Vancouver walks tightrope between protecting panoramas against housing needs

False Creek neighbourhood could see 40-storey tower raised in one of the city’s protected ‘view cones’

Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Chicago has its architectural skyline and Vancouver has its sweeping ocean and mountain views.

But the housing crunch in the city has prompted debate about the value of protecting the scenic backdrop that has defined the urban landscape versus the urgent need for more housing.

A proposed development by B.C. Crown corporation PavCo in the city’s False Creek neighbourhood could see a 40-storey tower raised in one of the city’s protected ‘view cones,’also known as ‘view corridors.’

Last week, city council accepted Coun. Raymond Louie’s proposal to allow what he described as a “minimal” intrusion into one of the view cones as long as the building is used for rental housing.

The city has a 0.7 per cent rental vacancy rate and even if the new units are expensive they should help alleviate the housing pressure by creating more supply, he said.

Vancouver has 27 protected view corridors that preserve the views of the North Shore mountains, downtown skyline and surrounding water. The first view corridors were established in 1989 after residents identified preserving those views among their highest priorities in a survey.

Ray Spaxman, one of the key architects of the view cones, came to Vancouver in 1973 as director of planning after working in Liverpool and Toronto.

“I was very interested in the nature of cities and what made them different from other places,” Spaxman said.

When you think of London, for example, St. Paul’s Cathedral comes to mind and Spaxman said when he came to Vancouver, he looked around for notable historic buildings but nothing stood out.

“Then it struck me how unusual it was that we actually had, much like Rio (de Janeiro) has, a mountain that would be there a long time that was quite distinctive in its shape called the Lions,” he said.

The Lions are a famous pair of peaks on a nearby mountain range north of the city. The densification of downtown was already narrowing the view of the peaks, he said.

“I thought it would be valuable if, in the long-range future, people would be able to enjoy the sense of the surrounding natural beauty even when they were in the middle of downtown.”

The process was a long one and Spaxman left the city in 1989 just before the view cones were introduced, setting height limits on developments within the corridors.

There have been several instances where the policy has been reviewed and at least 10 other buildings in the city have been approved to encroach within the view cones since 2001. Others include the Shangri-La, the Fairmont Pacific Rim and the still under construction Vancouver House.

The four most recent view corridors from the Olympic village looking eastward were protected in 2011.

Spaxman said he believes it’s important to review the policy every 10 to 20 years and examine whether it fits the city’s vision for itself. That’s different from haphazard approval of intrusions though, he said.

“The crisis in housing is true and we need to do something about it, but some of the things being suggested are crisis answers to crisis situations and we need to have more of a context of where are we going and what will it be like in 20 years’ time,” Spaxman said.

Louie said the potential intrusion of the development by PavCo, which has not yet entered an application with the city, has been overstated.

“These were subjective lines drawn quite some time ago in 1989 and a decision was made to draw a line at that level. You can see that there’s a number of different intrusions into the corridor already, including trees, street banners, stop signs, traffic lights and such that significantly block the view already,” he said.

“It’s not anywhere close to what’s being described as blocking out the mountains or ruining our sightlines to the mountains.”

It’s also not specific to this one proposed development, he said, but is part of what has been a larger discussion about land use in False Creek, which skirts the city’s downtown.

“I think it’s always a struggle to find the balance between form and shape and location of a structure within its local context. That’s what the city does, we try and find a good framework for us to make those decisions and look at each situation to see whether or not the policy itself needs to be adjusted. In this instance, that’s exactly what happened,” Louie said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Aldergrove Easter event line-up for families staying local

Easter egg hunts in apple orchards, bouncy castles, facepainting, bunny-petting and more.

Young ukulele players wow Langley audience

The performance highlights several upcoming concerts.

Langley police seek new leads in hit and run cold case

Six years ago, someone struck a young woman with a car and drove off

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select routes

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries to be sold on Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Langley gymnasts golden at provincials

LGF and Flip City win multiple all-around champion awards

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Man driving wrong way on Highway 17 ‘seriously’ injured after crash: Surrey RCMP

Police say the driver hit a transport truck, then another car after merging from the off-ramp onto highway

Should B.C. lower speed limits on side roads to 30 km/h?

Vancouver city councillor wants to decrease speed limits along neighbourhood side roads

Lawsuit eyed over union-only raise for B.C. community care workers

‘Low-wage redress’ leaves 17,000 employees out, employers say

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Rare ‘Snow Tower’ tree blooming in Vancouver city park

A plant rarely grown in Canada is now flowering at the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Most Read