Vancouver heritage advisory groups reject demolition of two historic Gastown buildings

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      Two civic panels that advise the City of Vancouver on heritage preservation do not support a plan to develop a new 11-storey building in Gastown.

      The development involves the demolition of a pair of buildings that are listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

      These are the Stanley Hotel and the adjacent New Fountain Hotel on West Cordova Street, which were both built at the turn of the 20th century.

      In separate meetings last June, the Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee and the Vancouver Heritage Commission voted not to back the development.

      The two advisory bodies consider the 110-foot development to be out of scale in the historic district, where most of the buildings are in the two- to four-storey range.

      They are also not satisfied with the proposal to partially retain the facades of the Stanley and New Fountain.

      Gastown is the birthplace of Vancouver, and the two hotels, which are now used to house people on income assistance and the homeless, are representative of the time when the area was an important commercial centre.

      The Stanley and New Fountain are managed by the Portland Hotel Society, which is supporting the proposed redevelopment.

      The project, which will provide 80 social housing units and 134 market rentals, is a joint venture between Westbank Project Corporation and B.C. Housing.

      Glenda Bartosh has lived in Gastown since 1989. The communications expert is also a member of the Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee.

      Although Bartosh said that she cannot speak for the committee, she shared her views as a Gastown resident of nearly 30 years.

      “It’s a great project," she told the Straight by phone. "It’s just not suited for Gastown as a national historic area."

      According to Bartosh, the planned demolition of the two buildings and the partial retention of their facades is an example of “facadism”.

      “It’s like a false front, which is the Disneyfication of projects,” Bartosh said, comparing it to a “propped-up movie front”.

      She also said that the project does not conform to city guidelines on Gastown developments.

      The regulations provide that a new building on a vacant site shall have a maximum height of 75 feet.

      The rules further stipulate that the city’s development permit board may allow either an increase or decrease in the height of a building, subject to certain conditions. This include consulting with the city’s advisory group for Gastown, and taking into account issues like the effect of the development on surrounding buildings and streets.

      The guidelines also specify a maximum one-storey addition may be considered for the rehabilitation of heritage buildings. The Stanley stands at three storeys, and the New Fountain, two storeys.

      According to Bartosh, the 11-storey, 110-foot high development exceeds the requirements set by city regulations.

      She said she is also reminded of the tale of Cinderella, with the development being the “ugly step sister trying to wedge this big foot into this tiny, little space”.

      The project needs the approval of the city’s development permit board before it can go ahead.

      B.C. Housing was sought for comment, but no representative was available for an interview.