Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reflections on Urban Design Panel decision: 555 West Cordova, Vancouver

As I sat beside Vancouver Sun journalist Jeff Lee yesterday at Vancouver City Hall listening to the Urban Design Panel deliberations on this controversial project, I was reminded of the OJ Simpson trial.


Design fit was my primary concern with the proposal which had been privately supported by city planning staff over the past year. In an on-line interview with the Vancouver Sun, Brian Jackson, Manager of Planning and Development made it clear staff were supporting a significant office building on this site as part of a redevelopment of the lands surrounding the transit hub. I understand this objective.

Jackson also noted that staff would be seeking input from various city committees including the Gastown Heritage Committee, the Heritage Commission and Urban Design Panel. The project was then scheduled to go to the Development Permit Board on March 9th, 2015.

A key step missing in his process was a community Open House. Jackson said this was not necessary since the project was not a rezoning, but rather a Development Permit Application.
However, as each of the Urban Design Panel members noted yesterday, this is a very significant site for the city with many design constraints, and deserves special consideration.

A key question in my mind is whether the 400,000 square foot building that the developer wants to build will fit on this site, even with design refinements. I would note that this size is not related to the size of the parking lot; it's related to the size of the total property which includes the CP Station. In other words, the developer wants to transfer building area from one portion of the property to another. That's why the building seems so big.

However, given the view corridors which the city wants to protect, and the historic Station, I believe it will be difficult to successfully fit such a large building on such a small space.

While I am still astounded that the city's Heritage Commission approved this building, and was pleasantly surprised by the unanimous opposition by members of the UDP  (even though 2 ultimately supported it, it remains to be seen what happens next.

Hopefully the planning department will agree that the meeting of the Development Permit Board should be postponed so that this application can go back to the drawing board, and to also allow time for a public Open House to review the revised design.

I look forward to the next steps in the process.