A look at how the City proposes to weaken view protections in Broadway Plan (Public survey ends tonight, December 3rd)

ABOVE: In materials presented by City staff for this phase of Broadway Plan consultations, the City is looking at allowing higher buildings along the Broadway corridor that will intrude into Vancouver’s protected views. There’s consideration of narrowing view cones along Cambie and other streets. The proposed changes have not been adequately explained to the public, and they could have significant impacts on views from other parts of the city, far beyond what staff are showing. For example, the PAVCO rezoning back in 2018 considered higher buildings that would intrude into mountain views (top right image).

The survey for the Broadway Plan (https://shapeyourcity.ca/broadway-plan) has been extended until Friday, December 3rd (11:59 pm), so any readers concerned about points raised in this post may wish to send in their additional comments and observations. (The survey was extended from the original deadline of November 30th).

In this article we take a closer look at the changes around view protections proposed by City staff. What’s being proposed? What does it all mean? What are the implications?

In short, the proposal simply means weakened view protections for Vancouver. The staff proposal would weaken view protections in two ways. First, under consideration by staff are changes to allow intrusions into protected Queen Elizabeth Park view cones. The view from QE Park is the most important protected view in the City; it provides broad protection to many other views enjoyed by the public. Staff are essentially seeking to do away with protected views 3.1 and 3.2.4a. The second way of weakening protections would be to narrow view cones along streets like Cambie. This change would also impact other parts of City and further weaken view protection, as it would allow taller buildings into areas that are now protected. We’ll look at these proposed changes in more detail. For reference, we’ve reproduced the full panels by staff further below (scroll to end). In addition to narrowing protected views, planning staff want to modify the existing policies regarding views to and around City Hall.

There are some parallels with the Broadway Plan now to the way City staff weakened view protections with the West End Community Plan. See our previous post for more details: View protection weakened in West End Plan, 550 foot tower zones proposed (November 20, 2013).

Here’s an example of one of the City’s officially designated view cones that provides protection. This view cone helps enable other public views (pictured below are Helena Gutteridge Plaza at City Hall (lower right), the southwest corner of Cambie and West 12th Avenue (left), and an image from the Broadway Plan (upper right)).

One of the misleading assertions by staff is that only single views count, without considering the protection that’s been afforded by the designated views that act as control points. Shaving off a little from the eastern part of the ‘protected view’ in the middle of Cambie Street (at West 12th) does indeed have an impact elsewhere in the public realm. It’s not as simple as saying that some trees have grown into this part of the view cone, so therefore it can be narrowed without having consequences elsewhere:

There are two view cone locations on Cambie Street around City Hall. The one chosen for the Broadway Plan panel is at West 12th Avenue. There’s another view cone location just south of West 10th Avenue (view cone 9.1). There’s significant overlap between these two control points. It’s worth noting that there are no trees going into the view cone 9.1, yet planning staff are clearly also considering narrowing this view. Here’s a comparison of the image in the Broadway Plan (lower right), the views webpage from the City (upper right) and the view cones in the City’s VanMap application:

City Staff are not showing how much they want to take away from view cone 9.1. They are “cherry picking?

The impacts on narrowing street views is much bigger than just the immediate areas in the Broadway Plan. The view cones from Cambie, Main Street and Granville provide protection for a much larger area, including some views over parts of Downtown and the West End. Here’s a look at these view cone locations in the City’s VanMap application:


The Granville Street view cone at Broadway also provides protections for public views. Here are a few photos just from that intersection. Only one photo is from the location of the view cone (location shown in VanMap, photos taken on December 2, 2021):

The other way way that City staff are looking to weaken view protections is to essentially do away with protected views 3.1 and 3.2.4a. This is not explained anywhere but just shown in a thin strip in one of the boards (full boards are reproduced at the end of this post).

What does this mean? What staff are saying is they essentially want to keep the control line for the downtown (upper line) and allow buildings to go into the areas labelled as 3.1 and 3.2.4a (see illustration above). It’s also worth noting that these views are taken from the highest point in Vancouver in Queen Elizabeth Park, so modifying the views will have impacts on actual mountain views from a number of other locations in the public realm (that is, from other locations that aren’t as high up). In terms of the extent of view cones 3.1 and 3.2.4a, these can be seen in VanMap (below left).

Here below is a look at the view from QE Park. Unlike a number of other defined view cones (that act as control points), this location is a destination view where people actively travel to in order to enjoy the view.

View from Queen Elizabeth Park

People at Queen Elizabeth Park lookout (a destination view)

Staff in their panels do not include any dimensional heights but rather use the ambiguous term of a ‘storey’. The floor height of a storey can vary widely. Office space can be 3.5m to 4m (11.5 to 13.1 feet) in height for a ‘storey’ while residential storeys can be around 2.75m (9 feet) in height. What is a storey according to staff?

Here’s the specific wording copied from the panel:

“For the Broadway Plan area, view 3.1 significantly limits the heights of new buildings, particularly along Broadway in and around Uptown. For example, with view 3.1 as it is today, a building near Broadway–City Hall Station would be limited to about 14-18 storeys. Without the view 3.1 restrictions, height could be increased by 11-15 storeys while still maintaining the mountain views (3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.2.3, and 3.2.4.). The impact of view 3.1 varies depending on location, and may be more or less impactful in other areas of Broadway.”

