A 586-ft-tall, 60-storey, mixed-use residential tower in downtown Vancouver’s West End will become the fourth tallest building in the city, and the tallest Passive House green building in the world.
In a public hearing Tuesday, Vancouver City Council approved the rezoning application by Henson Developments and designed by UK-based WKK Architects for 1059-1075 Nelson Avenue. The vote was 7-3, with councillors Adriane Carr, Jean Swanson, and Colleen Hardwick opposed, and councillor Christine Boyle absent.
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It is slated for a mid-block site near the northeast corner of the intersection of Thurlow Street and Nelson Street, on the same block as Westbank’s under-construction The Butterfly tower, which is slightly shorter.
Few standalone upscale condominium towers incorporate social housing, but this project will achieve that with 102 units of social housing on the lower levels (25% of the building’s floor area), as well as 50 units of secured market rental homes in the floors above. About a third of the social housing units will be set at Housing Income Limits set by BC Housing.
The social housing and market rental components replace the existing 51 market rental units found within the site’s 1950s-built, low-storey structures. This in-kind social housing contribution accounts for $70 million of the $80 million in total public benefits that will be generated by the tower, with the remainder from $9.4 million in development cost levies and $658,000 from public art.
The incorporation of this significant level of public benefits is made possible by the 328 condominium units within the upper levels of the tower.
The total floor area is 427,000 sq ft, giving the project a floor space ratio density of 24.7 times the size of the 17,300-sq-ft lot.
While there was consensus on the Passive House benefit aspect of the project, the dissenting councillors brought forward their concerns over the height, level of density, and the perceived lack of affordability in the homes, including the social housing component.
“I’m very torn about this, because as I said I love the Passive House so much, but that does not seem like we’re getting significant public benefits in terms of the number of units, the cost, and what could be done with the $70-million in community amenity contributions otherwise,” said Carr, who took issue with the building’s tall height partially shadowing the nearby public park, playground, and elementary school at certain times of the day.
Hardwick deemed the height and density at the location to be “over the top,” and questioned the need for the new housing given the impact of the current health crisis.
“We still don’t know [what] the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be on our housing situation, and certainly the form of the 60-storey building is going to involve a lot of elevators,” said Hardwick.
A motion proposed by Swanson to request the developer to make the social housing component more affordable was ruled out of order.
“I know staff are going to work hard to make it more affordable, but there’s no guarantee of that,” said Swanson. “I think this project shows where our definition of social housing is a problem… I don’t think I can vote for it when the main public benefit isn’t even guaranteed to replace the affordability of the units that we’re losing.”
Councillor Melissa DeGenova countered Swanson’s point of view, stating that “there has to be a conversation that we’re meeting our targets on certain income levels, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support projects that benefit other income levels as well.”
She was also at odds with how some councillors previously said they support height and density in the “right neighbourhood,” but then are opposed to these forms of developments in the West End, noting that the public speakers opposed to the project were able to move to the area because of density.
“I think it’s important that we’re encouraging more families to be able to live in our city, and we’re saying that not only do we want them to live in our city, but we’re showing them with our actions by creating family-friendly housing in walkable neighbourhoods,” said DeGenova.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart highlighted the private investment would not only provide new housing supply but also a local economic boost.
“We have an example of Passive Housing that will be a model to many across the country and continent. We’re in a housing crisis, and this is a building on private land with private financing, and we’re still getting 102 social housing units,” said Stewart. “This isn’t a government grant, this isn’t some sort of CMHC housing scheme, this is the work we’ve done through using our powers as a local council to secure 102 units and I understand that, at this stage, the amount people will pay for rent is not sheltered rates, but we can work on that.”
“Also we’re in a COVID-19 economic slowdown, turning into a recession. This building brings in money from outside of the city to provide hundreds if not thousands of jobs during the construction. It checks this very important box.”
Councillor Pete Fry voted in support of the project, but commented on how he thought the neighbouring The Butterfly had a more “well-rounded” package of public benefits.
The tower is permitted under the city’s West End Community Plan and falls under the Higher Buildings Policy, which requires taller towers to establish “a significant and recognizable new benchmark for architectural creativity and excellence, while making a significant contribution to the beauty and visual power of Vancouver’s skyline.”
According to the application, the design team was inspired by the shape of the Stanley Park portion of the downtown peninsula, as well as the inlet and the forests of this specific landmass.
The resulting architectural concept is two sinuous waved bands with greenery in between — “a simple parti echoing the forest between two coastal edges.” This is realized by an H-shaped floor plate and a distinctive curved form.
WKK Architects is best known for their work on Dubai’s Burj Al Arab. The local office of IBI Group is also involved as the architect of record for the application.
The building will have two separate entrances for varying housing tenures, with the condominium and market rental housing entrance located on Nelson Street, and the social housing entrance on the laneway. Indoor and outdoor amenity spaces for social housing are located on the ground level, while separate indoor amenity space for the market residential units is located on the 16th floor.
To support the density, eight underground levels will contain 313 vehicle parking stalls and over 1,000 bike parking spaces.
The developer is aiming to commence construction in about a year and a half.
Located immediately north of the site, just across the laneway, Bosa Properties and Kingswood Capital are proposing to turn 1070 Barclay Street into twin towers reaching a height of up to 458 ft.
The Jenga-like design by German firm Büro Ole Scheeren will contain 481 market condominium units and 162 social housing units.