Vancouver City Council directs city staff to explore taller buildings for West End

Jul 26 2022, 7:00 pm

New policies that permit additional density and taller buildings along the eastern edge of the West End of downtown Vancouver will be considered by City of Vancouver staff.

This is a direction made by Vancouver City Council last week, when it contemplated whether local developer Intracorp’s rezoning application to build a 580-foot-tall, 56-storey tower at the northeast corner of the intersection of Thurlow and Haro streets should be processed.

Under the city’s existing policies, the property at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street is limited to a height of just 260 ft — a result of mountain View Cone D emanating from Leg-in-Boot Square on the South False Creek seawall. This is the first tower design by Patkau Architects, which has created a concept that mitigates the view cone intrusion with a triangular shape and placement shift, resulting in a crystal shard form.

In addition to the view cone consideration, city staff have also expressed a desire to have no new shadowing on the Robson Street retail village just a block to the north, with the tower as proposed creating new shadowing on the 1000 block of Robson from 2 to 3 pm during spring equinox. As an added measure to mitigate the shadowing, the tower has a chisel-shaped pinnacle.

According to city staff, based on their observations on Robson Street, there are more pedestrians on the north sidewalk when it is sunny.

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Mountain view cone height restrictions impact on 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

The proposed tower at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, as seen from View Cone D emanating from Leg-in-Boot Square on the South False Creek seawall. The view cone is blocked by both sailboat masts at the marina and the tower. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Shadowing impacts of 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street on its new public spaces, and on the north sidewalk of Robson Street. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

But Evan Allegretto, the president of Intracorp, told City Council the tower will only result in 2% additional shadowing on Robson Street overall, and argued that city staff’s shadowing considerations are not policy but rather guidelines.

Additionally, under the city’s Higher Buildings Policy, the site allows for added building height reaching 580 ft, as long as the design is of architectural excellence and adds to downtown’s dome-shaped skyline. However, city staff do not want to apply the Higher Buildings Policy for this project.

“We feel like we comply with 100% of the West End Community Plan, but we disagree with city staff for their layering of other policies, and to remind City Council that this site is supposed to be a cash cow for the community and we’re working towards that by trying to maximize the community benefits.”

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Artistic rendering of the proposed complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

The proposed tower at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, as it appears in downtown Vancouver’s “domed” skyline. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

The proposed tower at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, as it appears in downtown Vancouver’s “domed” skyline. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

Intracorp is proposing to build 443 condominium homes in the 56-storey tower, and 66 secured rental homes in an adjacent 14-storey building on the site, along with 43,000 sq ft of retail and restaurant uses over the first three storeys, and a 6,700-square-foot childcare facility for 49 kids. It should be noted that the inclusion of a childcare facility is contingent on its floor area not being counted towards the project’s formal density calculation. As proposed, the total floor area is 442,000 sq ft, establishing a floor area ratio density of a floor area that is 10.2 times larger than the size of the lot.

The project will also provide downtown Vancouver with one of its largest new public plazas in years through private development. A triangular-shaped, redundant off-shoot of Haro Street will be turned into a sizeable public plaza, serving as the entry point into a glass-covered outdoor pedestrian galleria corridor that slices diagonally through the property to separate the condominium and rental buildings. These public spaces will be activated by the significant infusion of attractive, large retail and restaurant spaces, and improve connectivity and the vibrancy of an area off the core of Robson Street. For these reasons, the project is supported by the Robson Street Business Association.

Additionally, there will be a mid-block pedestrian pathway on the eastern perimeter of the property and public space activations for the laneway to the north.

Overall, the significant condominium component will generate tens of millions of dollars in community amenity contributions (CACs), but this is not attainable if the height restrictions are upheld.

“This [shadowing] policy reduces development in the West End plan,” he said.

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Artistic rendering of the proposed complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Uses of the proposed base of the complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Uses of the proposed base of the complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

Allegretto paints a picture that the proposed densities and heights come as a compromise.

If the proponents were to pursue the site’s full density and allowances in accordance to the West End Community Plan, twin towers reaching 550 ft in height will provide a combined 700,000 sq ft of total floor area containing 870 homes. Based on a calculation of a CACs rate of $250 per sq ft for the condominium portion of the residential uses, the potential CACs value will be $135 million.

But a second 550 ft tower on the east side of the site is strictly not possible due to the height restrictions of View Cone D.

Furthermore, although it is not official city policy, an emphasis by city staff on the importance of limiting any new shadowing on Robson Street will restrict any new development on the property to about 33% of the condominium tower’s proposed height. Under this interpretation, not only will the buildings be shorter overall, the upper floors will be required to have a triangular-shaped peak to reduce the shadowing on the retail strip even further. In the process, the upper floors will become less efficient, and the total floor area will reach just 180,000 sq ft with 225 homes — providing CACs of only $8 million.

If city staff’s prioritization of shadowing considerations were maintained, it is likely no redevelopment will be pursued at all. An enforcement of shadowing height constraints on Robson Street will essentially only permit a project that is slightly larger than a one-for-one replacement redevelopment of what already exists on the site — a 1980-built, seven-storey building with 160 apartments and three storeys of commercial space on the Thurlow Street end.

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Concepts for a 550-ft-tall twin towers (left) and short towers (right) at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

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Site of 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

1045 haro street vancouver

Site of 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

Local developer Intracorp Homes acquired the property in March 2017 for $165 million based on the redevelopment potential of the site as outlined by the West End Community Plan.

City Council approved city staff’s recommendation to process the proposal under the non-compliant rezoning application stream. This means the application will go through the usual rezoning review process, but city staff may recommend to oppose its approval in its future referral report ahead of the public hearing with the next City Council after the civic election.

Additionally, City Council approved the amendment by NPA councillor Melissa De Genova to pursue additional height and density in the West End Community Plan for the purpose of providing residential uses, noting that such a direction could exceed view cone and shadowing restrictions.

Moreover, under De Genova’s approved amendment, city staff are to reaffirm the shadowing considerations are a guideline, report back to City Council in the referral report on the project’s incremental shadowing, and City Council will determine the appropriate amount of shadowing by this project.

Another amendment by Green Party councillor Adriane Carr and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle orders city staff to consider additional height and density for other areas on the eastern edge of the West End Community Plan — the peripheral streets of Burrard, Thurlow, West Georgia, and Alberni for the purpose of providing significant public benefits. This could potentially allow for a more ambitious future redevelopment of the St. Paul’s Hospital site, after the hospital relocates to the False Creek Flats in 2027.

According to city staff, the West Georgia Street and Burrard Street corridors within the West End have already secured $500 million in cash CACs from about a dozen projects. But more CACs are needed to fund the various public benefits outlined in the West End Community Plan.

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Location of the proposed complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

The proposed tower at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, in the context of other surrounding towers in downtown Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

1045 haro street vancouver

Artistic rendering of 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

1045 haro street vancouver

Mountain view cone height restrictions impact on 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Artistic rendering of the proposed complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

830-850 Thurlow Street 1045 Haro Street Vancouver Intracorp

Uses of the proposed complex at 830-850 Thurlow Street and 1045 Haro Street, Vancouver. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

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