Sinclair Centre redevelopment proposal for downtown Vancouver moves ahead. Will heritage be lost?

Sinclair CentreVancouver City Council voted today to allow the consideration of a future rezoning application on the Sinclair Centre site. There are currently 4 heritage buildings in the Sinclair Centre block (757 West Hastings, between Granville and Howe); the Passport Office is housed in one of the buildings. Public Works Canada would like to redevelop the site and add an additional 700,00 square feet (60,000 m2) of floor space; there is currently around 390,000 square feet of floor space in the block.

Adriane Carr was the only Councillor to vote against adopting the staff recommendations. Carr asked about some the issues that came up at an earlier discussion in 1989 in front of the council of the day and did not receive a clear reply from staff (the site is zoned CD-1 and allows a FSR of 5.0). She was also unsure if the City could protect heritage on the site. Carr would have liked to have had input from the Heritage Commission and UDP prior to considering the report. The report does establish guidelines for density and thus might become a precedent.

Senior Planner Kevin McNaney

Senior Planner Kevin McNaney

City planners Kevin McNaney and Michael Gordon told Council that towers of up to 29-storeys could be allowed under current height restrictions. As well, a floor space ratio between 17 and 20 will be sought. The federal government sees the potential for consolidating office space on the site, and to use this as one of two hubs in the Lower Mainland.

During the Council meeting Mayor Robertson revealed that he thinks the Sinclair Centre block “needs a refresh.” Councillor Louie supported the staff recommendations and said that the report does not fetter Council’s future discretion to consider a rezoning.

An open question is whether it is still possible to protect heritage on the site without resorting to ‘façadism’. The enormous increase in density could potentially see the insides of some or all of the heritage buildings gutted to make room for tower blocks.

The rezoning of the Old Stock Exchange building at 475 Howe made provision for a 30-storey tower and an overall FSR of 21.5. Will City Staff use this as a precedent for the four buildings comprising the Sinclair Centre block? Two of the buildings in the Sinclair Centre already have a heritage designation (former Post Office & the Winch Building). The other two buildings are designated as heritage but not protected. The Customs Buildings (326) is designated as Class A heritage while the Federal Buildings is class B. It’s possible for the City to change a protected heritage designation if the owner of the site agrees to the change. Staff suggested that additional seismic upgrades could be made to the heritage buildings as part of a redevelopment, and that future CACs could be allocated to childcare.

The staff report summary shows the expected density and height that could potentially be part of a future Sinclair Centre rezoning application:

Sinclair Centre proposal

Is the staff report a fait accompli? Or is a better analogy that it is a slow moving train wreck? Stay tuned during the months and years ahead to see how this rezoning process unfolds. Here are the results of the vote on the report recommendations:

Sinclair Centre votes

The original CD-1 (243) bylaw was passed in 1989 to allow a FSR of 5.0. There should also be more information about the original rezoning in the Heritage Revitalization Agreements (HRAs) that will be on title for two of the buildings (for the properties with a designated heritage status; we could not locate this information online).

Issues Report – Proposed Rezoning – Sinclair Centre – 757 West Hastings Street
Staff Presentation (note: this report was made available online only after the item was presented to Council)
Public Hearing for 475 Howe (October 30, 2012)
CD-1 (243) bylaw (current zoning passed in 1989)

Sinclair Centre block (west side)Heritage Register excerptSinclair Centre

475 Howe Old Stock Exchange

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