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City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)
City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)

Plans envision transformation of viaduct lands Add to ...

Vancouver is developing detailed options for the land around its downtown viaducts – if those major commuter connections are eventually torn down – that include public open space, low-cost housing, business projects, or a combination.

In a sign of how seriously the city is considering the ultimate removal of the viaducts, the land-use plans, being worked on jointly by the architecture firm Perkins + Will with city planners, were going to be presented at a city urban-design panel next week. That presentation has now been cancelled and pushed to an undefined later date, but only in order to incorporate ideas from the city’s parallel design competition on the viaducts. Awards for the best ideas will be announced on Dec. 1.

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City planner Brent Toderian said there are some themes coming forward among the designs in the competition that might be included, like ideas about including water features in this former tidal-flats area.

Ultimately, though, it’s the detailed planning being done by the city and its consultants that is setting the stage for what use to make of the 4.8 hectares that are under and around the viaducts.

The city plans are looking at how the land could be used under several different scenarios: leaving the viaducts as is; altering the eastern end to bring them down to street level at Main; closing one viaduct or another; keeping the viaducts but converting them to other, non-car uses.

“Council could decide to make it open space. It could be social housing. It could be rental housing,” said Mr. Toderian. “And, if it’s sold, it may not all be to one developer.”

A previous engineering report had said closing both viaducts – they’re 822 and 670 metres in length – if council chose that option, would not be feasible for at least 15 years. That’s because better transit and alternative truck and car routes would need to be put in place.

The city owns almost all of the land under and around the viaducts – 4.1 hectares – and Concord Pacific owns the small amount remaining. That’s about half the size of the Olympic Village site.

There’s been a perception among some that the proposal to tear down the viaducts is some kind of giveaway to Concord Pacific, the mega-developer that has built thousands of units on the former industrial land of False Creek since Expo 86.

But since the city owns most of the land, the real question is what it could do with that land, if the viaducts were fully or partially removed, that’s of most value.

Even if the city did nothing but alter the eastern end of the viaducts to bring them down at Main Street, something that its engineering consultants said would be easy to do immediately, that would free up two huge blocks of city land next to Chinatown that could be developed into housing – what that land was used for before the viaducts were built.

The city’s detailed land-use planning with Perkins + Will has been proceeding quietly – so quietly that even Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs, who has been seen as the public champion of reconsidering the viaducts’ future, was surprised to hear it was going on.

Mr. Meggs said he’s waiting to hear about the design-competition winners Dec. 1 and how the planning department will mesh those ideas with its existing consultation.

But, he said, it’s clear to him that the public will not support doing anything different with the viaducts unless they’re persuaded that there won’t be a negative impact on transportation or that it isn’t just a bonus for some developer.

But, most important, he said, “Not a lot of people are very interested if there isn’t a big benefit to the public.”

That benefit could be more open space or more affordable housing.

Mr. Meggs said some of the stakeholders in the area – landowners like Concord Pacific and Aquilini Developments – as well as neighbourhood groups need to get involved in the debate about the viaducts’ future.

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