A Vancouver city committee will consider a motion calling for a review of the city’s protected “view cones,” which have historically been used to preserve the city’s vistas, to favour housing density amid a housing crisis.
The motion from ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner will go before the city’s Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities on Wednesday, and is expected to be passed by the ABC majority.
“THAT Council direct staff to initiate a review of framed views that can be eliminated to unlock additional housing and job space over the immediate short term,” it reads.
The idea is expected to draw debate, however, over the importance of preserving one of Vancouver’s most notable features — its physical beauty and connection to nature — as opposed to building more housing.
“It’s really about balancing the need for a beautiful city … but also the need for housing ,” Meiszner told CBC News in an interview.
“We are losing social housing because of view cones; we’re losing rental units because of view cones.”
The motion asks staff to review protected view corridors showcasing the North Shore mountains, downtown skyline and surrounding water, and figure out how much housing, office space and amenities such as parks could be built in places where the view cones have become dated or have limited value.
Meiszner said the review would not end up eliminating protected panoramic views, such as Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park.
“I realize the importance of [the view cones], and I don’t want people to be alarmed. This is simply a review of the lower priority view cones to help unlock more housing across Vancouver,” he said.
“The reality is, we aren’t in view cones or shadow crisis, but a housing crisis.” Learn more in the video👇🏻about my motion coming to council this week to review the city’s view cones and unlock more housing opportunities, so everyone in Vancouver can find a home. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/vanpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#vanpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/vanre?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#vanre</a> <a href=”https://t.co/s5TrAnSvK4″>pic.twitter.com/s5TrAnSvK4</a>
Since 1989, the City of Vancouver View Protection Guidelines has preserved more than two dozen views by limiting the location and design of new buildings, often resulting in developments that are reduced in height or size.
Tom Davidoff, an associate professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C., says housing versus views is a tradeoff in a city like Vancouver, but a review of view cones is timely.
“It probably makes sense to revisit because housing prices are much higher today than … when the view cones were established,” he said.
Davidoff said that as Vancouver councils have pushed for increasing density, in a city where the average price for a one-bedroom rental is currently around $3,000 according to Rentals.ca, they have focused on transportation corridors, rather than neighbourhoods originally designed for single-family homes.
“We tend to pile on density like the Broadway corridor, which is fine, but the very tall buildings do get in the way of views. I think probably if we’re going to continue to densify in these core areas, we’re going to have to impact some of the view cones,” he said.
In mid-September city councillors approved sweeping changes to zoning and development bylaws that will permit multi-unit dwellings in neighbourhoods where only single-family homes have previously been allowed.
“When you live in a place where land is super valuable, sacrifices have to be made,” said Davidoff. “It gets easier to retain the view corridors if we allow meaningful density.”
He said allowing structures such as duplexes or triplexes on lots designed for single-family homes will probably not generate enough housing to make a dent in the city’s housing deficit.
Taking aim at Vancouver’s view cones has been a priority of Mayor Ken Sim since he was elected in November 2022. In January he told the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade that the city should have the tallest development projects in the region, rather than Surrey or Burnaby.