The Birthplace of Fine Wine and Architecture – Yaletown Heritage Restoration Narrowly Escapes Defeat at the UDP

1290 Homer Street
When this proposed 3 floor addition to the Macpherson & Teetzel Company building was reviewed by Vancouver’s Heritage Commission in July, it faced a somewhat mixed reception. No one argued the restoration wasn’t well handled, but they were split on whether it was better for the addition to be clad in a lighter tone, or if a darker material would be a better choice. While the model still appears to show the lighter wood tone, it seems the applicant has decided to clad the addition with a dark red panelling instead.

While that decision still proved controversial, the biggest aspect that divided the panel was which members had previously worked in the building. It turns out that more than a few panellists had spent part of their careers in these offices. One person even revealed that, after moving to Vancouver, the first firm they worked for was located in this building. These rags to riches stories continued, as another member spoke of their experience sharing the building with one of the founders of Mission Hill Winery. They expressed their view that buildings are just buildings, while heritage is found in people and stories. In that spirit, it’s only appropriate that the ground floor is currently home to the international firm, Ryder architecture. However, to one member’s disappointment, that is unlikely to last as the applicant plans to turn that area into a restaurant space instead.

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However, the larger issue was the treatment and accessibility of the dock space and the entrance to the ground level. One member remarked that it wasn’t fair to force anyone with wheels to go around the whole building to gain access to the ground floor, and felt the limitation made the Hamilton entrance no better than a side door. There could be similar difficulties for employees, as garbage and recycling bins will now have their own storage area within the building on the ground floor. Though, as these elements will no longer take up space outside, the public realm will definitely be improved.

Still, like the opinion of the Heritage Commission, the panel’s consensus was that the heritage restoration of the building was supportable, and handled appropriately. The panel dismissed any concern over a tree that needed to be removed and relocated in the dock area, and one member even joked that, with the amount of trees along Drake, the building didn’t need to implement any solar shading. Ultimately, when it came to the building’s mechanical systems, the panel deferred to their expert who felt this element was well handled.

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Similarly, many on the panel felt the recessed section and the scale of the addition were well done. However, some expressed concerns over the scale on the columns in the later area, and it was suggested they should be eliminated. The panel actually cautioned the applicant that, if these features were enlarged, the city should bring the project back before the panel for further review.

Although there were only two recommendations, the proposal barely managed to avoid that fate. Unsurprisingly, it was suggested there should be further design development of the dock space. The other was an instruction for the applicant to review the architectural expression of the addition, as it was felt to be neither contemporary nor heritage, and was not complementing nor contrasting the existing building.

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The chair acknowledged that the panel was deeply divided on the project, and that this made it very difficult to formulate a motion. It seemed those more familiar with the building were supportive, while those who had less of a history with it wanted it to come back for further review. The chair first motioned that the applicant team should resubmit the proposal after reviewing the architectural expression. That motion failed, as it only gathered 3 votes in favour. The second motion, which was to support the proposal, but with the same recommendation, passed with 4 votes in support.

In the time I’ve spent at the UDP, I can’t think of any project that so narrowly avoided resubmission, so I wasn’t surprised to see the relief on the applicant team’s face. This project seems to be a love it or hate proposal, so whichever way you feel, make sure to express it by contacting the project facilitator, Jaime Lynn Borsa at either (604)-829-9229 or by email at jaimelynn.borsa@vancouver.ca

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