A Waterfront Tragedy – Vancouver’s Generational Divide Threatens To Shatter Crystal Office Tower

555 W Cordova Street – DP-2019-01035 – The Crystal at Waterfront Square
As this open house took place the day after the Family Day Long Weekend, Hannah and I should have been well rested, but in reality we were both so tired we probably resembled the undead. Which is fitting, given this proposed 26 floor office building has been on hold for most of the last five years after concerns were raised by the Urban Design Panel in 2015. Later, a Heritage Commission workshop in 2018 hinted this development was still alive.

While the former body noted the building’s height and density were fine for this location (pg 6), its interaction with Waterfront Station led them to refuse their support by a four to two margin (pg 4). That handed a victory to a rather odd coalition of people opposed to this development, many of whom were at this open house. Included among them was the former head of Vancouver’s Department of Planning from 1973 – 1989, who has previously described this building as “a horror.”

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In fact, several members of the Downtown Waterfront Working Group stood out, as they make up a who’s who list of planners, architects, heritage enthusiasts, and developers from that generation. These individuals acted with respect, but remained insistent that project should be rejected until the Central Waterfront Hub Framework from 2007 is revived. Their motivation isn’t just to preserve their vision of Vancouver, but to also force this property owner to give up the western part of their land.

It may seem easy to accomplish this, and extend Granville Street, but the closure of the main entrance to Waterfront station’s parkade may have unintended consequences. Already, representatives from the Gastown BIA at this event were concerned how a lack of new parking and the Gastown Complete Streets program would affect the area’s lanes. Ultimately, as the height and density in this development application are allowed under the Downtown Official Development Plan (pg 20 – 21), the city cannot simply annex this land.

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However, an existing requirement means part of the new eastern plaza will be turned into a road to connect Cordova Street and Canada Place (pg 12). Though this future road network was displayed on the model, several new buildings envisioned in the seemingly abandoned framework were not. I’m not sure why city staff ordered the applicant team to remove these pieces, but as these structures can reach a similar height (pg 35), perhaps they wanted to prevent any confusion about what was being discussed.

There was a clear divide between the night’s over 200 attendees, which ran not only by opinion, but by age. Those who had stopped by after work loved the idea of enjoying a coffee and view on the fourth floor public deck (pg 7) or that they could step off of SkyTrain and into their office. In contrast, those with more grey in their hair spent more time at this four-hour event, much of it complaining about the changes to our region.

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One person explained they hated how the sprawl of single-family homes had ruined the North Shore Mountains, but didn’t want to see tall buildings in Vancouver either. Which left me to wonder whether the 90 year old Marine Building was also once described as a Martian landing, a Jurassic rat’s chew toy, and an ice pick. Neither of us heard those well-publicized criticisms this night, but as this meeting started at 3pm and lasted four hours, we couldn’t capture everything.

This process will drag on too, as reviews by the Urban Design Panel and two heritage advisory groups (1, 2) scheduled in March and early April have been delayed until June due to physical distancing measures. That may seem like a long time away, but as one news crew who left their microphone stand at this venue found out, it’s easy to lose track of things. So don’t delay, send your thoughts to project facilitator, Kaveh Imani, at kaveh.imani@vancouver.ca or (604)-829-9334 before April 27th, 2020.

You can view the boards from the event here, or see photos we took of the model on our Instagram here.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd.
ArchitectsAdrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Local Architects – B+H Architects
Landscape Architects – PFS Studio

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