CITY OF VANCOUVER SPECIAL COUNCIL MEETING MINUTES DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER SKYLINE STUDY APRIL 7 AND APRIL 22, 1997 A special meeting of the Council of the City of Vancouver was held at 7:30 p.m., on Monday, April 7, 1997 in the Council Chamber, third floor, City Hall. Subsequently, the meeting was reconvened at 7:30 p.m. on April 22, 1997. PRESENT: Mayor Philip Owen Councillor Don Bellamy Councillor Nancy Chiavario (absent on April 22 due to Civic Business) Councillor Jennifer Clarke Councillor Alan Herbert Councillor Lynne Kennedy Councillor Daniel Lee (absent on April 22) Councillor Don Lee Councillor Gordon Price Councillor Sam Sullivan ABSENT: Councillor George Puil for both meetings (Civic Business on April 7) CLERK: Gary MacIsaac The minutes represent a consolidated record of the proceedings over the two evenings for ease of reading. PURPOSE OF MEETING Before Council was a Policy Report dated February 20, 1997 entitled Downtown Vancouver Skyline Study - Recommended Option . The meeting was held to hear submissions from the public regarding this report. RECOMMENDATIONS TO COUNCIL The Policy Report before Council recommended a policy for downtown building heights to achieve a preferred profile for the Downtown Vancouver skyline. A work program and resources for further work were also put forward for consideration. The report contained the following recommendations from the Director of Central Area Planning: A. THAT the recommended skyline and general policy for higher buildings, as detailed in Appendix C of this report, be approved as the basis for adjustments to the maximum permitted heights in the Downtown Official Development Plan (ODP), noting that in the area covered by this ODP: - buildings up to but not exceeding 600' high will only be considered in the current 450' height area of the Central Business District, north of Robson Street; - buildings up to 400' high will be considered in the north westerly current 300' height area of the Central Business District, generally south east of Bute and Pender Streets; - in no case will building heights be considered that intrude into adopted view corridors (except the Queen Elizabeth Park view corridor); and - elsewhere, buildings significantly exceeding current height specifications will generally not be considered. B. THAT staff report back with text amendments for the Downtown Official Development Plan and design guideline amendments regarding the proposed changes to the permitted building heights and a process for considering higher buildings. C. THAT buildings exceeding the current 450' height limit will not be considered until guidelines, zoning text amendments, review criteria and a process to enable the consideration of buildings at this scale are completed. D. THAT the Skyline Study Advisory Committee be thanked for their time and effort and, further, that they be consulted during the implementation and follow-up work that is outlined in this report. E. THAT the preparation of the text amendments and design guidelines for the implementation of the revised height limits be undertaken as soon as staff resources become available to do this work, expected to be in 1998; and further that a budget in the amount of $6,000 be approved in the 1998 budget (subject to the availability of funds and priorities) for public meetings and computer resources to do this work. The Director of Central Area Planning presented the following alternative to recommendation E: F. THAT $18,000, as an addition to the 1997 Operating Budget, be approved for consultants, public meeting costs and computer resources to proceed with preparation of zoning text amendments, design guidelines and the appropriate review process for immediate implementation of revised height limits in the Downtown District. The General Manager of Community Services noted the foregoing recommendations are adding further complexity to the regulatory environment, and submitted A-F for Consideration. Also before Council was a memorandum from the Director of Central Area Planning (on file in the City Clerk s Office), dated April 4, 1997 which provided Council with an additional view of the recommended skyline from Choklit Park at 7th Avenue and Spruce Street, and responded to the point raised by the General Manager of Community Services which suggested these proposals will add complexity to the regulatory environment. STAFF OPENING COMMENTS Mr. Larry Beasley, Director of Central Area Planning, advised staff and the consultant are recommending a skyline that would allow some higher buildings in the core of the Central Business District, north of Robson Street between Howe and Thurlow Streets, but would limit these heights to 600 feet to stay below the profile of the North Shore mountains. Elsewhere, staff recommend taller buildings generally not be given further consideration. If Council wishes to see increases in height considered as recommended in this study, important follow-up work will be necessary to adjust the zoning, develop the guidelines and finalize the exact approval process. Mr. Beasley provided the following summary of the overall findings of the Skyline Study: - The build-out prototype is not flat from most vantage points but we have to acknowledge that it will block many views that we enjoy today; - The prototypes are not dramatically different from each other due to the limited number of development sites, particularly in the core, and the height restrictions of the view corridors; - Landmark towers in the central business district core must be significantly taller (550 to 750 feet) to be noticeable in the skyline; and - Achieving a highly stylized or geometrically structured skyline is problematic because there aren't many sites to develop, the view corridors create their own shape and the evolving skyline is very dynamic; - The opportunities for buildings above 450 feet is particularly limited in practical terms. Staff would expect about 5 sites with 3 of