Vancouver City Council to eliminate most protected view cones of City Hall for transit-oriented development

Mar 22 2023, 10:03 pm

Not only does the City of Vancouver have a northward view cone policy in place to protect views of the North Shore mountains, but there is also a lesser-known southward view cone policy to protect man-made landmark views of Vancouver City Hall.

There are view cones that face to the south from False Creek and the downtown Vancouver peninsula to protect landmark views of the 1936-built heritage City Hall building. It stems from a 1976 guideline to establish views by not having new buildings in the area of Broadway and Cambie Street obstruct views of City Hall.

But this is set to change, with a majority of Vancouver City Council expected to approve City staff’s proposed amendments to the View Protection Guidelines in relation to the Broadway Plan. This is part of City Council’s consideration next week of the forthcoming implementation strategy of the Broadway Plan, which itself was approved by the previous City Council in Summer 2022.

As part of the upcoming protected view changes, the municipal government will reduce the number of southward protected view cones of City Hall from nine view cones to two.

These protected views of City Hall were created and enforced for many years by City staff, but this policy was never approved by City Council.

“Views to City Hall celebrate the landmark building that contributes to the area’s civic identity and help to improve wayfinding, however, the number and extent of protected views also creates challenges to adding new housing and job space in a central area close to rapid transit,” reads a City staff report for City Council’s consideration next week.

The changes would retain the two City Hall view cones south of the North False Creek seawall near the southern foot of Davie Street, and south from the middle of the Cambie Street Bridge deck. As well, both of these City Hall view cones would be added to the list of protected views in the View Protection Guidelines, which currently completely entails view cones to protect mountain views — not urban building landmarks.

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Vancouver City Hall (City of Vancouver)

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1976 Broadway urban guidelines calling for preserving the southward view towards Vancouver City Hall from distant points to the north by limiting building heights to a city elevation of 220 ft between Cambie and Columbia streets (4 storey maximum on Broadway). (City of Vancouver)

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The two retained protected southward view cones of Vancouver City Hall would be added to the overall View Protection Guidelines. The two retained City Hall view cones are shown in red. (City of Vancouver)

City staff state such changes will “add capacity for the development of new housing and employment space near the new Broadway Subway (Millennium Line Broadway Extension) and Canada Line.”

There will be fewer imaginary air space constraints, theoretically allowing new buildings to achieve a greater height for more density on sites within close proximity to both Olympic Village Station and Broadway-City Hall Station, which will become a major regional transit hub when the Millennium Line meets the Canada Line in 2026.

But new building proposals will still have to contend the height restriction limitations of existing protected mountain view cones towards the north of the area, as they are set to remain — at least for now.

Immediately next to City Hall, right on Cambie Street, there are three protected view cones looking to the north to preserve mountain views from the municipal government’s headquarters. This is in addition to the wide-sweeping protected mountain view cone emanating from the peak of Queen Elizabeth Park, which covers much of Vancouver’s most central areas of Central Broadway and the downtown peninsula. The Broadway Plan notes building heights can generally be considered up to the underside of Queen Elizabeth Park’s view cone.

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Existing protected mountain view cones. (City of Vancouver)

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Looking southeast towards Vancouver City Hall from False Creek. (Google Earth)

In a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade in January 2023, Mayor Ken Sim noted that the protected view cones regime would be reviewed by his administration, given its impacts on the viability and the potential supply of new housing and job spaces in central areas of the city, which are well served by public transit.

At the time, Sim also noted that height restrictions due to building shadowing considerations on public parks, plazas, intersections, and retail streets would also be reviewed. Like the protected view cones of City Hall, the shadowing considerations are created and enforced by City staff, not City Council.

“At the end of the day, these are complex issues. If you rank all of these items, I don’t see too many people complaining about how the view is a crisis, or that a shadow during a one-hour period in three days of a year is a significant issue that can be labelled a crisis. But every single day, people bring up they can’t find housing,” Sim told Daily Hive Urbanized in an interview prior to his speech.

“The goal is to explore all options and we don’t lose sight of the bigger prize, which is more attainable housing and achieving it faster,” he added.

Other Broadway Plan implementation strategies proposed by City staff that will be considered by City Council next week include a “Pace of Change” policy of regulating the intake of rezoning applications on an annual basis within the existing rental apartment areas of the area plan.

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