May 20, 2015

The Future of the Downtown Waterfront – Issues Paper

The issues paper from the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:  


Draft 2



The Future of the Downtown Waterfront: Piecemeal Development or a Cohesive Plan?



  • In 2009, Vancouver City Council endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework which outlined a vision for the Central Downtown waterfront. Council has not yet taken any steps to implement the Framework. 
  • It contains some very exciting ideas such as the re-opening up of Granville Street to the waterfront and multi-use development/public space creation over the railway yards. 
  • A recent development proposal at 555 West Cordova is the first development proposal for lands located within the Hub Framework planning area. It is located on the last remaining Downtown waterfront parcel. 
  • Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited owns Waterfront Station, 555 West Cordova, and 200 Granville Street, including the parking structure occupying the Granville Street alignment north of Cordova, on the west side of the Waterfront Station. The implementation of the Granville Street extension should be figured out in tandem with the consideration of the 555 West Cordova development proposal. 
  • The recent announcement of a potential redevelopment of the Sinclair Centre, as well as other development projects, gives added impetus to re-thinking the future of Granville Street as the gateway to the waterfront. 
  • The City of Vancouver is not obligated to approve the proposed development at 555 West Cordova because the density associated with the site is not “outright” but has to be earned by complying with all of the City’s plans, policies and guidelines. 
  • To date, the City has not agreed to convene any public process for either the future of the waterfront or 555 West Cordova, other than procedures required by the Development Permit Board. 
  • The Downtown Waterfront Working Group is a newly-established group of citizens who has come to together to help realize the spectacular potential of the waterfront.

We are concerned that a decision made on 555 West Cordova without taking into consideration the wider context will close down options for the future of the waterfront.


The Downtown Waterfront Working Group is requesting the City of Vancouver to:

  • Re-fresh the Central Waterfront Hub Framework to incorporate changes in the key drivers since 2009 when the Framework was adopted, including alternatives for the transportation circulation network. 
  • Consider the development proposal for 555 West Cordova only after the Central Waterfront Hub Framework is updated in the context of what Cadillac Fairview and the other landowners can do to help implement the Hub Framework, enhance downtown waterfront access, heritage values and public spaces.


 555 1

This is the proposed office complex site at 555 West Cordova: Photo by Michael Alexander


[The full issues paper continues below.]

  1. Why we care and what we want to accomplish

A group of citizens has been established to explore possible options for Downtown’s Central Waterfront area, called the Downtown Waterfront Working Group. Our members include planners, architects, citizens, artists, business owners, heritage advocates and community builders. We are not as a group affiliated with any political party.

A development application for a 26-storey, 408,000 sq. ft. office building on this site drew considerable public and media interest. It received non-support at the Urban Design Panel in January, 2015. A Development Permit Board meeting previously scheduled for March 9, 2015 has been postponed and no new date has been set. The City has not yet committed to hosting any public process/dialogue in advance of the Development Permit Board meeting.

The City has created many great public spaces over the years at the water’s edge, on Burrard Inlet and on False Creek. What is missing, however, is that vital connection to the water from the Downtown area.

We feel that exciting solutions are possible for this pivotal site perched on a prime waterfront site at the doorstep of the most important metropolitan transit hub in the region and the nationally historic Gastown area.

We are concerned that a decision made on 555 West Cordova without taking into consideration the wider context will close down options for the future of the Waterfront.

[More details on the development and planning process can be found in the Appendix to this report.]


555 2Photograph of architectural model, from a southeast perspective


555 3

Photograph of architectural model, from Cordova Street facing north

Model provided with development application submitted on behalf of Cadillac Fairview and presented to the Urban Design Panel on January 28, 2015


  1. The Future of Our Waterfront: Key Issues


2.1 Our Central Downtown Waterfront Needs an Updated Plan

Vancouver’s worldwide reputation in city planning can largely be attributed to the careful forward planning and implementation that has occurred on the Downtown Peninsula and False Creek. We aim for this tradition to continue through the creation of an exciting, functional and implementable plan for the Central Waterfront.

This can be achieved by updating an existing approved plan, known as the Central Waterfront Hub Framework which was endorsed by Council on June 11, 2009.

The executive summary explains the purpose here.


555 5

Yellow border shows area covered by Central Waterfront  Hub Framework, endorsed by Vancouver City Council June, 2009.Source: Central Waterfront Hub Framework , 2009


The Hub Framework was a bold plan. It aspired to re-connect Downtown Vancouver to its waterfront. One of the ways to accomplish this was to re-open the north end of Granville Street.  It also called for another north/south street through the site of 555 West Cordova and requested that a 20 metre right-of-way be reserved for the future Cordova Connector.

