Vancouver City Council to review the impact of protected mountain view cones on new housing

Jan 24 2023, 9:45 pm

Increasingly in Vancouver, it is becoming challenging, if not almost impossible, to pursue major building developments of significance that generate important public benefits due to strict municipal policies that regulate height.

This is true of protected mountain view cones that span over Vancouver’s central areas of the downtown peninsula and Central Broadway and the newer concept of preventing new building shadows on intersections, retail streets, and public parks and plazas.

For years, Daily Hive Urbanized has extensively covered the issues of the impact of the view cone policy and shadowing considerations imposed by City staff. While view cones are a policy of previous makeups of Vancouver City Council, the added concern of shadowing is not — it is supposed to be treated only as a guideline, but in recent years the weighted importance of this consideration has crept up to the same level as view cones.

During Mayor Ken Sim’s first annual “State of the City” address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on Tuesday afternoon, he said his ABC Vancouver party majority in City Council would look into making adjustments to both view cone and shadowing considerations.

The forthcoming review on both types of restrictions to building heights is intended to be part of a broader analysis of all the barriers to generating new housing.

View cones emanate from nearly 20 locations, typically to protect views from select public spaces, including views when driving northbound down the middle of the False Creek bridges. One view cone emanating from the South False Creek seawall is also already obscured by the boat masts of the marina immediately to the north.

The most significant view cone is from Queen Elizabeth Park, which limits the building height potential of all areas north of the designated viewpoint attraction at the top of the park — despite trees within the park having a greater impact on obscuring the protected views.

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 next to the marina and the tower. (Patkau Architects/Intracorp)

View Cone 3.0 from Queen Elizabeth Park

View Cone 3.0 from Queen Elizabeth Park. (City of Vancouver)

View Cone 3.0 from Queen Elizabeth Park

View Cone 3.0 from Queen Elizabeth Park blankets much of Central Broadway and the downtown peninsula. (City of Vancouver)

And for much of the year, particularly during the fall, winter, and spring, the views of the mountains are obscured anyway by low-elevation cloud cover and sheets of rainfall.

View cones not only limit the overall height of the building, but they can also take a chunk out of its volume — for example, resulting in highly inefficient triangular-shaped towers with greatly reduced floor space for housing.

Shadowing considerations can take a further chunk off the top of the building, in addition to view cones.

Without the added market density to help offset high land and construction costs, both policies can greatly limit the financial feasibility of building new housing and office buildings, and force developers to cut back on the diverse mix of uses (optimal retail/restaurant spaces) and public benefits offered to the municipal government (such as the inclusion of a childcare facility).

The combined impacts of view cones and shadowing restrictions on a proposed tower development of the 7-Eleven at the southwest corner of the intersection of Davie and Hornby streets has stifled its height and warped the shape of its upper floors. This 25-storey tower was previously proposed as rental housing, but it is now being pursued as a condominium project in part due to view cones and shadowing impacts.

508 Drake Street 1317 Richards Street Vancouver

View cone impact on 508 Drake Street and 1317 Richards Street, Vancouver. (DA Architects & Planners/MCYH Multigenerational Housing Society/Larco)

902 davie street vancouver condo concept 2022

2022 concept of the tower at 902 Davie Street, Vancouver. The height and shape of the tower are severely impacted by view cones and shadowing considerations. (Bingham & Hill Architects/Reliance Properties)

“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.

The Mayor emphasized the top focus of his administration is to speed up permitting and make it easier to build new homes in all residential areas, with a focus on central areas and along public transit, also known as transit-oriented development.

While there are City policies that permit taller buildings, such as the stipulations of the West End Plan, they are overridden by view cones and shadowing, effectively neutralizing the intended benefits and outcomes of other policies.

Furthermore, Sim added that the tallest, densest, and most interesting and innovative projects should be located within Vancouver, but increasingly these projects are popping up in the suburban cities of Burnaby and Surrey.

There are now about a dozen proposed, planned, or under-construction towers outside of Vancouver’s city limits that will be taller than Metro Vancouver’s current tallest building — Living Shangri-La in downtown Vancouver. Later in 2023, the tallest tower of the first phase of the Gilmore Place redevelopment next to SkyTrain Gilmore Station in Burnaby’s Brentwood Town Centre will become the first of many buildings to eclipse the height of Living Shangri-La.

800 granville street vancouver redevelopment bonnis properties

Artistic rendering of the August 2021 revised design of the 800 Granville Street redevelopment proposal in downtown Vancouver. (Perkins&Will/Bonnis Properties)

Sim notes that he is “very receptive” to building project proposals like 800 Granville Street, which promises to provide the Granville Entertainment District with a major anchor of activity given its high-density commercial uses of office, retail/restaurants, and entertainment. The 800 Granville rezoning application has faced some resistance from City staff for reasons such as building shadowing impacts on Granville Street.

“If any area of Vancouver gets an opportunity that invests a lot into the city by revitalizing an area and helping bring back some culture and fun in a great way, like nightlife, or adds housing, and it ticks so many boxes, then as a city we need to be receptive to it,” said Sim.

“We need to change the question where we don’t come up with 600 reasons why we don’t do something. Instead, the question should be how do we get to ‘Yes’ if it’s a project that makes sense. What do we need to do to make this happen? How can we make your business or opportunity succeed in this city? These are the questions we should be asking, and that’s the culture I want to build in the City of Vancouver.”

Want to stay in the loop with more Daily Hive content and News in your area? Check out all of our Newsletters here.
Buzz Connected Media Inc. #400 – 1008 Homer Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2X1 [email protected] View Rules
Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Development
+ Politics
+ City Hall
+ Urbanized