A Historical Breath Of Fresh Air Promises To Light Up Gastown’s Future

343 W Pender St (DP-2021-00952) – 470 Homer Street
When the Hartney Chambers, and World Buildings were first constructed during Vancouver’s pre-war boom, I wonder if anyone thought they would be standing over a century later. Granted, their insides had been gutted to accommodate some rather interesting things, including a provocatively named waxing studio, an adult “massage parlor,” and even an optometrist. So it’s probably not surprising to learn the Vancouver Heritage Commission wasn’t upset that only the outside of that former Class B heritage structure would be preserved (pg 2-3).

That support earned this six floor office building the 10% floor area increase it needed to be viable, and is where I would have expected this story to end. Instead, I was stunned to see it brought before the Urban Design Panel for a further review, though as Hannah reminded me, city staff (usually) have a reason for their madness. This time the goal wasn’t protecting the past, but rather those who will shape our city’s future.

The challenge was how to provide enough horizontal daylight to the vulnerable youth who call the Pacific Coast Apartments home, and rely on its supportive programming. It’s not like the existing condition does a good job of that either, as the applicant noted that the lowest four rooms don’t get much light anyways, since they’re right up against a wall. They admitted that wouldn’t change going forward, but pointed out at least they improved the view with an ivy greenwall.

What they overlooked was how the addition of a couple floors above this space might affect its air flow, as they believe it worked fine in other areas of the city. That was a mistake, as it resulted in the first recommendation which was to study the ventilation aspects of lightwell concerning the units that single aspect and landlocked. The last thing anyone wanted was a mini-heat dome for these homes, but one individual championed doing more than bare minimum.

It was their last ditch appeal that formed the recommendation for design development to improve the view and light access into the (aforementioned) land lock units. While they let their concerns about how these homes would be affected by the mechanical ventilation system’s noise slide, they may have been able to include those too. With only six members present, it was easier than normal to affect change, which helped two individuals bring this meeting’s focus back to the past.

Disregarding the opinion of the Vancouver Heritage Commission, their belief was the added floors sat uncomfortably upon the perapit of the two retained facades. They criticized the colour of this addition, and its large windows for having the appearance of a heavy 1960’s office building, though a slim majority didn’t seem to mind. Still, they didn’t object to a recommendation to provide further design development of the portion of the new building that sits over top of the existing building.

Conversely, the other volunteers felt these materials, proportions, and colours were the right choice. The only anxiety one had was if the public realm had received enough attention, but they noted the retail stores had been well handled. Which was probably a sore point for this meeting’s chair, as they lamented their favourite coffee shop would be displaced by this process, but as they weren’t allowed to vote, this didn’t prove to be a conflict of interest.

Their colleagues offered them no respite, as they unanimously approved a motion of support for this project, which has moved it to the Development Permit Board. On Monday (April 4th, 2022) they’ll decided whether this gets to join our city’s future, or be consigned to history. As this meeting has shown, it only takes a couple people to make a difference, so make sure to speak up by contacting a Development Permit Board Assistant at kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca or may.sem@vancouver.ca or 604-873-7770.

You can view more photos from this meeting here on our Instagram.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Partnership –  Chard Development Ltd
Architects – Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership (MCMP)
Landscape Architects – PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.

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