The following is an excerpt from my final research project in the SFU Urban Studies program. If you’re interested in Main Street Skytrain Station, the neighbourhood around it, or the history of land-use planning policies in eastern False Creek, you’ll love this series!
The rezoning by-law for City Gate was enacted by the City in 1990, and the site was rezoned to CD-1, or comprehensive development suitable for mixed residential and commercial uses. The permit allowed up to a maximum of 1,018 residential dwelling units including 25 percent dedicated for social housing. The total floor area granted for residential uses was 122,532 square meters (1.3 million square feet).
The development application for City Gate marked the beginning of a post-Expo transformation that was occurring at the same time in north False Creek. It was a very high-density project for the area [and at that time], which now fully completed, is estimated to have a 3.8 FSR (floor space ratio) and 110 units per acre. The SEFC Official Development plan in comparison assigns an average 3.5 FSR to the entire area and a maximum building height of 64 meters at the southwest corner of Main Street and Terminal Avenue.
The period of time since the planning process began for the Main Street station area has been almost 30 years. The City Gate project took 15 years to complete after it was started in 1992, and the north side of False Creek (Concord Pacific) was completed in about the same time period. However, the redevelopment of North False Creek represented nearly eight times the number of housing units.
The histories of redevelopment for North False Creek and East False Creek reveal a paradox with the impact of rapid transit on development. While most of North False Creek, owned by Concord Pacific, was successfully redeveloped and marketed as high-density urban community, the transformation of the Main Street Station area did not occur in the way it was envisioned. Main Street Station is still bordered by vacant land. Given that North False Creek and Yaletown did not have rapid transit service until 2009, when the Canada Line opened, there is reason to question the extent to which rapid transit has influenced decisions around urban redevelopment.
Since the mid-1980s, a significant public investment in rapid transit and land-use rezoning plan existed in East False Creek; however the momentum of redevelopment shifted dramatically to the north and west of False Creek in the post-Expo (early 1990s) period. This shift happened with the sale of land to Concord Pacific after Expo, the approval of a rezoning and development plan in 1990, and the gradual emergence of Vancouver into a global housing market. The former and latter factors are inextricably linked, and may have provided the necessary factors for success – namely, the injection of foreign development capital and global marketing.
The City Gate development that did proceed in East False Creek after 1990, however, was closely influenced by municipal support for the residential transformation of North False Creek. So even though the City supported redevelopment around Main Street station as a transit-oriented land use strategy, this historical trajectory suggests that there were necessary antecedents to successful growth that were not influenced by the presence of a rapid transit station.
It is also ironic that both the Main Street station and City Gate development were exercises in experimentation. The station was designed as a demonstration for the public and private contractors to learn about construction techniques and station amenities. Whereas the City Gate project represented one of the first, high-density residential tower communities along False Creek to incorporate a new design ideology. Many of the urban design principles established by the FC-1 guidelines in 1986 were replicated in the City Gate project and later with other developments in North False Creek. These principles, such as a slim tower form and strong street enclosure, were intended to mitigate the potential negative impacts of this new urban form on public and private spaces.
Both of these experiments in transit and development, while novel for the City of Vancouver when they were built, still have significant deficits in design and community context.