Inquiry on 515-foot “gateway” residential tower at 1445 West Georgia and Pender (Brilliant Circle Group Investments)

CoV 1445 West Georgia heights at 171 vs 515 ft

On December 16, 2015, Vancouver City Council will vote on a staff recommendation that Council direct staff to accept a rezoning application for a 515-foot residential tower at 1445-1455 West Georgia Street, and that the site be considered as a “Gateway Landmark” building if the application moves ahead to a public hearing. There are a number of “irregularities” and murky matters in the history of changes to height restrictions affecting this site and numerous sites in the area. More on that later.

Here are a few things worth noting and watching:

    • Staff are already supportive of the project, which is submitted by the “Acting General Manager of Planning and Development Services.” (That would be Jane Pickering, who is filling this position temporarily while a permanent replacement is sought. One might wonder how power works within the department during this transition time.)
    • The report doesn’t mention who is behind the project and only tangentially mentions that the inquiry came from James Cheng Architects, in a caption to one of the figures. (It is interesting how the City cooperates to keep the principal parties of major projects confidential.) However, Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight points out that Shenzhen-based Brilliant Circle Group Investments Ltd. bought the site last year.
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    • “Use and Density: The site’s zoning is Downtown District Official Development Plan (DD ODP). The zoning offers a ‘choice of use’ allowing for buildings that are mixed use or completely residential or commercial. The maximum floor space ratio in the current zoning is 6.6 (which includes a 10% heritage density transfer).”

  • “Height: Building height for this site is governed by:
    (1) The zoning which allows up to 91.4 m (300 ft.) in height. However, the Development Permit Board can consider the approval of heights up to 137.2 m (450 ft.) or 40 – 50 storeys, after the consideration of Council policies and guidelines;
    (2) The height limits imposed by the Council-approved view cones addressing views from public places of the downtown and the north shore mountains; and
    (3) Council’s General Policy for Higher Buildings.”
  • “View Corridors: There are two Council-approved public View Cones crossing the site. The Queen Elizabeth View Cone (a public view from the top of Little Mountain) at an elevation of approximately 440 ft. (134.7 m) and Granville Bridge View Cone at an elevation of approximately 515 ft. (166 m).”
  • “General Policy for Higher Buildings: Since 1997 this policy (see Appendix “A”) has allowed for the consideration of buildings exceeding the downtown’s zoning height limits of 91.4 m – 137.2 m (300’ – 450’) to add landmark buildings to the City’s skyline and shape the skyline so that the highest point of the skyline is in the City’s Central Business District. The buildings that are considered under the policy must be on the City’s widest streets and/or in the Central Business District. Unique sites creating gateways to the downtown or landmark locations can also be considered.”

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Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight provides additional information (Vancouver receives inquiry for gateway landmark building on site of former Buschlen Mowatt gallery, 10-Dec-2015), some of which we summarize here.

  • The City of Vancouver ordinarily only approves buildings up to 450 feet high in the downtown core. But in rare circumstances, taller buildings of 550 to 700 feet will be considered if they’re in the central business district and/or they’re on the city’s widest streets. Buildings that are 500 feet tall may be permitted at the Granville and Burrard bridgeheads. These are referred to as “gateway landmark” buildings—and there could be one coming to the corner of West Georgia and Pender streets.
  • Last year, the Shenzhen, China–based Brilliant Circle Group Investments Ltd. bought the site. It’s home to the former Buschlen Mowatt gallery in the 1400 block of West Georgia Street.
  • Since the late 1980s, towers in the area have been built up to a height of 330 feet, or 37 storeys.

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