Evergreen could be gone

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Cheryl Rossi

Evergreen Building owner John Laxton wants to demolish the Arthur Erickson-designed West Pender building and put up condos. Photo-Dan Toulgoet

The owner of a downtown office building designed by Arthur Erickson wants to replace it with a 21-storey residential tower.

But city council has directed staff to discuss with John Laxton, the owner of the Evergreen Building at 1285 West Pender, a way of preserving it.

In October 2004, the development permit board rejected a four-storey addition designed by Erickson for Laxton as part of a conversion of the office space into 69 high-end condos. Gerry McGeough, senior heritage planner, said the plans were not considered in the context of the Evergreen as a heritage building.

“They just looked at it as reusing an existing building,” he said. Since then the Vancouver Heritage Commission, an advisory body to city staff, has raised the heritage value of the building with city council. McGeough said council has advised staff to explore options for preserving the building, which sits between Bute and Jervis, with the owner.

Land use incentives like transferable density, bonus density or, occasionally, tax relief are given by the city to owners to protect buildings. When a heritage designation was offered to Laxton last year in exchange for a transfer of density elsewhere, Laxton turned the offer down. Andrew Wade, project manager with Laxton’s Cathedral Development Group, said the process of swapping heritage designation for bonuses would have been too time-consuming.

Wade said Cathedral was prepared to go ahead with the four-storey addition, but as it got further into its analysis, it realized the costs were going to be high. The lack of parking for the future condo dwellers was one problem.

Wade said the Evergreen Building leaks, the floors slope and it requires seismic upgrading, all of which he said would be costly to fix. He noted office spaces are not leasing well in Vancouver and most of the building is vacant, although he admitted the building had been cleared out in anticipation of the four-storey addition being approved.

Michel Pelletier, owner of Beyond Fitness Coal Harbour Club, said his business has occupied the third floor of the building for two-and-a-half years and he has not noticed any structural problems.

David Thom, managing director of the IBI Group, an architect and engineering firm that leases the seventh floor, said if the Evergreen remains an office building seismic upgrading would not be required. He said it’s only required if the building is converted to residential use. Thom, an architect, does not want to see the building become rubble.

“It’s a unique Arthur Erickson design. It’s a terraced building, which means it has all those beautiful balconies covered in greenery. It was a green sustainable building long before anybody started talking about green sustainable buildings. It’s got opening windows. It was way ahead of its time when it was built and it’s really exceptional,” he said.

Thom said IBI has a five-year lease with a five-year renewal option and it has occupied the space for just over a year. He said last week he received a “nasty letter” from Evergreen Building Ltd. threatening to lock him out this Saturday. He received a court injunction on Tuesday preventing the lockout.

“There were no grounds given, they just said they were going to lock me out. They wanted me to vacate the premises by July 30, failing which they would lock me out,” he said. “I’m running a full-scale architectural practice. Vacating the premises on a week’s notice is ridiculous. Anyhow, the court agreed with me and granted me the injunction.”

Evergreen Building Ltd. could not be reached before press time for comment.

The city is currently collecting responses from residents and businesses in the area regarding the development application for the residential tower. The response deadline is today, but John Greer, a project facilitator with the city, said submissions will be accepted after this date.

The urban design panel reviews the plans Aug. 3 and the development permit board reviews the proposal Sept. 26.

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