Agenda Index City of Vancouver



Vancouver City Council


Director of Current Planning


656-660 Union Street - Designation and Heritage Revitalization Agreement



A. THAT the two heritage buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street be designated as Protected Heritage Property.

B. THAT Council authorizes the City to enter into a Heritage Revitalization Agreement to secure the rehabilitation of the two buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street and vary provisions of the Zoning and Development By-Law, as indicated under Development Application DE404181, thereby permitting:

C. THAT Council instructs the Director of Legal Services to bring forward for enactment a By-law to designate the two heritage buildings and a By-Law to authorize the Heritage Revitalization Agreement.


The General Manager of Community Services RECOMMENDS approval of the foregoing.


Council’s policy on heritage designation states, in part, that legal designation will be a prerequisite to granting certain bonuses and incentives.


This report seeks Council’s approval to designate and enter into a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) with the owner to secure the conservation and protection of the two pre-1914 buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street.


The site is located in Strathcona zoned RT-3 (see map below). It is a standard parcel size for the area, measuring approximately 7.6 x 40.5 m (25 x 133 ft.). The site is listed in the “B” category on the Vancouver Heritage Register. Historically the site contained three buildings: the existing street-fronting store structure, the now demolished middle dwelling (similar to neighbouring houses) and the existing rear dwelling. Development Application DE404181 proposes to rehabilitate the existing front and rear structures and recreate a centre structure for a total of three dwelling units. The Director of Planning, after considering the concerns of the neighbours, approved this application subject to conditions including Council approval of the requisite HRA and designation. The notification section of this report describes the results of the neighbourhood survey and the required changes to the application to address the issues raised.

Heritage Value: The site at 658 Union Street is listed in the “B” category on the Vancouver Heritage Register and is noted as being an “unique example of [an] early multiple structure”. Three distinct structures were built on the site between 1893 and 1913:

The latter two extant buildings are representative of architectural and historical themes unique to Strathcona including:

Building lots in this section of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood often featured outbuildings which were located to the ‘rear’ of the lot and were accessed from the alley. These additional structures were used in various ways as either first residences, cheap rental accommodation for workers, animal sheds, outbuildings for food production, or wagon and tool storage. The “rear dwelling” at 658 Union Street was erected during Vancouver’s boom period and likely responded to the community’s increasing need for affordable and convenient working-class accommodation. Its utilitarian wood frame design with simple brick chimney and double-hung windows reflects a no-nonsense approach to housing. Over the years, occupants of the lane building included a “labourer”, a “teamster” and several “longshoreman”.

Unlike the alleys and lanes of Strathcona - which continue to reflect the area’s original topography - the streets were levelled out during a massive public works initiative that began at the end of the nineteenth century. The various buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street effectively illustrates this change over time and community business response to massive urban change. The earlier “rear dwelling” remains on the original height of land, whereas the “grocery store” - erected after Union Street was lowered - was built at the new street level enabling customers the convenience of stepping off the new sidewalk into the store withoutneed of stairs. Between 1914 and 1922 the building was listed as a vacant store, but appears to have been used again in 1923.

Revitalization Program and Economic Viability: The owner proposes to restore the exterior of both buildings to their original form and detailing while introducing alterations to make the structures liveable. The rear heritage building will be moved approximately
1.1 m (3.6 ft.) to the north to allow for lane dedication. All original material will be retained and restored or matched where it has deteriorated beyond repair. To make the rehabilitation of the heritage buildings economically viable, the owner has requested zoning variances including a floor space increase (see zoning chart on Page 5). The new density has been introduced towards the centre of the site where the original house once stood and generally in alignment with the neighbouring houses. The owner proposes to make the units saleable strata lots.

The Manager of Real Estate Services analyzed the project and determined that after the additional heritage restoration cost, the development profit is reasonable and not excessive.

The Director of Legal Services has prepared the necessary legal agreements and the notification requirements, as specified in the Vancouver Charter, have been met. The owner is prepared to enter into an HRA and designate the heritage houses. He has agreed that the variances to the Zoning and Development Bylaw represent fair, full and complete compensation in exchange for the designation of the property and has waived his rights to further compensation.

Compatibility with Community Planning Objectives: The intent of the RT-3 District Schedule is to encourage the retention of neighbourhood and streetscape character, particularly through the retention, renovation and restoration of existing character buildings. Furthermore, Section 5.5 of the RT-3 District Schedule states:

“In order to maintain the pre-1920 building character of the neighbourhood and to recognize that some existing buildings exceed regulations established under this Schedule, the Director of Planning may relax any of the regulations of this Schedule for any existing building to allow for minor alterations to provide for increased efficiency and livability of the building.”

By retaining and restoring the two pre-1914 buildings and designing and locating the third dwelling in alignment with and in keeping with the existing streetscape of 1893 houses, Development Application DE404181 meets the intent of the zoning. (See context plan, Appendix A). The conditions of the permit approval set out by the Director of Planning will ensure minimal changes to the two existing heritage structures.

Zoning Variances: The recommended HRA will vary the RT-3 District Schedule as described in the zoning chart below. In addition, the HRA will vary the RT-3 District Schedule to make a number of "conditional" zoning provisions "outright". This is to provide assurance to the owners that they are entitled to rebuild the approved development should it be damaged or destroyed in the future.

Zoning Chart:

RT-3 Regulation



Floor Space

230 m2 (2,481 sq. ft.)

358.3 m² (3,857 sq. ft.)


0.75 FSR

1.26 FSR* **

Min. site area for Infill

418 m² (4.499 sq. ft.)

