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Vancouver's Northeast False Creek plan approved despite concerns over mountain views

The Northeast False Creek plan allows three towers to partially block the Cambie view cone

Vancouver's Cambie view cone gives residents a view of the North Shore mountains.

Courtesy of / City of Vancouver

Vancouver's Cambie view cone gives residents a view of the North Shore mountains.

Vancouver city council approved a $1.7-billion plan to develop Northeast False Creek, giving the nod to three new condo towers that would cut into residents’ mountain views.

Tuesday’s decision was a blow to activists and urban planners who have spoken out against the intrusion into one of the city’s major "view cones," from Cambie Street.

“I felt really disappointed because this is an irreversible decision that they are making,” said Melody Ma, who is leading the Save Our Skyline YVR campaign.

“Once you put up these towers, no one can re-create these views that Mother Nature gave us. These public views are priceless.”

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In 1989, Vancouver established a policy to protect 11 “view cones” or view corridors throughout the city centre. More have been added since then and as a result, it is possible to see the North Shore mountains from much of downtown Vancouver.  

But the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) Plan allows developers to build condos up to 425 feet (about 42 storeys) at Georgia Street and Pacific Avenue, which would partially block the view corridor from Cambie and 11th Avenue.

Gil Kelly, director of planning at the City of Vancouver, noted the large number of emails staff had received in the past week since the campaign launched, but stood firm in his conviction that partially blocking the view cone was the right call.

“I would note that this has been part of the proposal for the better part of the year and have been vetted in public and by the public,” he told council on Tuesday.

Allowing the three towers was the best way to achieve the level of density required to pay for the other amenities in the Northeast False Creek plan, he stated. The plan calls for 1,800 new units of social housing and 32 acres of new and "renewed" park land.

The specific placement of the towers, on Georgia Street, will "frame" a gateway to downtown, much like the tall buildings already do near Granville and Burrard bridges, he added.

But other urban planners do not see it that way.

“City of Vancouver council has decided that the views belong to residents that can afford to buy NEFC condos,” tweeted urban planner Sandy James, who called it “a sad day.”

Two of Vancouver’s past directors of planning chimed in when the plan was first released two weeks ago. Larry Beasley and Brent Toderian both called on city staff to reconsider its plan to block the Cambie view cone.

"You can do it right nine times out of 10 and only once succumb to the pressure to block them – and you would have essentially undone the entire policy,” said Toderian.

But council approved the plan in a special meeting Tuesday and advocates are now readying themselves to fight rezoning applications for the three towers. 

Ma says a few hundred people responded to her campaign in the past five days alone, indicating Vancouverites want mountain views more than condos.

"It took a little bit of time to activate people about something that is invisible but ...people got it. People understood what the implications are for the future," she said.

“I really hope [this decision] doesn’t set a bad precedent for future developers to pressure the city for the same treatment. We won’t have a skyline anymore if that happens.” 

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