Vancouver’s chief planner urges Council to undermine integrity of Broadway Plan’s moratorium on rezonings (July 21): 1477 West Broadway at Granville

Above: Scenes from the site in question, and image of future station. 

A staff report is going to Vancouver City Council on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in which they are strongly recommending and seeking immediate Council approval to allow the developer to sidestep normal procedures in order to have the City consider rezoning to allow significantly greater height at a site at Broadway & Granville Streets, as part of station development for the Broadway Subway

The key point of the report is chief planner’s Theresa O’Donnel’s recommendation (paraphrased): THAT Council instructs her to consider a rezoning application by PCI Developments LP on behalf of 1489 West Broadway Nominee Corp., the registered owner of the land located at 1477 West Broadway … within the Broadway Plan study area, which proposes a mixed-use office, retail and rental housing building at a height and density above what is permitted in the C-3A District Schedule and associated Guidelines, as an exception to the Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy.

“Issues Report: Consideration of Rezoning Proposal at 1477 West Broadway (South Granville Station)” – authored by chief planner Theresa O’Donnell with Kevin McNaney as the contact. Download the 11-page PDF here.

The site is within the Broadway Plan study area, and is subject to an interim moratorium on rezoning applications.

(Note that 1489 West Broadway hinted at the name of the company owning the property was the address of the previous rezoning approval, but the new process would be under the 1477 address. It is not publicly known who PCI is really representing now, as the “nominee” company is a front for the real owners. Anyone with information about this pls do send us an e-mail.)

By way of background, PCI Development was granted a development permit in 2019 to build a 5-storey office building on the site.  Despite the stated height in the application and permit, the original drawings showed a six-level vehicle parkade beneath the building. An article emerged in The Straight in which guest writer Stanley Q. Woodvine shared blueprints he had discovered by chance and wondered out loud if a future building may reach up to 40-storeys (Dumpster-dived blueprints show Granville subway station in new West Broadway tower, on June 30th, 2019).

He was right. PCI and City staff want a tower to be built above the office building, under the City’s sweet incentive program for developers, which has been roundly criticized for giving developers too much in return for too little (See “Excessive costs of Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program (MIRHPP)” and “Correcting staff denial of windfall profits at 3701–3743 West Broadway (MIRHPP)” ).

Neighbourhood groups already expressed concern that if Council started making exceptions to existing rezoning policies for height and density they would set precedents all along Broadway Street, with developers coming back again and again seeking taller and bulkier buildings (and greater profits). The first blockbuster precedent was came in July 2020 with Council at a Public Hearing approving a special relaxation of policies under MIRHPP to allow Jameson Development to build a tower at 28 storeys, against strong community opposition (example, “Case study of 28-storey tower (Jameson) proposal at 2538 Birch (Council vote July 14),” note that this too was a July rezoning just before Council’s summer hiatus), on a site that had already gone through a rezoning Public Hearing for approval at 16 storeys a few years earlier. During the July 2020 Public Hearing planning staff roundly denied any idea that the 28-storey approval would set a precedent,

The Broadway Plan Interim Rezoning Policy (“IRP”) was adopted to prevent rezoning applications from coming forward during the current consultations for planning of the entire Broadway Corridor. The intent of the IRP was to protect the integrity of the planning process that is underway.  The public had to accept that in good faith. The integrity of City hall rests on it. But the City’s planning staff circumvented the IRP, and actually they became advocates behind the scenes for Jameson.

With this paper going to Council on July 21, planning staff led by the newly installed chief planner Theresa O’Donnell are using Policy 3 of the IRP, which allows rezonings to proceed under what we consider to be vague “exceptional circumstances,” to encourage Council to allow rezoning to proceed of the approved low-rise building at Broadway & Granville, and to let PCI come forward with a tower proposal.  Staff are justifying this by stating that PCI asked for more height many years back, that PCI has worked in good faith with the subway project, and that staff are concerned about the impacts of extended construction.  In effect, Vancouver’s chief planner is encouraging Council to undermine the integrity of planning process for the 30-year Broadway Plan.

In a recent letter, O’Donnell told the public that no decisions had been made on height and density changes in the Broadway Plan scope area.  And yet, in the report’s justification for considering rezoning to greater heights at this site, staff point to Broadway Plan Phase 2 language that states “consider increased height and density for station area…”.  

The Report suggests that staff have been discussing increased height and density on this site in tandem with the Broadway Plan process.  

Anyone who wishes to speak or write to Council on this topic can click on the meeting agenda and then on “Send comments to Council” or “Request to speak.” The link is here:

One thought on “Vancouver’s chief planner urges Council to undermine integrity of Broadway Plan’s moratorium on rezonings (July 21): 1477 West Broadway at Granville

  1. PCI has done a very clever thing here. As the report above notes, PCI has had plans for a tall building at the site at 1477/1489 West Broadway for years. By proceeding to obtain a development permit and building under the current zoning, they could start the construction of a five storey building to coincide with the construction of the Broadway and Granville subway station.

    PCI can thereby ride the coat-tails of the broadway subway project in terms of positive vibes and excitement. Even blocking Granville Street and Broadway for considerable periods of time during constitution is overlooked by most, including the City.

    Of course, PCI took a considerable risk by building a six storey parkade under a five storey building.

    But now they come and say: the rezoning for their residential tower MUST be fast-tracked, because if it is not, then construction would interfere with access to, and operation of, the subway station. How CONVENIENT for PCI. They set it up this way in the first place.

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