Saving the Waldorf could cost city

City council last week directed staff to investigate the heritage significance of the newly sold Waldorf Hotel and report back by mid-May. But city hall watchers believe that if the site is designated as a heritage landmark, the city would have to provide developer-buyer Solterra Group significant compensation.

Staff are likely to find that the 65year-old structure has historical significance, given the public outcry about the sale of the structure spurred on by tweets from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. But adding the site to the city's heritage registry would be a symbolic yet impotent move, because it would not legally prevent an owner from demolishing the structure.

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The city could prevent demolition only by officially designating the structure as a heritage building, which would require the city to compensate Solterra for any loss in property value, says Brian Jackson, the city's general manager of planning and development.

Jackson believes that if city council deems that the site is worth saving, it will designate the Waldorf Hotel as a heritage building and grant Solterra bonus density as compensation.

"It's really the density bonusing that allows us to be creative in how to address the issue of compensation," he said.

Because the city appeared to be caught off guard by the Waldorf Hotel's sale, both councillor George Affleck and former city chief

planner Brent Toderian, who now owns Toderian UrbanWORKS consulting practice, said the city should stop being reactive and develop a policy to protect other endangered potential heritage structures.

Affleck criticized Robertson for not coming to the aid of other historic cultural landmarks such as the Ridge and Pantages theatres.

"We need a better heritage registry in general. I don't want to see these things coming ad hoc," said Affleck. "Heritage is not about bricks and mortar. It's how we feel about a site as people in a young city. That's the appropriate way to approach it for the developers' sake, for anybody's sake."

Jackson confirmed that documenting heritage sites is on his staff's to-do list.

News of the recent sale of East Vancouver's Waldorf Hotel has rekindled fears that the site will become another example of what critics call "spot rezoning" - a rezoning that's approved with significantly higher allowable density than either past zoning for the site or nearby properties.

"The public is increasingly concerned about spot re-zonings, especially when they result in dramatic changes from what might otherwise be permitted on a site," said Michael Geller and Associates principal Michael Geller.

He pointed to council last year approving Westbank Projects Corp.'s planned 22-storey tower at 1401 Comox Street in the West End. That project increased density 500 per cent. Wall Financial Corp. received a similar density boost in October for its project at 955 East Hastings Street. Many West Enders similarly remember the controversial 2009 spot rezoning at 1215 Bidwell Street that allowed Millennium English Bay Properties to build a 21-storey tower.

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