So does this mean a 18-storey height noted by staff is increased by 15-storeys, and then is the total 33-storeys along Central Broadway? Is that at 4m floor height? As staff don’t provided dimensional heights, they are leaving the door open to serious abuse. It’s also difficult to gauge the massing that’s being considered, as the density information is nowhere to be found (for Vancouver, coverage is measured as a Floor Space Ratio). If they were being forthright, staff could do the simple exercise of plotting the proposed heights in a 3D computer model, show a zoning envelope for views, show ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenarios, and even show other options.

There is mention of revising the City Hall Presence protections (see sections 3.4 and 3.5 of the C-3A Urban Design Guidelines for more details). Staff are looking at intruding into protected views 3.2.4a, and mention that CityGate (which north of the study area) already intrudes into part of this view. While that’s true, the implicit suggestion that there is thus a ‘view shadow’ and other tall buildings can go into this line of sight, without impacting other public views, is a fallacy. If there’s an intrusion into an existing view cone, should staff then declare ‘open season’ on the entire view cone? Or should they try to preserve the views that are still there?

The staff panels regarding view cones only apply to parts of the Broadway Plan that fall under current view protection policy. There is a significant part of the western section of the plan area that do not have view cone protection. However, many existing views to mountains from the public realm can still be protected by absolute height limits on new buildings. ‘No view cone’ should not equate with ‘the sky is the limit’; sensible upper limits on buildings heights can help with protecting views from the public realm.

View cone from QE Park protection on West Broadway ends between Willow and Laurel. There’s only a bit of protection by the Granville Street view cone on the western section of the plan area.

There similarly are parts of the plan area in the east that do not have protections by view cones:

Queen Elizabeth view cone protection extends to Main and East Broadway. There are no view protections between Main and Clark along East Broadway.

For reference, we’ve reproduced the City’s panels on Views and Heights (original PDF files are here). It is contradictory that staff to claim they want to retain views yet allow higher buildings that will impact views. Note what’s missing in the panels: actual dimensions of heights that are being proposed and details of the narrowed view cone proposals.

Are the following panels doing an adequate job of explaining the issues at play regarding views and heights? No. Is it likely the materials included with the Broadway Plan just leave people confused and in the dark? Yes.



As another note, there’s also the possibility of future “scope creep.” Staff and developers at some point in the future might say that the proposed height increases are not enough and they seek to go further up than the limits they are currently being suggested (and thus make even more exceptions). Staff often bend to developer requests to allow elevator penthouses and appurtenances to extend beyond view protection lines.

The Google Earth (kmz) files for the view cones are available on the City’s OpenData website (link here), but not in 3D (it’s just over the terrain). So it shouldn’t take too much more time to get this data into 3D.

In terms of how a 3D model might appear to show building massing, here’s a rendering from one of our previous posts:

May 27, 6:45pm (with rezoning applications at 1477 and 1395 W Broadway as well as 2538 Birch)

Rendering shows 2538 Birch Development Permit Application

Food for thought: Should City staff show the heights in a 3D model of the extent of the view protection and also show where they wish to allow a build out? Should staff show how high the current view protections go in 3D for comparison? Should these scenarios be represented as a zoning envelope in 3D? Should staff provide some examples of theoretical build outs? Should there be checks to show how such changes would look from several other locations that the public can currently enjoy mountain views from?

The view cone from Main Street and East 6th was already narrowed once by staff to cut off the protection to the west. Now many of those views have been lost (pictured on the bottom, centre). Views directly to the north and to the northeast could still be preserved if staff do not further narrow this view cone.

A view from the public realm in Cambie Village.

3 thoughts on “A look at how the City proposes to weaken view protections in Broadway Plan (Public survey ends tonight, December 3rd)

  1. Note that if you have already filled in the survey, you are not allowed to filling it out again to add more concerns such as the view cone issues. You get this error message of you try to fill it out again: “The owner of this survey has disabled users from taking the survey multiple times. Since we already have a response from you we cannot accept your response at this time.”
    So what is the best other way to add more comments what a person has already submitted?

  2. “Here’s an example of one of the City’s officially designated view cones that provides protection. This view cone helps enable other public views (pictured below are Helena Gutteridge Plaza at City Hall (lower right), the southwest corner of Cambie and West 12th Avenue (left), and an image from the Broadway Plan (upper right)).

    One of the misleading assertions by staff is that only single views count, without considering the protection that’s been afforded by the designated views that act as control points. Shaving off a little from the eastern part of the ‘protected view’ in the middle of Cambie Street (at West 12th) does indeed have an impact elsewhere in the public realm. It’s not as simple as saying that some trees have grown into this part of the view cone, so therefore it can be narrowed without having consequences elsewhere”

    I agree with your point. The emphasis on a view from the middle of Cambie Street preferences drivers, who can enjoy this view for about one second while driving down Cambie Street. What about pedestrians, who may want to linger in the square in front of the City Square mall, or in the park north of city hall. Don’t their views count?

  3. “Here below is a look at the view from QE Park. Unlike a number of other defined view cones (that act as control points), this location is a destination view where people actively travel to in order to enjoy the view.”

    This must be an older photo, as the TRUMP tower is not visible. It was completed in 2016.

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