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Vehicles idle in traffic on West Broadway at Cambie Street in Vancouver on March 12, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A proposal to build the tallest tower in Vancouver’s “second downtown” on Broadway is setting off an impassioned fight among supporters and opponents, all of whom see it as a symbol of a big new wave of development and change in the city.

The 39-storey tower at the key intersection of Broadway and Granville, above a new rapid-transit station that will be part of the project, is headed for a public hearing Thursday night.

If council approves it, builder PCI Developments will be able to switch the construction that is already under way from its current limit of five storeys to the taller building. That would have nine floors of office space, a grocery store and 223 rental apartments where 49 of them would be permanently priced at below-market rates. A station on the new Broadway SkyTrain line is being integrated into the project.

Vancouver council approves 28-storey rental tower on Broadway

“The city’s got a real opportunity here,” said Tim Grant, president of the company developing the former bank site. “We think there will be a lot of demand from all sectors for this building.”

City staff are recommending approval of the higher building, saying it helps meet many city goals because it provides both work and living space on a major transit station in the central section of Broadway that is Vancouver’s second-biggest downtown.

It also fits in with general ideas that are being developed for the Broadway Plan, which will be the city’s blueprint, when approved later this year, for how much and what kind of new housing and office space will be allowed along the soon-to-be-completed Broadway subway line. That plan promises to be a key issue in the October civic election.

About 100 people have already submitted responses to the city, split almost evenly between support and opposition, while 32 have signed up to speak Thursday.

Some, like retiree and volunteer Zen Buddhist chaplain Gareth Sirotnik, are dismayed at the thought of such a large building – and what it means for all of Broadway, as city staff prepare to finalize a plan for the street that currently proposes towers up to 40 storeys around transit stations.

“I am in favour of increased density. But I think this project is a disaster,” said Mr. Sirotnik, who bought a condo in an 18-storey building a block away from the project 30 years ago. “And it’s leverage for the whole Broadway plan. And it won’t be a grand avenue if it’s just high-rises.”

He said the area should be restricted to buildings about 19 to 24 storeys at the most, with more attention paid to the kind of “enlightened urban design” that used to characterize Vancouver development.

But others have weighed in on the other side, saying the housing is desperately needed and the location is ideal for more apartments.

“I live less than two blocks away and am strongly in favour of the proposed development,” wrote Vancouver teacher Stefana Mussenden in her comments to the city. “It adds housing to the area without displacing current tenants and includes housing at a below-market price for those with a lower income. Building density on a major transit hub should be a no-brainer, the city needs more rental housing and this spot is a prime location for it.”

Even more bluntly, Matthew Yeoman wrote: “I am in favour of this being built immediately. If possible, build it taller and include more units. We are DYING for more housing.”

PCI decided to ask for the higher building last fall, as Vancouver planners were starting to produce general concepts for the Broadway Plan that showed towers as high as 40 storeys might be considered at transit stations.

The plan is still going through refinement and will come to council for a vote sometime before the civic election on Oct. 15 in what many believe will be a defining decision for the future Vancouver.

At 39 storeys, the PCI tower would be the tallest building outside the downtown core except for what will eventually be produced at the Oakridge Centre mall development, where some apartment buildings are slated to go to 43 and 52 storeys.

The tallest structure downtown is the Shangri-La at 62 storeys. Outside downtown, the biggest existing tower is at Marine Gateway in south Vancouver on a Canada Line stop, where one building is 35 storeys, while there is a 30-storey tower that’s been built at Kingsway and Joyce.

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