Skip to main content

The construction site at Broadway and Granville in Vancouver on April 22.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Vancouver Freelance

Vancouver city councillors have voted in favour of a significant new office and rental tower at a key corner along the new Broadway subway line. The decision is seen as a strong indicator about how the council is likely to vote on a rezoning plan that would affect huge swaths of land along the corridor.

The 39-storey tower that will be built at Broadway and Granville generated a pitched battle among supporters and opponents for weeks, including over three days of public hearings this month.

In the end, nine of the 11 council members from various parties and political stripes supported it, including the mayor, Green Party and OneCity representatives, the remaining Non-Partisan Association councillor, and all three former NPA councillors who have joined the new ABC party.

The tower, being built by PCI Developments, will provide a “much needed grocery store, office & 223 secured rental homes including 49 below-market rental units delivering desperately needed rental & more affordability,” said ABC councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung in a tweet after the decision.

OneCity’s Christine Boyle, who put forward the final motion in support, said it was a needed project that would not displace any renters, and give hundreds of people a home right on a transit station.

Hundreds of people, including renters in the area, business groups, B.C. Attorney-General David Eby, and others supported it.

The two councillors who opposed it are almost diametrically opposed politically, but often aligned in their concerns about new housing in Vancouver, although for different reasons.

COPE Councillor Jean Swanson, like some renters who opposed it, said it provided too little affordable housing and raised concerns about the effect the project – and the ultimate Broadway Plan – will have on existing apartments in the area, which comprise a big share of the city’s most affordable apartments. They are concerned that the tower, and the eventual Broadway Plan, will lead to massive redevelopment of older apartments in the area and force them out.

Councillor Colleen Hardwick – who will be running for re-election under a new party she has helped create called TEAM for a Livable Vancouver – has consistently opposed or abstained from votes on new housing, questioning whether it is needed, whether it is affordable enough, and whether it fits with existing Vancouver.

Despite the surprisingly strong support for the tower, the vote for the plan could be closer, even though this central, nondescript and often low-rise stretch of Broadway is often referred to as the city’s “second downtown.”

The PCI tower was a single building going up on a former bank site, where council’s only choice was to approve it as is or reject it.

The Broadway Plan covers about 500 blocks stretching from Clark Drive in the east to Vine Street in the west, and from 1st Avenue on the north side to 16th Avenue on the south, and between Fourth to 16th Avenue, an area where a quarter of the city’s renters live.

It is still being adjusted, as council members and planners look for ways to prevent massive redevelopment of older apartments and much stronger protections for renters than exist now.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart has been adamant that he wants something more for renters – either big compensation or guarantees that they can move back into new apartments at their former rents.

Working out the formula for that has been tricky for planners, because providing such big benefits to renters means, according to the math formulas they are working with, allowing fairly tall buildings – around 15 stories – in those areas.

They have struggled to communicate that that kind of formula will prevent wholesale redevelopment, because the cost of demolishing and rebuilding will be high enough to encourage many apartment owners to simply keep collecting rent on their existing buildings as long as they are in good shape.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.