City planners and fans often like to brag about the way Vancouver is a poster city for compact living downtown. The West End, our first downtown neighbourhood, is frequently (and mistakenly) referred to as a neighbourhood with a density equivalent to Manhattan’s, but more attractive with its leafy and quiet streets. False Creek North is the newer version, with towers set around parks and the seawall.
The neighbourhood no one talks about much is Downtown South, that patch of land between Burrard and False Creek North that is actually the densest neighbourhood in the whole region, surpassing the West End and approaching Hong Kong levels. That’s because the city struggled to get space for parks in there when development roared in much faster than anyone expected. The result has been that there will soon be 14,000 people living in that landlocked strip around Granville.
And now there may be more to come. City staff have recommended (and council approved) a plan to allow buildings in the Downtown South to higher than the current zoning — up to the view-cone level from the current 300 feet.
That’s in part so that area can absorb a funny little thing that exists in Vancouver called “heritage density.” That’s free imaginary space that the city gives to owners of heritage buildings in the city so that they can sell it to other developers, who then can build larger builders somewhere else.
That gives the heritage owners extra cash to renovate their often ruinously expensive buildings and makes other developers happy because then the city’s willing to let them have precious extra square footage. For the past couple of years, that program — which has led to the preservation and renovation of a raft of buildings in the city from the Stanley Theatre on Granville to the Pennsylvania Hotel on East Hastings — has been on hold because there was too much density in the bank and not enough sites where it could go.
Now, it looks as though the Downtown South will be opened up for business. And I hear that one site up for potential redevelopment is the Jimmy Pattison Downtown Toyota site on Burrard.
Well, that’s of course when people start buying condos again. Which is going to happen sometime soon, right?