A commercial space capacity analysis was conducted and, through illustrative plans, a potential total of about 134,000 square metres (1.44 million square feet) was shown, mostly for office space. The built form was mostly in large towers over a platform on top of the railway tracks.



 Central Waterfront Hub Framework Illustrative Concept Plan, page 35


For the 555 West Cordova site, the “Illustrative Concept Plan” in the Hub Framework suggested an office building of about 6,100 metres and 11 storeys high, situated in the northwest corner of the site, with a small plaza in front of the building. The eastern half of the site was reserved for the future Cordova Connector.

The Illustrative Concept Plan came with a clear statement of its intent:

It should be stressed that the Illustrative Concept Plan is for illustrative purposes only and that a variety of alternate approaches to the layout and form of development could be considered in further planning work which meet the intent of the Directions and fulfill the Specific Requirements. (Page 35, Hub Framework)

The Framework also clearly established the City of Vancouver’s mandate:

Although the City has no land ownership in the area, nor the ability to finance or undertake the development of a transportation hub, it has a strong interest in seeing it realized due to the major transportation and ‘city building’ benefits that could accrue. As the authority with a mandate for overall land use planning, the City also has a responsibility to propose an integrated vision of what could be achieved and guide the preparation of development proposals by area landowners and stakeholder. (Page 7, Hub Framework).


555 West Cordova is the first development proposal to come forward within the boundaries of the Central Waterfront Hub Framework. No aspects of the Framework have been updated or implemented since 2009 even though implementation steps were laid out in the Framework and in Council direction.

Some elements of the Framework were left for future planning efforts to fully address such as public realm, sea level rise, public benefits, sharing of construction costs and the role of this space for cultural, entertainment, and open space.

Some stakeholders say that there was not enough public review of the Framework at the time. Much has transpired since the Hub Framework was prepared, as outlined below.  Accordingly, before considering any major developments in the Central Waterfront Hub Framework Study area, it is prudent to first at the very least re-fresh the Framework to ensure the best possible outcomes for our future waterfront.


2.2 Re-Connecting Granville Street to the Waterfront: Functional and Fabulous

The Central Waterfront Hub Framework showed the potential to extend Granville Street northward to provide the key north-south access to the waterfront.

Much work has been done in recent years to redesign the ramps off Granville Bridge and improve the amenity of Granville Street as a Downtown focus. The reconnection of Granville to the waterfront is the last major urban repair needed in this corridor. It requires that part of the parkade under Granville Square be demolished.

Cadillac Fairview owns Granville Square and the parkade and the Granville street alignment north of Cordova.  The linking of Granville Street to the waterfront not only provides for  the key access, but significantly improves the look and feel of Granville Street and enables the parkade to be detached from Waterfront Station, enhancing the attractiveness of this important heritage building.

The recent announcement about the potential redevelopment of Sinclair Centre is a key opportunity to re-evaluate the Granville Street treatment and the pedestrian bridge over Cordova to greatly improve the streetscape and enhance the heritage values of the whole precinct.


555 6

 Granville Street, February 2015. The main street of Downtown Vancouver terminates in a parkade which cuts the Downtown off from its waterfront


555 7

 Granville Street in the 1940s, with street opened up to the ferry docks and North Shore mountains. City archives


Given that Cadillac Fairview owns 555 West Cordova and the Granville Street access r-o-w- north of Cordova, it is prudent that the implementation of the Granville Street extension be figured out in tandem with the consideration of 555 West Cordova development proposal and the Sinclair Centre re-development. Ballpark cost estimates and possible cost-sharing formulas need to be prepared for the Granville extension.


2.3 Achieving Neighbourliness and Sensitivity to the Heritage Context

The strategically important site of 555 West Cordova links the Gastown Historical Area to the Central Business District and occupies a rare and precious location between the historically significant Canadian Pacific Railway Station to the west and the timeless Landing to the east.   The current proposal at 555 West Cordova does little to honour this context, with a tower that looms over the heritage buildings and crowds out the site.

This is not a matter of style or architectural character, although the architectural gymnastics used to create visual contrast has fallen far short of successful, as evidenced in part by the UDP rejection. But this issue is really a matter of size, bulk, scale and placement on the site.  A building with a location further back from the street and more in scale and height with its two immediate neighbours should be one of the alternative designs to consider for this site.

There is nothing in policy or common sense that calls for a landmark statement here – a much over-valued aspiration in city-building and place-making. The desired quality of neighbourliness and contextual fit or character may be further assisted through attention to base features, stepbacks, fenestration and material choices as well.


 2.4 A Tremendous Opportunity to Create a Beautiful Street-level Urban Space

There is a tremendous opportunity to create a sizable and notable street-level “urban room” on the subject site, facing Cordova Street toward the south. The proposed development occupies much of the available site area, leaving no public space in which to gather.

The only public space of note in the vicinity is the elevated and windswept corporate plaza at Granville Square at the westerly end of the station. Many people either have no reason to use this space or, worse, don’t even know that it exists. A street level public square on the subject site, framed by the heritage buildings, would become a much loved destination in very short order and contribute mightily to the success of whatever retail, restaurant and other public-serving uses are provided on-site at grade and/or one story above grade. We urge Cadillac Fairview to celebrate the implied public nature of the site.


Several urbanists have noted that creating a plaza at 555 West Cordova may be its best use.


555 6

Proposed site at 555 West Cordova. Photo by Michael Alexander


Look around and you will notice some very special features along this side of Cordova Street. Here are some of them. Firstly notice the scale of the buildings at this location. There is the grand scale of the station with its classical entrance porticos, the warm brick and careful detailing that is comfortable to the humans that walk past, as are the retail stores and restaurants.

The war memorial sculpture is perfectly located at the transition to the open space, currently the parking lot. The east side of the building works with the Landing to create one of the great missed opportunities in the city—a real urban square. The Landing and the station encloses and define a space that is uniquely perfect for a small urban square. A square with two fine architectural sides and a spectacular view to the north. (Ray Spaxman, January  21, 2015, reprinted in Georgia Straight)


2.5 Maximizing Access to the Waterfront and Preservation of Public Views

Residents, workers, and tourists deserve and expect access to the waterfront from street level. The views to the working waterfront, Burrard Inlet and the North Shore are unrivalled from this location. There is also the semi-public view from SFU to the south to be considered as well.

The Downtown Waterfront Working Group would be willing to support Cadillac Fairview in either reducing or eliminating the proposed road dedication that constrains the buildable site and precludes a better design outcome as identified above.

Two options present themselves at the outset: either a) complete elimination of vehicular access by providing access by other routes (notably the foot of Granville Street) or, failing that b) provision of the narrowest possible right of way to the water, say on the order of 12m/40ft.

The Central Waterfront Hub Framework proposed a much smaller building at 555 West Cordova and it sets the building well to the north to help enhance the heritage values of the Waterfront Station and the Landing..

The vigorous current and planned building activity in the Downtown and Gastown will add thousands of more workers and residents. Careful consideration is needed to what strategic public spaces need to be saved, redeveloped or enhanced to realize  “Green City’’ qualities.

We note that Transportation 2040 adopted by Council in October 2012 stated that the City’s role in transportation included: Building and maintaining City owned public rights of way and infrastructure, including streets, sidewalks, and public spaces. Policy W.2.2 specifically states as an action “Create public plazas and gathering spaces throughout the city.”

This policy anticipates and reinforces ambitious transportation targets for transit, cycling and walking and decreased vehicle use. This could be further increased if aspirations such as the Downtown Streetcar and additional bus services are achieved as planned for the transit hub location on Cordova Street as outlined and conceptually designed in the Downtown Transportation Plan

Currently, tens of thousands of people pass through Waterfront Station daily. Nothing holds them. A beautifully designed public space with the right mix of retail, restaurants, entertainment, pubs, etc can turn the Waterfront into a very special people place. The role of the 555 West Cordova in the broader public realm plan for the Downtown needs to be carefully considered.


2.6 Parking Issues Warrant a Closer Look

Cadillac Fairview wants to build the absolute minimum number of parking spaces under 555 West Cordova for two reasons (16 spaces are proposed for a building accommodating well over 2000 workers).  First, digging at the harbour’s edge is very expensive and may create environmental problems. Second, Cadillac Fairview wants to re-use existing spaces in their other buildings since their parking occupancy rate in their existing off-street parkades is now only 55%- meaning that 45% of their spaces remain empty during peak times.

They own a total of 1,331 parking spaces in their buildings near the waterfront, according to the transportation impact study by Bunt and Associates. The use of existing parking spaces requires a major parking relaxation. Contrast this situation to Cadillac Fairview’s comments on the Hub Framework in 2009 stating that they were concerned about their parking supply and parking revenue losses if Granville Street was extended to the waterfront.

The City of Vancouver has not formulated policy on the re-purposing or re-using of existing off-street parking spaces. This should be done in a comprehensive way for the whole Downtown before a decision is made for one landowner. The implications for the decrease in demand for vehicle parking should be made in light of the increased demand for car sharing, walking, cycling and transit and also in light of the over-supply of city-owned spaces in EasyPark facilities.


2.7 Better Transportation Solutions may be Possible

It is important to consider the potential development in this area when considering the proposal at 555 Cordova. The area must function as a total entity, as obviously no roads exist and the new road network must work as a complete network for the 1.45 million square feet of development planned for the Hub area.

The key to this road network is, and always has been, the extension of Granville Street as the primary road access for the area from the current downtown road network. Due to the non-connected nature of the other north-south downtown streets, proposed roads such as the Cordova Connector will always be secondary or minor road connections to the existing network. The Hub Framework recognized this in both right-of-way requirements as well as road network evaluation and concept planning.

The Central Waterfront Hub Framework shows a north-south road running through 555 West Cordova. The “right in and right out” access of Cordova Connector to Cordova has been raised by many as a problematic intersection at the entrance of Gastown. This is because of the complex offset nature of the intersection with high pedestrian volumes and turning limitations, combined with the one way routing of Water Street as it connects with a single westbound lane on Cordova.

Traffic volumes have decreased since the Hub Framework transportation studies were completed and parking by-law requirements have been reduced. This suggests that vehicle and  bus circulation patterns should be re-examined. This may lead to a re-design of the proposed road network, including a rethink of the need for the Cordova Connector.

In addition, the Canada Line has greatly increased the transit volumes at Waterfront Station, while future increases in the number of bus and Seabuses will add more transit traffic. Bus circulation/layover is an issue today and will be exacerbated with additional buses. Bicycle storage is also inadequate and additional space will be needed for those ending or beginning their trip at Waterfront Station. Based on the targets in Transportation 2040, the passengers accessing or exiting the Waterfront Station will grow considerably in the future.

West Cordova Street in front of Waterfront Station has been identified as a potential safety hazard. Some repairs have been completed in recent years but further work is required. The road is built on a cavity held up by pylons and a more robust reinforcement solution is needed.


2.8 Preserving our Heritage

The building known as the “Landing” on the east and the Waterfront Station on the west frame the development site. These two buildings are among Vancouver’s finest heritage buildings.  The design challenge becomes how to enhance or at least not to detract from these two very significant buildings.

There are examples around the world where historic railway stations have become new centerpieces for city life. This has often involved providing more plaza space around the historic building as well as ensuring new buildings complement the old. In many cases additional floorspace and mixed uses have been added to the stations as part of the refurbishment.


2.9 Coordinated Effort of Key Players will Enhance Possibilities for the Waterfront

Cadillac Fairview owns several other properties in the area, including the Waterfront Station, office towers at 200 Granville Street, 250 Howe Street, 200 Burrard Street and the parking garage at 900 Canada Place. Accordingly, Cadillac Fairview’s short and long term planning aspirations can have a very significant impact on the future of our Waterfront. The other major players are Carrera Holdings, Port Metro Vancouver, CP Rail, and TransLink.

At the time the Hub Framework was created, Vancouver Whitecaps FC owner, Greg Kerfoot, was aspiring to locate a new soccer stadium on the waterfront. Kerfoot has since entered into a long term lease agreement with BC Place. Carrera Holdings (owned by Kerfoot) has considerable property interests in the waterfront, owning the Landing, the land parcels associated with the railway tracks and they have recently obtained a rezoning for a 31-storey office  tower, with FSR of 24, at 320 Granville on the south side of Cordova at Granville (presently occupied by a parkade).

Port Metro Vancouver officials have expressed an interest in possibly re-visiting the utility and efficiency of railyards on the Central Waterfront vis a vis serving port needs. No contact has been made with CP Rail to date. Presumably both West Coast Express and SkyTrain tracks will remain where they are as the waterfront redevelops. TransLink is also a significant player and would need to update its long term transit forecasts for the Hub, including the Seabus and bus movements as well as West Coast Express and SkyTrain stations.

The recent chemical fire in a container also raises issues of container shuttling adjacent to the heart of the Downtown and transit hub.


2.10 Job Space in the Metro Core

An intensive investigation of job space for the Downtown and Central Broadway was completed in 2007 as part of the Metro Core Jobs and Economy Land Use Plan. This study estimated the supply and demand for office space and was a catalyst for the Hub Framework in finding more space for jobs.

Over 2,000,000 square feet of office space has already been approved in recent years and many industry experts are predicting an over-supply for several years to come. Also, the City is interested in significantly increasing job space in Central Broadway.

Office supply/demand figures need to be updated for changing conditions and to determine where the City is at in terms of forecast supply and demand. It definitely appears that “as much as we can as fast as we can” strategy is not needed given current circumstances.


2.11 Risk/Rewards of  Pausing to Refresh Central Waterfront Hub Framework

Cadillac Fairview has owned Waterfront Station and the parking lot at 555 West Cordova for many years. Cadillac Fairview has been working with the City on the application for 555 West Cordova during the last 18 months. Had timelines gone according to plans, the Development Permit Board would have considered the development in March 2015. Cadillac Fairview is considering the comments of the Urban Design Panel and is expected to re-submit a revised development application sometime this year.

It appears that many important details about this development have not yet been worked out even though the development application was supposed to advance to a March Development Permit Board meeting, including:

  • The benefit to the City in exchange for the very significant parking relaxation
  • An updated analysis on whether the Cordova Connector should be pedestrian/cycling/emergency vehicle access only
  • How and when to finance the reconstruction of West Cordova
  • No information has come from the City on how the right of way for the extension of Granville Street is being secured, its relationship to the Sinclair Centre re-development and more generally how the Central Waterfront Hub Framework is being implemented.

Cadillac Fairview has no holding costs for this land and will continue to get revenues from parking as well as using part of the space for the Steamworks Pub patio seating. There is an oversupply of office space already approved so there is no urgency to approve more space.

The many issues described above paint a picture of prudence in pausing to refresh the Central Waterfront Hub Framework and then coming back and evaluating the proposal for 555 West Cordova. The review may even improve the design parameters for Cadillac Fairview if it is discovered that vehicular access is not necessary for the Cordova Connector.

The review may also result in enhanced value to Cadillac Fairview with the potential for new development sites opening up on the extension of Granville Street.


  • Conclusions

The future of the Downtown waterfront is too important to ignore. A wrong step with the first building at 555 West Cordova within the Waterfront Hub area can jeopardize the future of the entire waterfront, given that so much hinges on securing the extension of Granville Street, also owned by Cadillac Fairview.

It is most unfortunate that Vancouver does not have an updated vision and plan of action for its last remaining Downtown waterfront properties and for the most important transportation hub in the region. The Downtown Waterfront Working Group is requesting the City of Vancouver to:

  • Re-fresh the Central Waterfront Hub Framework to incorporate changes in the key drivers since 2009 when the Framework was adopted, including alternatives for the transportation network.
  • Consider the development proposal for 555 West Cordova only after the Central Waterfront Hub Framework is updated  in the context of what Cadillac Fairview and the other landowners can do to help implement the Hub Framework, enhance downtown waterfront access, heritage values and the public realm.

Taking the time to refresh the Central Waterfront Plans and then evaluating a range of options for 555 West Cordova has virtually no downside for advancing City’s interests Let’s pause and take the time to create practical plans for a fabulous waterfront and produce enduring value for residents, workers, visitors and the business community.



 1. Proposed Development

Applicant: The development application was submitted on behalf of Cadillac-Fairview Corp Ltd. (property manager) and Ontrea Inc. (Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan), the property owner, by their architects (B + H Architects in Vancouver and Chicago-based Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture).

Height: 26 storeys with a total height of 127.1 metres (417 feet)

Floor Area: Applicant’s submission states 37,503 sq metres (403,678 sq. ft. net) is proposed, about same floor area as Granville Square office tower, also owned by Ontrea and managed by Cadillac Fairview. Note: Notification letter from City staff states that 37,953 sq. metres (408,522 sq. ft.) is proposed.

Site Area: The development site (current parking lot) is approximately 2,332 square metres (25,000 sq. ft.,) with a little less than half of this area proposed to be reserved for a 20-metre (66 feet) right-of-way for the future Cordova Connector.  The total site area is much larger as it includes both the parking lot and the Station, 7 653 sq. metres (82,376.2 sq. ft.).

Floor Space Ratio (FSR): With a maximum FSR of 9.0 for the site under existing zoning, and the existing Waterfront Station building being 15 573 sq. metres (189,154 sq. ft.) in size (an FSR of 2.3), there is considerable undeveloped potential remaining. The proposed new floor area represents an FSR of 4.9, resulting in a total FSR of 7.2. The applicant’s submission states that FSR 6.87 is proposed. An FSR of 16.4 is calculated if site area is limited to the parking lot, and it is 30.5 if area for the Cordova Connector is excluded.

Parking: 16 disabled parking spots provided on site. All other parking, 251 spaces, is proposed to be provided off site in 4 existing properties owned by Cadillac Fairview, re-using existing parking spaces in existing developments, as follows:

200 Granville Street: 28 spaces

250 Howe Street: 63 spaces

200 Burrard Street: 58 spaces

900 Canada Place: 102 spaces

A parking relaxation is needed to first, permit the parking to be located off-site and  secondly, the Parking By-law states off-site parking is to be within 150 metres of the development. Many of the proposed parking spaces are well beyond 150 metres.


2. Planning Regulations and Policy Context


Land use and development throughout the city is governed by the Zoning and Development By-law which divides the city into districts, each having its own regulations regarding land use, density, height, and so on. This site is located in area B of a comprehensive development district known as “Downtown District” whose regulations are contained in the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP).

The maximum FSR which can be achieved in this area is 9.0 (increased from 7.0 in a set of DODP text amendment undertaken in May, 2009 to implement the conclusions of the Metro Core Jobs and Economy Land Use Plan approved in October, 2008 “to provide sufficient job space potential in the Downtown to meet future demand, to strengthen and (to) intensify commercial uses in the Central Business District (CBD)”.

The FSR of proposed development is less than what can be considered on the site under current zoning regulations. However, it is more than 3 times  the maximum if calculated on the basis of the development site alone (existing parking lot) and excluding the site area proposed for providing a vehicular right-of-way. ( 30.5 FSR compared to 9 FSR).

It is important to understand that the maximum FSR set out in the DODP is not an “outright” maximum like we find in typical zoning districts across the city. Rather it is more like a “conditional” maximum which is subject to requirements and conditions. See the phrase underlined below in the Density regulations in Section 3 of the DODP for area B:

  1. Subject to conformity with the guidelines and subject to subsections 2, 3 and 4, the maximum permitted density (floor space ratio) shall in no case exceed the amount shown for each of the density areas within the district as illustrated on Map 1 and described below: … in the area denoted by the letter ‘B’, the total density for all permitted uses must not exceed a floor space ratio of 9.00;

The Downtown Design Guidelines (6 pages) set out some general Urban Design criteria for new development: Public Open Space, Social and Cultural Amenities (including Heritage), Views, Environmental Considerations and Physical Design. It is fair to say that density needs to be earned through adherence to guidelines and urban design performance, as the introduction to the Guidelines states:


It is important to note that the densities listed in the Official Development Plan are maximums and not always necessarily attainable. In order to achieve the optimum density for any particular development, these guidelines will require close scrutiny and analysis by the architect and developer.

It is also important to bear in mind the following:

The design guidelines replace the yard requirements, the light angle controls and daylight obstruction angle requirements associated with regulatory Zoning District Schedules. Greater flexibility and variation and more interesting design is thus possible. The design guidelines are intended to go further than this insofar as they represent a quality control basis upon which to base design decisions and judgments.



The subject site is located In the ‘shoulder’ CBD area, west, east and north of the core CBD  and the basic maximum height is 91.4 metres (300 feet). However, the DODP provides some discretion to the Development Permit Board:

After considering the criteria, the Development Permit Board may increase the basic maximum height to no more than 137.2 m.

The criteria listed in the DODP are as follows:

  • the size and location of the site;
  • the relationship of the development with nearby residential areas;
  • the intent of this Plan;
  • Council’s policies and guidelines;
  • the bulk, location, and overall design of the building;
  • the building’s effect on the site, surrounding buildings, streets, and existing views;
  • the amount of open space;
  • the effects of overall design on the general amenity of the area;
  • the provision of pedestrian amenities and public realm requirements;
  • the preservation of the character and general amenity desired for the area;
  • overshadowing and view obstruction;
  • environmental criteria set out in Council’s design guidelines; and
  • the submission of any advisory group, property owner, or tenant.

 The proposed development  has a height of 127.1 metres (417 feet). The proposed tower is  26 storeys with floorplates of 1,600 sq. metres (17,222 sq. ft.). As the proposed development  would exceed the basic maximum height by 35.7 m (117 feet) or 39 percent, the criteria listed above must be considered by the applicant and Planning staff. The applicant’s submission does not explain how the development performs in relation to these criteria.

The criteria include Council-approved policies and guidelines. This means that the Downtown Design Guidelines will be important not only for evaluating the proposed density but also the proposed height.

