New downtown highrises won’t spoil views of North Shore mountains, city planner says

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Tall buildings have been called into question globally, but here in Vancouver there is still an interest in going taller.

Doug Ward

Vancouver‘s director of planning says the proposal to allow four new extra-tall buildings in downtown Vancouver would enhance the city’s skyline and not undermine the long-standing policy of protecting views of the North Shore mountains.

“They are being artfully placed to not overwhelm the mountain views,” said Brent Toderian. “They will be located in places that terminate at entrances into the downtown, over the bridges and along key gateways. There is a power to placing special buildings at the terminus of important views.”

Staff are proposing extra-tall buildings, ranging from 122 metres to 152 metres, at Georgia and Seymour streets, Georgia and Beatty streets, at the foot of Georgia and at the Burrard Street approach into downtown.

Toderian said the structures, whose exact location and height remain to be determined, would be the first extra-tall buildings in downtown Vancouver allowed to protrude into the view corridors.

The staff report said the buildings must have exceptional architecture and the highest green standards. “Our theory is that if these buildings are going to share important views, then they have to be worthy of that.”

The planning director said these buildings can “mark your place in the city and make an architectural statement that can powerfully change your perspective of the skyline.”

Toderian said his department believes four extra-tall buildings is the most the downtown skyline could tolerate without eroding its view-corridor policy. “We feel these four can add to the power of the views, but that any more would damage the view.”

There remains interest in the Vancouver development community in tall buildings despite the recession, he added.

“Tall buildings have been called into question globally, but here in Vancouver there is still an interest in going taller.”

Toderian said at least one of the buildings could be an office tower, while the others could be a mix of residential and office development.

Any developer allowed to build to such heights would have to provide significant amenities to the city, which could include daycares, heritage preservation, community facilities and rental housing, he added.

Toderian said downtown Vancouver can accommodate 30,000 more people under current zoning. About 100,000 people live downtown today.

A second staff report going to council recommends building heights in the city’s historic area remain mid-rise with moderate height increases for Chinatown.

Many businessmen and people with interests in Chinatown were outraged last year when city staff suggested it would be open to allowing a couple of 91-metre towers on the site of the Chinese Cultural Centre next to the Dr. Sun Yatsen Chinese Garden, a popular tourist attraction.

Planner Jessica Chen, the report’s author, said opponents of the towers felt the tall buildings would not be “in keeping with the overall scale of the historical area.”

The new report calls for height increases to rise to 15 to 23 metres along Pender Street and from 21 to 27 metres in the south part of Chinatown. Staff also suggested that the maximum height could be extended to 37 metres if the development proposal contained public amenities.

The report also recommends council approve a maximum of three higher buildings around 14 metres.

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