The future of Vancouver's important regional transit hub, as well as a new office district planned for the last open piece of downtown waterfront, will be wrecked if a developer gets approval for a controversial office tower there, opponents say.
That is the warning from the largest landowner near the proposed building – nicknamed the Ice Pick by some – on a site owned by Cadillac Fairview. The company is preparing to go to the public this week with several new options after the plan for the hotly debated angled-glass tower was rejected earlier this year.
Others, from Gastown businesses to transit advocates, are also worried, adding to concerns that a group of former city planners raised in January.
"This big eastern-based company with many prime holdings generating large returns from our population is disregarding the community, city policy and a chance to cohesively implement a plan," said Nevin Sangha of Carrera Management Corp. He manages the holdings in the area that belong to Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot, which include the Landing, a historic building just east of the proposed tower, and the rail lands between Gastown and the waterfront.
"They will defy the policy in place, ask for six times the discretionary square footage and deflate any chance of developing this world-class transit opportunity that could include many more public benefits," Mr. Sangha said. He added that Cadillac has done nothing to talk to other landowners or people with interests in the area.
Cadillac, in turn, is defending its proposed 360,000-square-foot tower on what is now a parking lot between the city's historic waterfront train station, now the terminus for the SeaBus and SkyTrain, and the western edge of Gastown.
The company's senior vice-president of development, Niall Collins, said city residents would get the benefit of a spectacular new plaza and an office building with space for jobs.
"We now have a car park next to the most prominent transport hub in the area," Mr. Collins said. "It is a tourist attraction that is completely underused. We are going to provide a public plaza that is half to three-quarters of that site."
A city plan from 2009 had envisioned the site as the entry to a new office district of towers and shops that would be built above the rail lines by extending concrete platforms over the escarpment at the edge of the parking lot. The new office district would sit on top of a revamped transit hub in the plan, with better connections among the rail, rapid transit, bus and ferry lines that converge there.
Mr. Collins said the tower would not be a barrier to any future development.
Cadillac Fairview is holding an open house on Thursday at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel to get public response to nine "design principles" and massing (general size and shape) options for the building that it says architects came up with after the city's urban design panel turned down the original design in January.
But opponents are not so concerned about the design or massing as the impact on the future waterfront-hub district.
The former director of strategic planning at TransLink said it is a concern that Cadillac is not working with all the groups that have an interest in that area.
"This is a transportation facility of national importance. You have to plan the site comprehensively," said Tamim Raad, now a consultant and educator.
"Until you know what the [vehicle and foot traffic] circulation plan is, you don't know how to organize efficiently. By putting a building on site, you're going to now have to work around that," he said.
He and others are saying any plans should be put on pause until all the parties get together to work out a more detailed plan for building in the waterfront hub and, most important, who will pay for which parts of it to create a workable new area.
Although Cadillac has offered to build one new road – called the Cordova connector for now – on the site, the city's plan also envisioned a parkade at the north end of Granville Street being demolished to extend that road.
Cadillac owns the parkade too, but is making no promises about that in the current office-tower negotiation.
Mr. Raad said the new federal government has shown a willingness to invest in urban infrastructure. That could mean a possibility for new money to help redesign the complicated transit connections in the area, which now require people to walk long distances to connect between different lines and types of transit.
The Gastown Business Improvement Society has also expressed concerns about the lack of a comprehensive approach to the area's development.
Councillor Geoff Meggs said that, at this stage, all that is happening is the planning department has urged Cadillac to revise its original proposal.
But, he said, he could not see approving a single tower, with no sign that the whole hub plan has been taken into consideration.
"I don't think a unilateral approach will work."