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The architects for Cadillac Fairview have re-positioned the building, once dubbed the 'origami' building because of the folds and angles in the glassy tower’s design.

Cadillac Fairview /Cadillac Fairview

An office tower proposed for a key site on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront is back with an amended plan, with owners hoping for more public support after the original design was roundly criticized for being too large.

The architects for Cadillac Fairview have re-positioned the building, once dubbed the “origami” building because of the folds and angles in the glassy tower’s design.

That means there could be room for a larger public plaza than previously planned on what is now a parking lot between the city’s historic train station, which the company owns, and the city’s equally historic Gastown district to the east.

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As well, the tower, which the company now dubs the Crystal, is positioned to stand farther behind the station’s pillar-lined front on Cordova Street.

But the 26-storey building remains a very large structure and critics say that, like the original design, the new proposal still overshadows the 1914 station and potentially blocks future options for interesting development on the waterfront.

The company is defending the new design vigorously.

“We got a lot of feedback both from the public and the urban-design panel and we spent the last two years thinking about that,” said Tom Knoepfel, vice-president for Cadillac Fairview, which is the biggest office-space owner in the city. “We believe the design we’ve come up with works for the site.”

Mr. Knoepfel, in addressing criticism about the previous design, said the company is not some outsider group that doesn’t care about Vancouver.

“We’ve been here for 48 years and we care about the City of Vancouver a lot. I’m a Vancouverite and I love the view that we have and this building respects that.”

The new design has earned some positive comments from the general public on Twitter and it comes at a time when Vancouver office space is in high demand, in spite of a prolonged building boom for towers.

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But some critics, including former Vancouver city planners, are still dismayed by the building’s size.

They’re also alarmed at the way it is being pitched when the city doesn’t have an updated plan for a new “waterfront hub” that has been envisioned there for years.

“Our biggest fear is the options being cut off,” said Christina DeMarco, with the Downtown Waterfront Working Group. She noted that council had committed in 2017 to updating an older waterfront-hub plan before allowing any development there.

The old plan envisioned a much smaller building on the Cadillac Fairview site, in keeping with the century-plus-old buildings around it. The idea was that the company could deploy the density it’s allowed on the site on the other side of the train station or on another one of its land holdings.

One heritage advocate argued that the new building remains completely out of scale.

“You’ve got this sudden, massive phallic symbol shooting up from a historic district,” said Anthony Norfolk, who has served on the city’s Gastown historic area planning committee and heritage commission.

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He said the Gastown committee had always wanted a coherent plan for the area before any building happened.

“You need to get the overall planning right before you start considering massive, out-of-scale buildings just because one owner wants to make a lot of money.”

A representative from the Vancouver Public Space Network said the group appreciates that the new plan appears to envision a large public plaza on premium waterfront, but Stewart Burgess said there are still a lot of details about the plaza design and a fourth-floor public viewing area that are unknown.

There will be an open house for the project, which does not require a rezoning, on Feb. 18. It will be reviewed by the urban-design panel on April 1 and is scheduled for the development-permit board on May 25.

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