Fumano: Broadway’s tallest tower pitched through ‘exceptional’ process

Opinion: Proposed 39-storey rental tower above South Granville subway station would be among Vancouver’s tallest buildings. It will likely be both applauded and derided.

Article content

A local developer wants to transform a landmark Vancouver intersection with the Broadway corridor’s tallest tower.

Advertisement

Article content

At a recent Vancouver council meeting, several councillors asked city staff how big of a tower PCI Developments could be considering to rise above the subway station being built at the northeast corner of Broadway and Granville?

The reports before council at that July meeting contained no mention of the potential project’s size — Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung called that question “the elephant in the room.”

At that meeting, staff repeatedly declined to give any indication about what kind of size PCI might be eyeing. Staff said they were merely asking council for permission to consider an application — specifics about the project would be come later, if and when an application could be submitted.

Kirby-Yung pressed staff, citing “speculation and discussion” in the community, and asking: “Is it conceivable it could be 40 storeys?”

Advertisement

Article content

Staff did not answer. But it turns out the 40-storey speculation wasn’t far off.

Neighbourhood groups have recently started receiving notifications, and in a recent interview, PCI president Tim Grant answered questions about the project.

It’s a big one: a 39-storey mixed-use tower over the South Granville subway station, including a grocery store, offices, retail space, and 223 rental homes, 45 of them below-market units for moderate-income households (defined as household incomes between $30,000 and $80,000). That would make it among Vancouver’s tallest buildings. For comparison, the tallest Bentall office tower downtown has 34 storeys.

Subway station construction site at the northeast corner of Granville and W. Broadway Avenue.
Subway station construction site at the northeast corner of Granville and W. Broadway Avenue. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

PCI has owned the property at 1477 West Broadway since 2007. It had long housed an RBC branch below three floors of offices. It obtained a permit in 2019 under existing zoning. Construction is now underway there, incorporating the underground subway station, below five storeys of commercial space.

Advertisement

Article content

But there have long been indications the developer hoped to build something higher.

In 2019, Fairview resident and writer Stanley Q. Woodvine discovered discarded blueprints while dumpster-diving in the neighbourhood, and wrote in The Georgia Straight that details in the documents — including the six levels of underground parking — suggested PCI was envisioning a far taller building than five storeys. He speculated it could be as high as 40 floors.

Grant said Woodvine’s 2019 report “was bang on in some respects.”

PCI’s new proposal envisions 285 car parking spaces, a little less than typical in a development of this size, Grant said, recognizing the site’s direct access to rapid transit. But, he said, the project would also include a “massive” bicycle storage area, with 507 bike spaces.

Advertisement

Article content

The July city staff report said PCI has “expressed interest as early as 2011 and over the past 10 years with various proposals to rezone the site for additional office, rental residential and retail floor area.”

But since 2019, the city has been working on a new Broadway Plan and in the meantime has been refusing to consider most rezonings along the corridor, except for social housing.

However, the Broadway Plan has been repeatedly delayed.

In 2017, a city report anticipated it would be complete in 2019, before construction started on the Broadway Subway. But major construction on the subway began in this year, and the Broadway plan is still in progress.

Staff told council in July they expect to have a draft in front of council early next year.

Advertisement

Article content

Renderings showing PCI Developments’ proposal for a 39-storey mixed use tower at the intersection of West Broadway and Granville in Vancouver.
Renderings showing PCI Developments’ proposal for a 39-storey mixed use tower at the intersection of West Broadway and Granville in Vancouver. Photo by PCI Developments / Musson Cattel /PNG

That’s why city staff recommended the city consider a PCI rezoning application now, citing exceptional circumstances. Staff said expediting construction would minimize later impacts on access for the South Granville station, which would happen if construction was delayed until after the Broadway Subway begins service.

Council voted last week to allow PCI to submit an application, with three opposed — councillors Kirby-Yung, Rebecca Bligh and Colleen Hardwick — and the other eight in favour.

Just as any proposal for a building that’s taller than neighbouring buildings, PCI’s proposal will face opposition, some of it from familiar voices.

Sean Nardi spoke to council in July, urging them to not consider an application before the Broadway Plan was finished. Nardi, a longtime homeowner in the neighbourhood, helped spearhead a fierce, organized opposition last year to a 28-storey rental building proposed for Broadway and Birch, two blocks east of Granville.

Advertisement

Article content

Nardi said at that meeting that his group had warned last year that if council approved the 28-storey project — which it did, narrowly — it would “set a precedent for height and density in the Broadway Plan area.”

“Unfortunately,” Nardi said of the prospect of development at Broadway and Granville, “the chickens are already coming home to roost.”

Others will likely view the project differently, especially those who want more transit-oriented development, including rental and non-market housing.

Coun. Christine Boyle commented on frustrations she’d heard in the community that the Broadway subway stations on publicly owned sites — such as the Main Street and VGH stations — have no plans for development above the stations, a seeming missed opportunity. Coun. Pete Fry commented on frustrations about delays in the Broadway Plan. Both voted to allow PCI to submit an application.

Advertisement

Article content

The developer would have certainly preferred to have city hall adopt the Broadway Plan before work started on the Broadway Subway. That way, there would have been no need for an exception to the rezoning moratorium.

PCI also owns the property around the future Great Northern Way-Emily Carr station, where Grant says it envisions a similar mixed-use development there.

Grant said PCI has been working closely with the city and B.C. Ministry of Transportation’s Broadway Subway project team to get the station built on time, “but there’s no question that this has been a really complicated process, and the drawn-out Broadway Plan has made it that much more challenging.”

“This is definitely suboptimal,” Grant said.

Advertisement

Article content

Time is a factor, Grant said. “Right now, we’re permitted to build a five-storey building, and we’ll get to level five in the spring of 2022. So we need the city to issue some updated permits to be able to keep us going on site.”

Grant said he hopes his South Granville project could get to a public hearing by this fall. That kind of timeline — from rezoning application to public hearing within a couple of months — would generally be unthinkable in Vancouver, in normal circumstances. PCI obviously hopes city hall will see this circumstance as exceptional.

[email protected]

twitter.com/fumano

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.