British Columbia

Proposed development at Vancouver MEC property to tower above neighbourhood

The owner of the large Vancouver property where MEC is now located is planning to redevelop the site, though applications have yet to be filed. Neighbours say the plan for towers will significantly change the character of their heritage community.

Highrise towers built on property along bustling Broadway corridor would loom over heritage homes

An artist's rendering shows a design of the proposed redevelopment that was released in 2018, recontextualized to show how the modern towers would relate to the heritage homes along 10th Avenue in Vancouver. (CBC)

Jean Campbell and her family moved into a heritage home in the 100-block of West 10th Avenue in Vancouver 15 years ago. 

The turquoise house with burgundy trim and canary yellow details was built in 1894. It's set back from the tree-lined street, surrounded by larger heritage houses from roughly the same period.

"What drew me to the neighbourhood is that it's very leafy and green — and I especially like that — but also the heritage buildings give you a feeling of nostalgia for the past and times gone by," said Campbell.

But soon, the neighbourhood will see a major change. A highrise development is being planned for the block on Broadway, one street to the north.

"It's totally going to change the neighbourhood. It's going to set a precedent," Campbell said.

Jean Campbell stands in the hallway of her home, built in 1894. Campbell was part of the resistance to a development a few blocks east at Kingsway at Broadway. She plans to speak out against the redevelopment plans as well. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Her street is a unique part of the city; a row of houses with colourful paint, all carefully restored and maintained, preserving a historical area of Vancouver.

Walking along the block, one can easily forget that the Broadway corridor, one of Vancouver's busiest thoroughfares, which is slated to get a new subway line, is just the next block over.

It's in the 100-block of Broadway that Reliance Properties is planning to redevelop the site now occupied by the outdoor equipment retailer, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

Jean Campbell's heritage house was built in 1894. She and her family moved there in 2004. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

MEC is building a new store near False Creek, and when it vacates the large one-floor building with a parking lot on the roof, Reliance intends to build two towers, one with rental units and another with office space. The plan is for retail at street level.

MEC's building is about 56,000 square feet, but the towers Reliance is planning to build will be more than 350,000 square feet.

"It's a very large site, so we hope to have a project that has a couple of significant buildings," said Jon Stovell, president of Reliance Properties.

Reliance is months away from beginning the city's rezoning and development application process, but last summer, an artist's renderings of an architectural concept were revealed, showing two, 23-storey white, modern towers, perched on a raised park area above retail space.

Stovell said the artist's renderings shouldn't have been released, and may not accurately show the design of the development Reliance plans to put forward. But for neighbours like Campbell, they came as a shock.

"It's just the towers that I resent," said Campbell. "They encroach on the privacy of the residents, as well as losing the heritage feel."

Mountain Equipment Co-op operates out of a building originally designed to serve as a car dealership. Its owner, Reliance Properties, plans to replace it with two towers sitting on a multi-storey podium. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The property is already zoned for up to six storeys, and there are several buildings nearby on Broadway that reach that high. Campbell said that would be completely acceptable.

But according to Stovell, Reliance is taking its design cue from the taller buildings further west, past Cambie Street.

"A lot of the buildings along Broadway have that kind of mid-century modern, kind of punched window expression, a strong — kind of a grid character," he said. "Really, that building was designed to be kind of Broadway 2.0."

Vancouver's Broadway corridor has plenty of high rises, especially between Cambie and Oak streets. (Google Streetview)

He said the design that eventually goes to public hearings and in front of city council for final approval will likely be shorter than the 23-storey concept. He said the podium may be about six storeys high, and the two towers may be closer to 15 storeys.

According to city staff, development proposals are considered in terms of their fit with community plans, design guidelines, existing zoning, surrounding neighbourhood context and development objectives.

Stovell said he hopes to have a design to bring to city officials in the fall.

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker