In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26-storey office building at 555 Cordova. Dubbed “The Icepick”, the iconoclastic development would have been shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver.
Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and since it opened in 1914, the proposed remnant building site has been the station’s eastern access and parking lot.
The proposed site is not a separate building lot, and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.
Now Cadillac Fairview is back, this time with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original.
Responding to the objections of the Urban Design Panel, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor. With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval for Icepick 2 in the lead up to the civic election in October 2018.
The timing is odd indeed. The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.
Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Is this another case of civic leaders caving in to developers? Neither version of the Icepick conforms to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the recommended height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It ignores parking requirements, and overwhelms heritage buildings next door.
Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the central waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.
This site is critical to the future of the city. It is the most the most important transportation hub in the region, a heritage precinct and the gateway to Gastown. Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution for this site. Waterfront access, respect for what is there now, and a focus on place-making can be the fruits of the current planning review.
A quick yes to Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the review and seriously undermine future options for the city’s waterfront.
Icepick 2 has to be stopped.