The View Protection Guidelines will also apply. The applicant has identified two applicable view corridors which limit building height as proposed: E1 (Cambie Bridge at 6th Ave.) and 9.1 (Cambie Street between 10th and 11th Ave.).

An applicable policy includes the Central Waterfront Hub Framework, adopted by City Council in 2009 (see more detail below). The Framework provides a vision, objectives and an illustrative concept plan for a fully-integrated multi-model transportation hub and mixed-use development on the waterfront area north of Waterfront Station extending from the foot of Granville and Richards Streets, with Cordova Street on the south.


 3. Approval Process 

The proposal is being considered by the City as a development (DE) application, with decision about it to be made by the Development Permit Board, a body comprising the Director of Planning, City Engineer and City Manager). There is no aspect of this application needing approval or decision by Vancouver City Council, although Council may choose to be involved if it feels its policies are not being adhered to or implemented, such as the policy contained in the Central Waterfront Hub Framework.

There was no Open House for this development application but it was reviewed by the Urban Design Panel on January 28, 2015, and received a vote of non-support (2-4). The duty of this 13-member Panel is to advise Council, the Director of Planning, or the Development Permit Board on the Urban Design of any proposed development and the Panel may advise the City Council or any of its Boards on any matter where urban design is involved.

To summarize the minutes of this UDP meeting, there were unanimously held concerns about the proposed public realm (amount, character, configuration, all of these resulting from provision for a future Cordova Connector), the pedestrian and other connections to the future hub/concourse to the north, the small separation of the proposed tower from The Station, the references and relationship to heritage context, and sustainability. Some of these concerns  are related to the building envelope, including height and density.

It can be noted that challenging or controversial development and rezoning applications can be taken to UDP review as a non-voting workshop item in which wide-ranging discussion about proposed development is encouraged, including exploration of context and options. Another possibility for UDP review is an “enhanced review”, typically for proposals for “higher buildings” (on the few sites in the Downtown District where buildings above 450 ft can be considered) where the City invites 2 internationally-renowned architects to join the UDP.

The Downtown Waterfront Working Group believes that the site and situation is too important to be dealt with only by the Development Permit Board. It is asking for Council to give direction on the review of the Central Waterfront Hub Framework in advance of this application being considered by the Development Permit Board.


Fast Facts about the Proposed Development

Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited is the owner and developer of the site. They also own the Waterfront Station as well 200 Granville Square, immediately west of the Station, Pacific Centre Mall and several other properties in Downtown Vancouver. They describe their corporation as follows.

The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited is one of North America’s largest owners, operators and developers of commercial real estate. Cadillac Fairview focuses on developing and managing high quality office, retail and mixed-use properties in Canada and the United States, as well as international investments in real estate companies and investment funds.

With a portfolio valued at more than $28 billion, Cadillac Fairview and its affiliates own and manage over 36 million square feet of leasable space at 66 properties across North America, including some of Canada’s landmark developments, such as Toronto-Dominion Centre, Toronto Eaton Centre, Pacific Centre and Chinook Centre. (

The proposed development at 555 West Cordova is 26 storeys high with a height of 127.1 metres ( 417 feet).

The  area of the building, according to the City’s development application notice, is 37,953 square metres, or 408,522 square feet. This is approximately the same size of the office complex at 200 Granville Street. The proposed FSR is 7.2 (according to our calculations) which is within a possible 9 FSR that can be allowed for the site, subject to a number of conditions.

The building appears much larger than the stated floor space area because the applicant is using unused development rights associated with the Waterfront Station. An FSR of 16.4 is calculated if the site area is limited to the parking lot, and it is 30.5 FSR if the area for the Cordova Connector is excluded. This fact explains why the proposed building looks so crowded on the site.

City staff requested Cadillac Fairview to offset its proposed building to make way for the Cordova Connector, a street designed to connect Cordova to the waterfront area north of the Station. The City secured  a  20 metre (66 ft) road right-of-way west of  the Landing building back in the 1980s when  Cadillac Fairview acquired ownership of the Waterfront Station. The architect for Cadillac Fairview has stated that this request has made the building design particularly challenging. It is not clear, however, at this point whether or not a road is needed and if it is, what the width should be. A refresh of the overall Waterfront is needed to determine the utility of a road at this location.

The proposed building could accommodate more than 2000 workers.  Cadillac Fairview is proposing 16 parking spaces on site and 251 spaces offsite in their existing parkades. They have submitted revised development applications for four of their existing buildings to accommodate this change. Many of the parking spaces are located beyond the 150 metres required by the City of Vancouver Parking By-law and a parking relaxation is required.

