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The parking lot at 555 West Cordova St. between the train station and Steamworks seen here May 19, 2015.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A controversial tower proposed for a prime site on Vancouver's downtown waterfront has produced two unexpected reactions.

Greg Kerfoot, one of the city's biggest owners in the area, is considering a new development next to the Cadillac Fairview site that would create a waterfront district of offices, plazas and shops over the rail lines.

And an unusually well-connected community group, made up mainly of former senior Vancouver planners, is lobbying everyone involved to make sure the new "waterfront hub" and the proposed Cadillac tower preserve public space and views along this last open section of the harbour.

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Cadillac Fairview wants to build a 26-storey, 127-metre office tower in the empty lot next to the city's historic train station in Gastown but ran into opposition by people who disliked the modern design, the density and the way it leaned over the railway station.

The Cadillac tower design was rejected by the city's urban design panel in January – and by many in the court of public opinion before that – but is expected to be resubmitted in June.

The group of ex-planners is pushing hard to get the city to hold public meetings for the building, improve its design and rework the plan for the whole area around it.

Both the architect working for Mr. Kerfoot and the group say they would like to see something special created on this last piece of open waterfront downtown.

"Vancouver's beating heart is at the edge. And we want to provide an edge for Vancouver like it's never seen before," said Graham McGarva, an architect with VIA Architecture, which has been hired by Mr. Kerfoot to look at development possibilities.

Mr. Kerfoot bought the air rights over the rail tracks from Waterfront Station to Main Street in the mid-2000s when he was trying to get a soccer stadium built.

City planners developed a concept for a waterfront district there, which included extending the street grid and downtown out over the escarpment in that area. They also envisioned the possibility of demolishing the parkade, which now sits at the north end of Granville Street, to extend the street.

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But the stadium idea was eventually turned down by council and the waterfront plan was forgotten until recently, when Cadillac Fairview proposed a controversial glass tower that appeared to fold over the train station. That tower is being pitched as the entry to the future waterfront-hub district.

A group of about a dozen people, including some city staff who worked on the original plan, have now formed a group to urge the city, Cadillac Fairview and Mr. Kerfoot's company to collaborate and update the plan to create a landmark district that does more than just jam in new office buildings and roads.

"It is a fabulous public space," said Christina DeMarco, a former Vancouver and Metro Vancouver planner who helped form the Downtown Waterfront Working Group. "Two of our most precious heritage buildings are on either side. Then there are spectacular views of the harbour. We have to figure out how to maximize the use of that as public space."

The group would like to see the city consider taking out one of the original roads planned – a north-south connector to Cordova Street – to leave more space for both the Cadillac tower and the public.

The city's general manager of planning says his staff will be working on some of that.

"We will be fighting for public access to the waterfront, along with some narrowing of the roads," said Brian Jackson.

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But he said it's time-consuming and unproductive to reopen the whole waterfront plan. "The technical analysis was done. I just don't feel that it needs revisiting."

He said Cadillac Fairview and Mr. Kerfoot's company are now in talks to discuss whether they can do any kind of land exchange that would make it easier to build the tower and to create public space.

If that happens, he said, then there will be a rezoning and public hearing.

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