Tim Louis: Help stop the ice pick for good. It insults us all!

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      The Toronto-based developers like to describe it in terms of origami for its so-called "folded planes". But just about everybody I know calls it the Ice Pick for its cold indifference to its surroundings, and how it stabs at the heart of our city's most iconic district.

      We all thought the dreaded Ice Pick project was dead—melted into the garbage can of rejections after all the public criticism and the last rounds of "no" from city hall. Yet here it is again (is it round three? Four? I've lost count!), as Cadillac Fairview darkens city hall's doorway once again to trot out its proposed plans for a huge mega-tower on a postage-stamp-sized parking lot it owns at 555 Cordova Street, right at the entrance to Gastown.

      Gastown: where our city started. An officially designated National Historic District. A rare such historic district in Vancouver. (Chinatown is another.) All brick, and stone and right angles; old warehouses and hotels from the turn of last century. Gastown, part of the DTES, with few parks and public spaces, and fewer ways to reach the beautiful waterfront.

      Then here comes the Ice Pick: a teetering 26 storeys high, twice what should be built there. And six times more massive than it should be. With little or no consideration to the public realm, it sits next to two heritage buildings, overhanging one of them so much it looks like it's going to topple over and crush it—the iconic, brick 1914 Waterfront Station, which Cadillac Fairview also owns.

      If you think I'm exaggerating, check out this excellent Tyee article by Patrick Condon, one of the finest urban designers around and the founding chair of UBC's urban design program.

      "Why does this insult persist?" he asks. Why, indeed. It's the wrong building in the wrong place being handled the wrong way.

      For years, the community has been organizing to prevent this controversial piece of "starchitecture". But since it's back and the current city plan for the site is tentative, it looks like we have to do it again. Sadly, the zoning there now means public hearings are not mandatory.

      Since 2009, there's only been a "sketch plan" in place for this site and the area around it. Called the Waterfront Hub Plan, it shows a much more modest building might be possible there, one that allows for a public plaza and public access across the train tracks to the waterfront and CRAB Park, one built in cooperation with the city, not wedged in like a bloated foot into a too-small glass slipper.

      City hall was supposed to firm up this waterfront plan by spring 2021, and I'm betting nothing remotely like the Ice Pick would be allowed. So why is Cadillac Fairview back now? To try and ram it through before it isn't able to? Or was it hoping everyone was so preoccupied and exhausted with COVID, we'd all just turn a blind eye?

      Either way, nothing so wrong-minded as this building should ever be proposed for this critical location again, especially not until the final Waterfront Hub Plan is completed. We need the developers in this area to collaborate with the city, including its citizens, and not try to outwit everyone.

      In the meantime, there are a few things we can do to tell Cadillac Fairview what to do with their Ice Pick, once and for all:

      1. Please sign my petition, and share it far and wide!

      Help me achieve my goal to collect 2,000 names demanding that the Ice Pick proposal be soundly rejected for good, and that no further proposal for this site, or anywhere in the downtown/Gastown waterfront area, be considered until the Waterfront Hub Plan is finalized. Once that happens, all future development in this area needs to be done in collaboration with city hall and the citizens of Vancouver. When I have a lot of names, I'll share our petition with city council and all the city agencies involved.

      2. Tune in to a meeting!

      The Ice Pick is being brought forward to four review agencies over the next while:

      • Vancouver Heritage CommissionMonday, December 7 at 11.a.m.
      • Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee:  December 16 at 4 p.m.
      • Urban Design Panel:  January 20, 2021
      • Development Permit Board:  March 22, 2021

      Many of us have already emailed the Vancouver Heritage Commission expressing our concerns. If you have time, you can tune in virtually to the commission's review at Heritage Commission | City of Vancouver to listen.

      You can do the same for the GHAPC meeting, at Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee | City of Vancouver. You'll just be able to listen in, but it's always good to "bear witness" and fill the chambers. I'm sure we'll also be able to do so for the final two meetings as well. Just go to the websites to learn more: Urban Design Panel | City of Vancouver and Development Permit Board | City of Vancouver.

      3. Send an email

      Email the city hall coordinator for the Ice Pick proposal at Kaveh.Imani@vancouver.ca . He will pass your comments to the appropriate staff. Indicate that your email is about the proposal for 555 W. Cordova (DP-2019-01035), and state which review body you want it sent to. All comments from the public are collected and reviewed by city staff for consideration as part of the development permit review process. It's good to tailor your comments specifically for each review body.

      4. Track the project and the waterfront plan.

      Stay connected with the Downtown Waterfront Working Group here. It's composed of venerable members like former Vancouver city planner, Ray Spaxman, and has been working for five long years to get a better plan finalized for this very important site—one that will include public access so you and I and our neighbours in Gastown and the DTES won't be stopped from enjoying one of the best views and parks in Vancouver.


      Daily atmospheric CO2[Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (Dec. 5, 2020): 412.80 ppm

      One year ago (Dec. 5, 2019): 410.45 ppm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blog, which lists the daily carbon dioxide count in parts per million in the atmosphere at the end of every post. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.