in terms of character, I would be fine with having a social-insect friendly towerspace everywhere. Those with souls could find somewhere better than that to live in.

      But this beautiful gem of an urban space has had more than its share of heritage destruction, ugly soulless overbuilding and density. Find your towers somewhere else.


      Aug 28, 2013 at 6:59pm

      Vision dittoheads aside, why should we allow 70 story buildings in a city where smarter generations past saw the wisdom in allowing view corridors and views of the mountains? Is there anyone in this city beyond a privileged few that doesn't look at towers like the Wall Centre and Shangri La as anything but the worst architectural disasters ever inflicted on our skyline?

      Development is a given, and the West End does need updating to a degree. But the idea of introducing Dubai-like supertowers to Vancouver on a wide scale is not what citizens asked for.

      Fact Check

      Aug 29, 2013 at 3:11am

      13000 people signed a petition opposing the type of rezoning approved at 1401 Comox Street - people concerned about a bad land use decision. These people were ignored by the developer (Westbank) and by Vision Vancouver. West Enders have long shown themselves to be open to change, but allowing developers to build whatever they want is going to damage the quality of life in the neighbourhood. And yes, it's a neighbourhood, not just a repository for density.

      Collarbone O'Hare

      Aug 29, 2013 at 10:40am

      Why is it that parvenus like Randy Helton, who are mostly condo owners, are against rental projects? I used to live in the West End, but it has changed. I think the condo owners resented resonably priced rental accomodation while they were playing in the real estate casino.


      Aug 29, 2013 at 2:16pm

      This corridor is an excellent location for a skyscraper.