Mountain Views Trump the Needs of Health Care – St. Paul’s Hospital to Become Vancouver’s Newest Table Top

1002 Station &  250-310 Prior St. (New St. Paul’s Hospital & Health Campus)
As Darren was born in the Lower Mainland, he is used to some of Vancouver’s more quirky planning policies, which continue to fascinate me. Some feel designed for a city very different from the one we live in today. As many of them originate from the 1980s, we can only assume that, at one point, it made sense to prohibit buildings from casting shadows onto sidewalks, or to ensure views of the North Shore Mountains were maintained from the middle of our city’s busiest roads.

Those strict guidelines were relaxed last year, as allowing the provincial government room to build rental housing was felt to be worth the slight impacts to the view cones originating from two intersections on Cambie Street. So, I am puzzled why the future growth and expansion of one of our province’s most important hospitals does not qualify for a similar relaxation.

 View Cones -Source / Expansion Phases -Source

Approved in 1989, View Cone 22 feels like it was meant only for those brave enough to stand in the middle of the intersection at Main and 6th Avenue. While its western half was eliminated in 2011, the eastern half remains. As a result, the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus will be forced to pay homage to Vancouver’s former table top skyline, restricting its height, and limiting its phase three growth to bulking out at the expense of the public realm.

Unfortunately, many attendees seemed more concerned about the conditions of today rather than any long term consideration. In fact, we heard no mention of previously raised fears about the affects of future sea-level rise, or the seismic stability of the soil that filled in this part of False Creek. Perhaps it’s because both city staff and the applicant team are well aware of these issues, and are taking steps to ensure they will not disrupt the hospital.

The plans are also a sad reflection on our city’s housing crisis, as one area is devoted to providing homes for hospital staff. Located between Prior and a realigned Malkin Avenue, this building is currently being designed for use by visiting health care professionals and patients only. However, we were told that, in order avoid the staffing retention problems other Vancouver hospitals are experiencing, part of it may be made available for long term housing in the future.

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That is a ways off, as this building, and most of the others, will be part of the second phase of the proposal. It only makes sense the first phase will be submitted as one development application consisting of the core hospital, patient’s services, and the research centre. That said, as the guidelines for building a hospital are understandably strict, it is likely that phase 1B will complete first. Of course, at this early stage, the general massing of the buildings, and even the location of the ER, is only tentative and could change as the vision is refined.

Yet it seemed most people were more worried about increases in traffic, both rail and car. As our port has become busier, so have the rail-lines through the neighbourhood, and Prior Street feels out of place cutting through Strathcona. A few years ago the city proposed a solution, a new arterial road and overpass, though it quickly fell into a stalemate. In an attempt to find compromise between stakeholder groups, the city has formed a community discussion group with meetings set to start this year.

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Transportation was on most people’s minds, as the only other comments we heard were about the bike lanes around the new hospital. This caught me off guard, as the proposal provides a very safe and effective way of traveling across the campus. It turned out these individuals simply felt it was too isolated, and that the hospital should be responsible for the costs of connecting it to the city’s wider network.

Both Darren and I had the impression that many people were overwhelmed by the scale of this large project, and became bogged down by the more relatable issues. Still, this key healthcare institution needs to be designed so it provides not just for the needs of today, but so it can serve our growing Metro Core for generations to come.

With that scope in mind, it is clear the opinions expressed today will shape the future for decades, or even centuries, to come. So, make sure the legacy of your voice is heard, and express it here.

 

 

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