A development application for a 10-storey office building with a distinct honeycomb-like exterior, which would be built just west of the iconic East Van cross, goes before the Development Permit Board today, Jan. 21. A portion of the building would serve as the new head office for Nature’s Path, an organic food company. Other space would be leased out. Nature’s Path is currently headquartered in Richmond and employs 150 people.
While the applicant has designed the project with the East Van cross in mind, the City of Vancouver is still considering whether it should be relocated and is assessing possible new sites for the landmark piece of public art.
Architectural firm Dialog is involved in the project, which is envisioned for vacant property at 2102 Keith Dr. between Keith and Clark drives along East Sixth Avenue.
The firm submitted a revised development application, which is being considered Monday.
A previous application for an eight-storey building went before the Urban Design Panel for review last September. The applicant was seeking advice on height and massing, open space and building design strategy. The panel supported the application but also supported an increase in density and height for the site.
“The proposed height for the building was increased following support from both the Urban Design Panel and City Planning staff, to increase the height, density and employment opportunities adjacent to the VCC-Clark SkyTrain Station,” Tony Astles, president of real estate for Bentall Kennedy and a spokesman for the project, explained in an email to the Courier.
“Good sustainable practices and use of spent infrastructure monies suggests densification of employment space near transit in walkable locations.”
The revised application proposes a height of 147.3 feet or 44.9 metres, which conforms with the conditionally permitted height limit of 45.7 metres that’s outlined in city regulations, Astles explained.
The proposal also features a total floor area of 167,492 square feet, as well as 187 underground parking spaces.
The property was bought for $17.5 million in 2016. The land was assessed at $23.7 million on the 2019 BC Assessment roll.
The site is owned by a numbered company, 1077333 BC Ltd., which is subsequently owned by another company and a trust. An officer and director of these entities is connected to Nature’s Path.
Design plans consider East Van cross but it still might be relocated
Concerns have been raised in the past about the effect the building would have on the East Van cross, which artist Ken Lum designed. Originally named Monument for East Vancouver, and erected at Clark Drive and East Sixth Avenue, the City of Vancouver commissioned the piece in 2009 as part of the Olympic and Paralympic Art Program.
Astles says its importance has been taken into account by the applicant team, which considers it “to be an important cultural icon and landmark” in Vancouver.
“The design team have carefully considered and respected existing public views to the cross and have shaped the building massing to maintain an optimal experience of this important piece of public art. Existing views from the Skytrain and Clark Drive have been maintained,” he told the Courier.
Astles described the proposed 125-foot separation between the cross and the east building face as “very significant.”
Typical separation between office buildings across a lane would be 20 feet, while a typical separation between office buildings across a city street would be 66 feet.
“Office building to office building within a single block separations are as little as 40 feet. The south façade has been shaped to narrow at the east end to maintain views to the cross when approaching from the west along Great Northern Way,” he wrote.
“The site features a public stair and lower plaza area that reinforce the prominence and setting of the cross. Effectively, the reduction in views to the cross is solely from the west, for a narrow portion of the compass. Any building over two storeys would have the same effect on views from the west.”
The City of Vancouver received eight responses about the proposed development — seven were opposed and one was in favour. Those opposed to the application expressed concerns including:
- the massing doesn’t fit with the existing neighbourhood scale of development
- the obstruction of views to the East Van Cross.
- opposition to conditional height and yard relaxations
- impacts of additional traffic on the neighbourhood
- loss of views from the neighbourhood east of Clark.
The development permit staff committee has recommended the application be approved. With respect to built form, the staff report states: "The proposed 10-storey development fits well into the anticipated character and intent of the guidelines and has potential to become an iconic reference for the neighbourhood. Staff believe that the proposed contemporary architectural expression elevates considerably the streetscape."
In response to the concern that views of the East Van cross would be obstructed, the report notes, “While the building may obstruct the view of the cross from some angles, the applicant has demonstrated that the view would be maintained from some key vantage points including the SkyTrain. Public Art Planners are currently assessing relocation opportunities for the art piece.”
The report also points out: “While a proposed office development will redefine the immediate surroundings of the Monument, the City and the artist Ken Lum were aware that this land would be developed at the time the work was sited, and the architects are making efforts to protect certain views and provide design elements that act as a buffer between the Monument and the new building."
"The City does not own the land, which the development is proposed for, but it does own the portion of the land, which the artwork is on. The City has requested sight lines from the northwest to the Monument should be protected, including those from the Expo Line."
Eric Fredericksen, public art program manager at the City of Vancouver, told the Courier in an emailed statement that the cross has become an “iconic piece of artwork and part of the fabric of the city, especially for those living on the east side.”
“The architects have been working conscientiously to minimize impact on the work, designing the new building to retain some key sightlines,” he wrote.
“At the same time, the City is carrying out assessment of possible new sites for the work, given the significance of the piece. The City has been in contact with the artist and concerned neighbours and has consulted with the Public Art Committee while exploring options.”
Fredericksen expects a decision about the piece will be made in the next few months. If the city does move forward with a new site, he said neighbours and the public would be notified prior to the work being moved.
Astles said the applicant team, which likes the cross where it is, hasn't been involved in the conversation to potentially relocate it, so they can't comment on those plans. But even if it's moved, given stage of the planning process they're at and the investment that's been made, the design is unlikely to change substantially.
Design and timeline
In terms of design, Astles said a large portion of the structure of the new building would be made of renewable mass timber, while the internal structure is supported by an exoskeleton structure, which is also, in part, made of timber.
“The exoskeleton has additional shading benefits which mitigate solar impact on the south and west side of the building. This passive mechanism reduces heat gain and [therefore] lowers energy costs to cool the building,” he wrote.
If the Development Permit Board grants the project conditional approval Monday, the applicant team would apply for a staged building permit, with the stage one application in the spring of 2019. Site clearing and excavation would start in late summer or early fall with occupancy for the building targeted for late 2021.