these buildings between 500 and 550 feet and only two buildings at 600 feet; and - Given the market, staff do not expect all these sites to be developed in the short term. These buildings will likely appear over a 15- to 20-year period. Mr. Ray Spaxman, consultant, with the aid of a visual slide presentation, reviewed the following prototypes for Council: - A Build Out scenario, which shows what may happen should all development sites in the downtown be developed in accordance with current height limits, density allowances and design guidelines; - A scenario with landmark skylines which features two towers which punch through the skyline to a height of 600 feet; - A second scenario with landmark skylines that includes two buildings near Georgia and Burrard at 750 feet; - A gap tooth prototype which locates eight buildings between 450 and 550 feet in height to create a number of towers rising above the surrounding buildings; - A dome skyline which locates 12 towers between 450-550 feet at locations centred in the Central Business District and Triangle West (north of Georgia Street). In this scheme the highest buildings would be located near Burrard and Georgia Streets. Mr. Michael Gordon, Planner, reviewed public feedback and advised the following messages were received from the open houses and public meetings: - The skyline should complement, not compete, with the natural setting; - Blockage to mountain views should be minimized; - The skyline is an important symbol to the city; - Landmark buildings should achieve a variety of community objectives; In summarizing the views of those who attended the open houses or public meetings, Mr. Gordon advised the comments that were heard and recorded reflect three different perspectives: - Some of the public believe that buildings should be no higher than current limits, and in some cases they should be lower; - Others believe that some modest increases in heights are acceptable, if the blockage of mountain views is minimized; - Others believe that a small number of dramatically higher buildings (750 feet) are needed to reflect the size and stature of Vancouver. Mr. Larry Beasley concluded that the recommended skyline is not one of the prototypes that was presented at the open houses but consists of several of them. The recommendations before Council were intended to achieve the following: - Contain buildings that exceed current height limits within the core of the Central Business District; - Suggest that 600 feet, which is 150 feet or 12-16 storeys above current height limits, be the maximum height that might be considered; - Ensure adherence to the view corridor height limits, with the exception of the Queen Elizabeth View Corridor. These limits mean that there will only be the potential for about two buildings at 600 feet and elsewhere there will be the potential for about three new buildings above 450 feet. - Allow the potential for two buildings to be at about 400 feet near Melville, Pender and Bute Streets; - Ensure these higher buildings would only be permitted in extraordinary circumstances and require a special review process and Council approval to ensure a high level of architectural excellence is attained; - Ensure these buildings offer significant community benefits including significant additions to downtown open spaces, or assist with the retention of heritage buildings or the provision of low-cost housing. Prior to the commencement of the second meeting on April 22, 1997, Council was in receipt of a memorandum from Mr. Larry Beasley (on file in City Clerk s Office), which responded to issues raised by the public at the April 7 meeting. Mr. Beasley outlined the contents of this memorandum for Council. The intent was to respond to some confusion over the implications regarding densities and resulting development impacts in the Downtown that will result from staff s proposal for increased building heights. SPEAKERS The Mayor then called for speakers, and a total of 23 delegations addressed Council over the two evenings. The following speakers were not in favour of the recommendations before Council: - Lin Bhompas, Fairview Slopes Residents Association - Gail Davidson - Jezrah Hearne - Jean Gerber - Eleanor Hadley - Stacey Nixon - Isabel Minty - Claire Hurley - Sheryl Dawson, Strata Plan LMS 2064 - Connie Fogal - Dr. Linda Buhrenne - Ian Gardiner - Jamie Lee Hamilton, City Hall Watch - Barbara Swiebs - Gerry Altman - John Parker - Hazel Ackner - Jack Singer The foregoing opposed the recommendations before Council on one or more of the following grounds: - Residents of Vancouver love the current setting with mountains as a backdrop, and do not want to see the City ruined by thoughtless development; - Page three of the staff report states that various people have commented that Vancouver s skyline lacks visual interest and there is a need for some taller buildings that reflect Vancouver s contemporary image . Who are these various people, and why has staff not stated their identity? - Residents and visitors find Vancouver spectacular because of the mountains, not because of tall buildings which will obscure the mountains. People visit Vancouver because of its natural beauty, not because it has tall buildings; - The development industry is behind the recommendations contained in this report, and developers are motivated by greed and profit, rather than preserving Vancouver s character; - The open houses and public meetings were sparsely attended and only 221 people submitted comment sheets, of which 17 of these respondents gave no response to the preferred skyline. This is not statistically representative and should not be used to formulate public policy; - The recommendations in the Council report were never publicly presented at the open houses or public meetings. The hybrid option was developed by staff, and this Special Council meeting is the only public consultation on this option; - The options presented to the public at the open houses implied that taller buildings were a given, and the only issue was the manner in which these taller buildings would be assembled; - The public process associated with this Special Council meeting was flawed, and inadequate advertising and notification was conducted. Also, the staff contact list for this meeting and the open houses was selective and favoured those who prefer taller buildings; - Council appears to be serving the interests of a small group of developers, rather than the electorate at large; - A plebiscite should be conducted on this question to hear the true voice of the electorate; - The public should be consulted through the public hearing process, prior to Council deciding on such a significant issue; - It appears as if a final decision on this matter has already been made, and Council is going through the motions of conducting a public process; - The City Planning Department appears to be representing the development community, and not the citizens of Vancouver; - Any further height relaxations in the Downtown core will detrimentally impact the residents of Fairview Slopes; - Residents with vested interests in Vancouver s future should not be considered as NIMBY s; - Tall buildings will result in negative environmental effects, and the Policy Report fails to take this into consideration; - Tall buildings will further impinge upon safety, quality of life and mental health of Vancouver residents; - Activity on the street is necessary to ensure safety in the downtown core. Taller buildings do not encourage activity on the street and could lead to a vacant downtown core on the weekends; - The rate of growth needs to be slowed down. Growth is resulting in increased crime, pollution, and taxes and decreased livability. Council should not consider this change until it has improved transit. Otherwise a bad situation will be made worse; - The potential for growth exists only insofar as it is allowed to be accommodated; - The present trend of Vancouver s development appears to be based on off-shore models in the Pacific Rim such as Tokyo, Macau and Hong Kong, which are polluted concrete neon jungles. Council should look to other urban centres in the world using low-rise models, when enhancing the downtown core; - Approval of these recommendations will set a dangerous precedent and pave the way for future relaxations and more and taller buildings. This is the thin edge of the wedge which will result in view blockage of the City s mountains; - The general policy for higher buildings described in the report is ambiguous and leaves room for loop holes. In particular, the statement that taller buildings must be of architectural excellence is open to abuse, as architectural excellence is difficult to define and is subject to interpretation; - The current skyline, with its tall buildings, is more monotonous than it was 20 years ago; - If Council favours landmark buildings, it should ensure that space in each of these landmark buildings is allocated for low-cost housing; - This study should look at all of Vancouver, and not just the downtown. The following speakers expressed support for the recommendations in the Policy Report before Council: - Peter Phillips - Doug Williams, Downtown Vancouver Association - Peter Busby The foregoing supported the recommendations on one or more of the following grounds: - Staff should be complimented for the informative and professional manner in which this skyline study has been conducted; - What is missing from the skyline is the visual drama that needs to be added to change this city s skyline from being just an interesting profile with numerous non-descript 35 storey buildings, to being a truly spectacular one, with a few 60 storey superior architecturally designed towers, strategically located around this core, which are respectful of all of the terms and conditions currently in place; - The issue of view protection has been properly respected and addressed as existing view corridors will be protected; - The recommendations in the staff report are a breath of fresh air to the development community because they represent a definitive move in another direction that will result in significant public benefits; - The eloquent, powerful and well organized lobby from South False Creek/Fairview that attended the public information meetings does not represent the majority of Vancouverites; - Approval of these policies with the opportunity to develop landmark towers will help stop the trend of businesses moving to the suburbs; - Approval of these recommendations will foster heritage retention and green space. Two additional speakers addressed Council. They were: - Marc Venot - Mark Hasselbach - One speaker expressed support for the concept of landmark buildings which will withstand architectural review and suggested that Council give consideration to a forest option, which would see all slender buildings, which widen at the top, similar to a forest. - One speaker advised that while growth and subsequent development is inevitable, wise, far-sighted planning and stringent guidelines regarding these buildings is of the utmost importance. Ill-placed buildings cannot be removed, but conversely elegant and well designed structures which are well placed and infrequent will add to the City. COUNCIL DECISION The hearing of the public having concluded, Mayor Owen advised that a final decision on this matter would be made at an upcoming Regular meeting of Council, under Unfinished Business. RISE FROM COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE MOVED by Cllr. Bellamy, THAT the Committee of the Whole rise and report. - CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY ADOPT REPORT OF COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE MOVED by Cllr. Bellamy, SECONDED by Cllr. Clarke, THAT the report of the Committee of the Whole be adopted. - CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY * * * * The meetings on April 7 and April 22 both adjourned at approximately 10:00 p.m.