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Vancouver's skyline: high-rises versus snow-capped peaks Add to ...

Vancouver's director of planning says he will be proposing that the city allow four new extra-tall buildings on its skyline, including one with a potential height of 700 feet.

Although Brent Toderian acknowledged that public surveys done recently show that Vancouver residents still cling fiercely to the idea of protecting views of the mountains, he said there was some tolerance for allowing the skyline to rise and fall the way the peaks and valleys do in the mountain range that forms the city's backdrop.

"We tested out the idea with the public that the skyline could vary a bit, like the mountains themselves vary," he said.

That proposal is a minor revolution for Vancouver, which has fought hard for the two dozen "view corridors" that it created two decades ago as a way of preserving views. Those corridors have resulted in: a dome-like skyline for the city; shorter buildings downtown than in cities such as Calgary or Seattle; and a continuing debate about whether the view corridors are valuable or just creating a conundrum for architects.

Mr. Toderian said the four sites were chosen because they're at gateways to the city and because they are on the city's "ceremonial" streets.

The four include three on Georgia Street: the site next to the Bay, a parkade owned by the Holborn Development Group that also owns the Ritz-Carlton site at a potential 700 feet; a site in the northeast False Creek area; and the old bus depot next to the Queen Elizabeth theatre on Georgia, owned by the city. The fourth would be at Jim Pattison's Toyota dealership site on Burrard Street.

As part of the corridor review, initiated in April, the planning department surveyed the public. More than three-quarters of Vancouverites think "downtown development is contributing to the loss of important views" and "stronger action should be taken to protect remaining views."

However, when people were asked to pick which change to the view corridors they'd be most willing to accept - narrowing the wider panorama views, raising the overall ceiling on downtown heights, or allowing just a few buildings to go higher - they chose the last choice by a significant margin.

That response led to Mr. Toderian's decision that he would recommend allowing the four new buildings.

"We did find some tolerance for limited changes that didn't challenge their values," Mr. Toderian said. "They selected a number of taller buildings rather than tightening the view or raising the Plimsoll line."

Mr. Toderian's report is expected to come to council in late January, where the public can respond directly to his proposal and where councillors will make the final decision.

The department's review will also create one new view corridor, this one aimed at protecting views of the mountains to the north from the waterfront plaza at the Olympic village.

Mr. Toderian's recommendation is being criticized by those who thought the city's view corridors were problematic.

"I think the whole exercise has missed the point entirely," says architect Richard Henriquez. He said the study had originally been aimed at figuring out how to increase building capacity in the downtown, in order for the city to trade density for community benefits.

He wanted the city to set a new policy allowing unrestricted building into the view corridor, as long as building developers provided amenities to the city and created beautiful buildings.

Planning consultant Lance Berelowitz said the recommendations are a "modest move," though not surprising in a city where people see mountains and buildings as opposed to each other.

"Some day, perhaps we can start to envision buildings as a part of the view."

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