4. Historic Areas; Gastown, Hastings, Chinatown

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2008 Top10 Watch List

4. Historic Areas; Gastown, Hastings, Chinatown
The Byrnes Block (1886) in Vancouver's Gastown on Water Street. Photo permission courtesy of Bob Hare.

In 1971, The Province designated Gastown and Chinatown as “Historic Areas”. In 2002 the city adopted the Gastown Heritage Management Plan to retain the heritage character of Gastown including the distinctive sawtooth streetscape profiles and height limits of 75 feet.

To defray some of the costs of restoration, building owners were given incentives – later extended to Chinatown and Hastings Street.

One of the incentives “the transfer of density to sites outside of the Historic Areas” proved to be hugely successful – apparently too successful for the City of Vancouver – and a freeze was placed on this very effective restoration tool in 2007.

The city has since announced a Historic Precinct Height Study to identify specific areas and sites in the historic precincts where additional height might be considered. The City’s EcoDensity Charter proposes increased building heights in Gastown, Hastings and Chinatown districts and the extension of the transfer of density to include “Green projects”, at a time when the city is worried that the density bank already contains too much density.

If these initiatives go ahead, the weakening of the transfer of density tool and the increase in heights, they will effectively gut the Gastown Heritage Management Plan and more insidiously could destroy the character of Vancouver’s historic neighbourhoods. It is ironic that these threats to our historic neighbourhoods are coming less than a year after of the city received a Provincial Heritage award for excellence in heritage restoration as embodied in the Heritage Building Rehabilitation Program.

It is equally ironic that as cultural tourism is increasing by 15% annually, Vancouver is introducing measures that could effectively destroy our historic areas.