The proposal is being considered by the City as a development (DE) application, with a decision to be made by the Development Permit Board, a body comprising the Director of Planning, City Engineer and City Manager. There is no aspect of this application needing approval or decision by Vancouver City Council, although Council may choose to be involved if it feels its policies are not being adhered to or implemented, such as the policy contained in the Central Waterfront Hub Framework.

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  1. The Waterfront HUB plan needs a total redo. Extending the road network and motor vehicle access to the waterfront is a poor idea especially when it involves destroying the square. Instead, they should expand the square and pedestrian space by the water and work on connecting and animating it.

  2. The arm-chair retirees behind this are profoundly disconnected. Going through the laborious process of re-doing a plan that was done 6 years ago cannot resolve the fundamental deal-breaker; the railyards. During original consultation, CPR & PMV said rail yards aren’t going anywhere, yet the city still did the plan with the proviso of requiring to take away tracks, and bump them towards the water, oddly where there’s no room; Waterfront Road is already between track and water’s edge. It’s not even something that excessive money could correct. It is, i m p o s s i b l e.

    More critically, the critical need for railyards (caused by immense demand for container traffic), has soared in the last 6 years, and the Port and terminal operators are scrambling to increase container lands on constrained sites. There’s now a much better, justifiable case to relocate the SkyTrain & West Coast Express tracks, to make room for more railyards.

    And their “exciting idea” of access to the actual edge of the waterfront at that area (instead of views towards it) is plain goofy; walk down there sometime. On the west side of the SeaBus (towards Canada Place) is the PMV staff parking lot and an aquatic parking lot for a cruise ship. On the east side, a Heliport. It is not worthy of connection, particulary for the substantial prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. There are so many other places not far away to access the waterfront.

    And all of that is of no reason to moratorize active projects. This smells of a poorly-conjured attack on 555 West Cordova, something that these Group members were subjected to themselves for years, from cranky, irrational people in opposition.

    1. Vanessa – if the existing Hub plan is as valid and useful as you say, then honour it. An 11 storey/65,000sf building is called for on that site in the plan, not one 26 storeys and over 400,000sf. I think even ardent defenders of the plan, like you, might agree that something is seriously amiss here. None of this has to do with aesthetics, even though I agree with the Urban Design Panel’s rejection of the submission shown here.

      Oh, and by the way, maybe the City can also finally produce the Implementation Program it was instructed to by Council back in 2009. You know, detailed design guidelines, infrastructure requirements, that sort of thing. Maybe even do so with SOME tiny bit of public process.

      Too much to ask?

      1. Firstly I should correct myself and others; there was a ‘study’ which resulted in a report entitled as a ‘framework’. The retiree group have been misleading by claiming that this is a “existing approved plan” although they concede it “WAS a bold plan.” Other policy (half a dozen) and regulatory plans (by no means dormant) are in effect in this area and that is what all parties rely on.

        Secondly, I do not find the study valid or useful. It was all before I immigrated, but I overheard that the initiative was in response to a football stadium proposal, which had advanced swiftly and significantly in private, so that when released, developed substantial traction and fan cheering, but caught the City off guard. So, the response to slow things down was “let’s have a study.”

        As Brian Jackson recently asserted (as rationale for ignoring further study), “The technical analysis was done.” And that analysis determined implementation was pointless. It’s in the document in several places, not hidden or euphemized, so surely, no one believes that the Council’s ok to implement was sincere.

        I open it and immediately saw it was very much an extra-jurisdictional study; excluding the national-owned (and regulated) PMV lands and waters, and the nation-regulated railyards, only about 1/3 of the study area is purely within City control. And, the City owns no lands in the area, except for road ROW, which, if further excluded, means that the actual amount of the buildable study area to which the City has absolutist control is ….. fractional. Which makes it all more precious, keep reading.

        Finally, although the sample “concept plan” (which was stressed ONLY for the illustratively-challenged), shows the Cadillac site as 65,000sf, BUT that was contingent on almost 1.3 million sf of floorspace (some as high as 26-storeys), being erected on PMV/CPR lands, which have zero chance of implementation.

        Given precious available land in the business district, and any narrowing of roads won’t be going towards buildable, there’s now a much better, justifiable case for the Cadillac site to be even higher.

  3. I strongly advise a Vancouver planner visit to Puerto Madero before any more mistakes are made. And whilst there pop in to see the tango dancers on Plaza Dorego, San Telmo. Ask Debra for directions: she knows San Telmo!