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Vast high-rise plan divides South Vancouver

A towering structure of steel and glass reaches skyward, dwarfing the surrounding low-rise apartments, single-family homes and duplexes. Like a…

By Tyler Harbottle , in City , on October 28, 2010 Tags: , , , ,

A sign of possible future development is all that stands on the vacant lot next to the Marine Drive Canada Line station

A towering structure of steel and glass reaches skyward, dwarfing the surrounding low-rise apartments, single-family homes and duplexes.

Like a leaning stack of giant lego blocks, it cantilevers out over the surrounding Vancouver community.

Its terraced facade resembles a great stairway rising out of nothing, and reaching nowhere.

Nearby, a shorter, stockier building mimics the tower’s presence. Both sit atop a spanning complex of retail and commercial facilities, achieving almost a million square feet of development.

The adjacent Canada Line Skytrain delivers a fresh batch of patrons every few minutes.  For every train that arrives, another departs, whisking riders away.

Welcome to Marine Gateway, a bold assertion of high-density urban development and a beacon of Marpole’s future. It’s a vision for the corner of Cambie Street and Southwest Marine Drive offered by a major Vancouver developer.  But not everyone shares it.

“Marine Gateway is too tall, too dense, too wide, just too big,” said Jo-Anne Pringle, co-founder of the Marpole Area Residents’ Alliance.

Pringle and other community members formed the alliance in June to unify their community voice in the face of what they see as hasty urban development.

The corner of Cambie Street and Southwest Marine Drive is seen as a target for increased population density.

Marpole is one of several communities included in the Cambie Corridor Planning Program, which envisions higher population density around Canada Line Skytrain stations.

The Marine Drive station in Marpole is one of the targets, and could be rezoned to allow multiple high-rise developments, such as Marine Gateway.

PCI Development Corp., the company behind the Marine Gateway proposal, applied to rezone its property in April 2009, under the auspices of the program.

Architects have proposed an equally large project for an adjacent property in a rezoning application filed in June.

The two developments together would have almost as many dwellings as the undersold and still sparsely populated Olympic Village

PCI has altered its designs three times in response to concerns regarding the scale of the development, and submitted a revised application.  A city review and approval process is ongoing.

Mixed messages

Most people who live in the area support new development and new shops and services for their community.

Randy Pilon, a resident of Marpole, favours the Marine Gateway project.

“It’s sort of like bringing a bit of downtown to our neighbourhood,” Pilon said, whose comments along with others can be found on the city’s website.  “I’m giving it two thumbs up.”

According to a survey of residents in September, two-thirds of respondents said they “favoured the proposal,” and 23 per cent said they were “strongly in favour” of the development.  Respondents cited the project’s convenience to public transit and increased retail space as the top reasons for their support.

But some have challenged the survey’s findings, including former Vancouver architect, Bill McCreery.

“From a review of the survey it is clear the results are skewed because of the significant numbers who were not familiar with the project, and… [they] were presented with what the developer wanted them to see,” wrote McCreery in an online debate.

‘Project is too big’

Several Marpole residents have expressed concern regarding the scale of the development, the shadows its towers would cast and the degree of increased density.

Even members of a city-appointed advisory board questioned the scale of the proposal.

Trish French, a Marpole resident and former assistant director of planning with the city, agreed.

“I am very concerned that no one on the outside of city hall seems to be aware of the current situation, and the precedent it sets for the way future development is dealt with throughout the city,” she wrote in a letter to city council last month.