283.7 m² (3,053.7 sq.ft.)*

Number of stories

2½ stories

3½ stories for north building

Max. site coverage



Frontyard setback

averaging required

not required

Min. sideyard setback:
north building
west side of n. bldg. addition
east side of n. bldg. addition
west side of rear building

1.5 m (4.9 ft.)
1.5 m (4.9 ft.)
1.5 m (4.9 ft.)
1.5 m (4.9 ft.)

not required
0.4 m (1.3 ft.)
0.9 m (3.0 ft.)
0.4 m (1.3 ft.)

Min. rearyard setback

20.0 m (65.6 ft.)

0.3 m (1.0 ft.)


3 required

0 proposed

* The City's standard policy is to base these figures on the existing site area prior to lane dedication. For the purposes of the HRA these figures are based on the site area after lane dedication, resulting in a variance increase of approximately 9 percent.
* * The effective marketable FSR is approximately 1.11 based on the site area prior to lane dedication and after deducting 0.06 FSR of non-marketable outdoor passage floor space.

Notification: The Strathcona Residents Association reviewed and supported the development application and the requested zoning variances. They also wished to see the detailing of the new structure more harmonious with the surrounding streetscape and the authenticity of the rear heritage building better preserved by minimizing changes and additions to it. The conditions of permit approval address both these issues.

As part of the Development Application review process, a sign was placed on the site and 47 surrounding neighbouring property owners were notified. Eight neighbours responded. Four support the project in its entirely, including the immediate neighbours to the west. The four others support the conservation component of the proposal, but have the following principal concerns:

· the proposed development is too dense relative to the single family dwellings typical of this block.

To eliminate or minimize these impacts, staff examined in detail numerous options and required certain changes to the application. The changes represent a careful balancing of minimizing impacts on the livability of the property to the east, adhering to the goals of the zoning and heritage policies, and ensuring the heritage conservation component is viable.

The proposed site coverage leaves little useable outdoor space at grade. To address this issue staff are requiring deletion of the proposed 13.6 m2 (146 sq. ft.) addition to the rear structure. A 2.5 m2 (27 sq. ft.) bay will be permitted in its place. This will increase the length of outdoor open space by approximately 35 percent. The neighbours to the east have also requested that the new centre dwelling be limited in length to something more in keeping with the allowable building depth as described in the RT-3 District Schedule and Guidelines. After carefully examining this issue, staff have determined that the proposed massing and location of the new centre structure is generally consistent with what would be permitted for this site under a typical RT-3 application.

The building length next to the east property line is excessive. This is directly related to the above issue of site coverage. Eliminating of the proposed addition to the rear structure will reduce the site coverage and reduce the building length next to both immediate neighbours.

Entries, decks and coach house configuration would significantly detract from the privacy
of the property to the east. Staff are requiring a number of changes to the application to eliminate or reduce privacy impacts:

· reduce the size and relocate the front roof deck so it is consistent in size and location to traditional house porches with the exception of it being at the second floor level; and
· relocate the principle entrance of the front unit from its current sideyard location.

The extent of proposed changes to the existing rear heritage structure is excessive. This issue was also raised by the Strathcona Residents Association. In response, the following changes are required:
· maintain the original length of the rear dwelling by deleting the proposed addition;
· eliminate the east dormer;
· remove three of the four proposed skylights; and
· restore the lane elevation to it original design by converting the garage space to living space and eliminating the garage door.

The configuration of the front unit lends itself to conversion to an illegal secondary suite. The principle entrance of the front unit will be relocated to the front of the building at street level to prevent a secondary suite from being created. In addition, the bathroom at this level will be limited to two bathroom fixtures.

No parking spaces for three units will exacerbate the current difficulty of finding parking on the street. One temporary parallel parking space will be provided at the rear of the site until the City secures lane dedication from the neighbouring properties, which will likely take several decades. The Director of Planning has determined to relax the formal parking requirement from three required parking spaces to nil for the following reasons:
· there is currently no "legal" lane access and therefore the City is only in a position to require "future" parking spaces;
· the current proposed interior parking space is under-sized and lends itself to being illegally converted to living space in any case; and

The proposed development is too dense relative to the single family dwellings typical of this block. Staff advise that the project meets the intent of the RT-3 zoning by restoring two pre-1914 buildings and introducing the third unit and the floor space increase in a location and form in keeping with the surrounding streetscape. Further, staff believe the required changes to the application address the majority of the neighbourhood concerns while balancing them with the neighbourhood desire to conserve this important heritage resource and the economic viability of the project.

Comments of the Vancouver Heritage Commission: On June 7, 1999 the Heritage Commission reviewed and supported the development application and requested zoning variances subject to the designation of the heritage structures. They specifically supported the rehabilitation of the lane structure including the addition of the blind dormers and the garage doors. However, the Vancouver Heritage Commission regretted the requirement of lane dedication because it requires moving the pre-1913 lane structure.


The two pre-1914 buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street are valuable fragments of the history of the area and merit conservation. Their retention is an objective of the RT-3 zoning and is strongly supported by the Strathcona Residents Association and the Vancouver Heritage Commission. The requested zoning variances and floor space increase represents fair compensation to the owner for the conservation of these buildings. Staff have required a number of changes to the application particularly aimed at minimizing impacts on the property to the east. In conclusion, the proposed revitalization scheme with the required changes introduces the additional density needed to make the conservation component viable in a manner that minimizes negative impacts on the neighbouring properties and maximizes fit with the surrounding streetscape. Therefore, it is recommended that Council support the HRA and that Council amend Schedule A of the Heritage Bylaw to designate the buildings at 656 - 660 Union Street, as Protected Heritage Property .

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