Agenda Index City of Vancouver



Standing Committee on Planning and Environment


Director of Current Planning


Heritage Revitalization Agreement - 211 Columbia





Council has approved a Transfer of Density Policy, amended most recently in July 1997, which permits the transfer of density from donor sites with heritage buildings to recipient sites.

In 1986, Council adopted the Heritage Register which lists 211 Columbia in the "C" category. In addition, the building was designated by the Province in 1971.

Council approved the Terms of Reference for the Gastown Heritage Management Plan in December, 1999. This Plan will recommend a comprehensive set of incentives for Gastown buildings, including a policy for density bonuses and transfers. In advance of this plan, Council agreed, in February 2000, to support a Heritage Revitalization Agreement for 65 Water Street.


This report recommends approval in principle of a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) for the site at 211 Columbia (see map in Appendix A for location). It is proposed to secure rehabilitation of the building, limit the amount of floor space on-site to that already built and provide a density bonus of approximately 3,456 m2 (37,200 sq. ft.) provided that it is transferred to a receiver site in the Central Area. If Council approves these recommendations, staff will prepare an HRA to be presented for Council consideration at Public Hearing.


Description of project: A development application was made in March 1999 to change the use of this largely vacant building from retail and warehouse to retail/hotel/restaurant. It is proposed that the "hotel" would be run as a youth hostel, which would also include management of the restaurant and a small gift shop. Two existing retail approved storefronts on Columbia would remain. The application was supported by staff and the Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee (GHAPC), and was subsequently approved by the Director of Planning, subject to a number of "prior to" conditions. In advancing this project, however, the owner discovered that the rehabilitation costs were significantly higher than expected, thereby rendering the project uneconomic. He then approached Planning staff to determine if any incentives could be provided. He has also noted that the youth hostel tenant may no longer be interested, and that another use, such as housing for Film School students, or office use may be requested.

Heritage Incentives in Gastown: Around the time of the Provincial designation in 1971, the City actively assisted with the promotion of Gastown through cost-sharing and co-ordinating a major "beautification" plan. City support for GHAPC and the Gastown Business Improvement Society has also existed for many years. There have been, however, limited incentives available for individual property owners - primarily some parking relaxations and reduced permit fees.

Gastown Heritage Management Plan: Staff and the Gastown community have agreed that the rehabilitation of heritage buildings and the revitalization of the area depends on a broad range of incentives being made available. In December 1999 Council approved funding and a work programme for the Gastown Heritage Management Plan. It is expected that the density bonuses and transfers, such as that approved in principle for 65 Water, and that proposed in this report for 211 Columbia, will be among the recommendations flowing from the Gastown Heritage Management Plan. It was not intended that this plan would delay consideration of meritorious projects during the time the study was being undertaken.


Use of an HRA: The situation concerning density bonuses and transfers in Gastown is more complicated than elsewhere in the city, as the HA-2 zoning does not regulate density but rather, sets minimum and maximum building heights. For 211 Columbia, as well as 65 Water, a density bonus has been calculated based on the specifics of the heritage project, having regard to direct heritage costs and the most profitable use that can be achieved at this time. An HRA provides the mechanism to create a density bonus, and require it to be transferred off-site in exchange for the rehabilitation and protection of the building.

Comments from GHAPC: On February 16, 2000, GHAPC discussed the proposed HRA and density transfer and decided to support the proposal, provided that there would be further review of the level of conservation achieved, particularly with regard to the windows, paint colours and treatment of the bricks.

Right-of-Way: The property to the immediate west of 211 Columbia is a part of the former CPR right-of-way, and is in the same ownership as 211 Columbia. It is currently used for surface parking. In 1976 Council passed a resolution that portions of the former CPR right-of-way in Gastown "be reserved as public open space." Staff have initiated discussions with the owner in order to obtain the right to develop the property for open space, and, through an HRA, provide an amount of floor space to be transferred off-site. The owner has indicated his general interest in pursing this approach. A report on this matter will be advanced once further details are worked out.


The proposed HRA would achieve the rehabilitation and re-use of this Gastown building, without any additions that would alter the original scale of the building. It would therefore assist with achieving both retention of the built heritage fabric and revitalization of the historic Gastown area.

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Location of 211 Columbia


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