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Is the current location of the East Van cross on shaky ground?

Nature’s Path’s new head office, a 10-storey building with a honeycomb-like exterior, will be constructed near the city’s iconic East Van cross, but one question remains — will the East Van cross remain near the building?
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Nature’s Path’s new head office, a 10-storey building with a honeycomb-like exterior, will be constructed near the city’s iconic East Van cross, but one question remains — will the East Van cross remain near the building?

At its Jan. 21 meeting, the Development Permit Board voted unanimously in favour of the development application for the project. The building will be constructed on vacant property at 2102 Keith Dr. between Keith and Clark drives along East Sixth Avenue.

 On Jan. 21, the Development Permit Board voted unanimously in favour of a 10-storey building that would house Nature’s Path’s new head office. Although the architects took into consideration the building’s proximity to the East Van cross, relocation of the public art piece is not out of the question. Photo Dan ToulgoetOn Jan. 21, the Development Permit Board voted unanimously in favour of a 10-storey building that would house Nature’s Path’s new head office. Although the architects took into consideration the building’s proximity to the East Van cross, relocation of the public art piece is not out of the question. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The cross is located on city-owned land just east of the building site.

Although the building’s design by architectural firm Dialog takes sightlines to the landmark cross into consideration, the City of Vancouver is in the early stages of assessing whether it should be relocated. The city commissioned artist Ken Lum to design the artwork, officially called Monument for East Vancouver, in 2009 as part of the Olympic and Paralympic Art Program.

Dialog’s Martin Nielsen, who presented the development application to the Development Permit Board, thinks the cross should stay.

“I think everybody on the team — we love the cross. It’s an important icon for Vancouver. We think it’s in the right place. We’d be sad to see it move. However, if that’s deemed necessary, so be it.”

Nielsen noted the building has been sculpted to preserve as many views of the cross as possible, including those from the SkyTrain. The building will also be situated 125 feet away from the cross.

 Nature's Path (Rendering)Nature’s Path (Rendering)

The staff report on the development application noted the City of Vancouver and Lum were aware that the vacant land would be developed at the time the public art was installed.

Eric Fredericksen, public art program manager at the City of Vancouver, wouldn’t specify what other locations are being considered for the cross but said staff are looking at options where the cross would enjoy “very good” long-range views, where it would maintain a relationship to East Vancouver and where future development wouldn’t be likely to change the view relationship to it over time.

A decision about whether the East Van cross remains in place or is moved is expected to be made in the next few months. If the city moves forward with a new site, neighbours and the public would be notified prior to the work being moved.

The building

The property at 2102 Keith Dr. was bought for $17.5 million in 2016. The land was assessed at $23.7 million on the 2019 BC Assessment roll.

The site is owned by a numbered company, 1077333 BC Ltd., which is subsequently owned by another company and a trust. An officer and director of these entities is connected to Nature’s Path, an organic food company currently headquartered in Richmond, which employs 150 people.

When completed, a portion of the building will serve as Nature’s Path’s new head office. Other space would be leased out.

In an email to the Courier prior to the DPB meeting, Tony Astles, president of real estate for Bentall Kennedy and a spokesman for the project, said a large portion of the new building’s structure would be made of renewable mass timber, while the internal structure is supported by an exoskeleton structure, which will also, in part, be made of timber.

“The exoskeleton has additional shading benefits which mitigate solar impact on the south and west side of the building. This passive mechanism reduces heat gain and [therefore] lowers energy costs to cool the building,” he wrote.

In its report, city staff concluded the building will provide “a great deal of desired job space and creativity near major transit routes” and that the proposal was consistent with the intents of existing zoning.

 Nature's Path architectural drawingNature’s Path architectural drawing

Most speakers at the DPB meeting spoke strongly in favour of the building.

Ted Morgan, a homeowner who lives across from China Creek North Park, which is close to the building site, supported the application, explaining he welcomed development along Great Northern Way. He maintains an increase in activity in the area would improve safety and security at Vancouver Community College SkyTrain Station, which is fairly quiet, especially after hours.

“In addition to what this building will bring in beautifying the neighbourhood, it will bring much-needed and desired vibrance and traffic to the area…” he said.

Another speaker, an engineer who lives in Mount Pleasant and is part owner of a business across the street whose employees have worked on mass timber projects, called the building a good improvement to the area.

He said it will showcase timber construction and innovation in general.

David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, whose head office is at 1077 Great Northern Way by Glen Drive, also said the building will be a great addition to the street, to the future of Vancouver, and to the economy.

Several of those who spoke in support of the application work for Nature’s Path, including one man who said the building will enhance the neighbourhood and that it can co-exist with the East Van cross.

Not everyone was in favour of the project, however.

Marc Lindy, who owns the residence closest to the development, was chief critic. He argued the building was out of character for the neighbourhood and “absolutely conflicts and interferes with one of Vancouver’s most recognized and important public artworks.”

Lindy maintains it will create a major obstruction to the sightlines of the cross.

“Monument for East Vancouver occupies far more than just the small corner at Clark Drive and East Sixth Avenue. The artist’s intention is for this work of art to be a monument and a beacon, visible from a great distance.  Likewise that was also the City’s intention when they accepted and erected this public artwork. The sightlines of this monument or beacon comprise as much, or more, of the artwork’s capacity as the physical portion of the work — the metal, LED lights and concrete,” he told the DPB.

“Unlike a public artwork that might exist in a park, plaza, or on a wall, the scope of Monument for East Vancouver is extensive; seen from as far as the west side and downtown it signals the gateway to East Vancouver’s vitality. Any change to its capacity as a monument or beacon diminishes the work’s integrity and meaning. It disregards the artist’s intention. It disregards Lum’s intention for the work to be 'an expression of hope and defiance' for a neighbourhood that has historically been in stark contrast to neighbourhoods to the west.”

When the city’s director of planning Gil Kelley, a member of the DPB, asked if Lindy had any solution in mind, Lindy responded: “The horse is already out of the gate. I just want to be the person who comes here and says, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself for not having better stewardship over public art.' Public art — they’re not Lego pieces with Velcro that you move around. This is important work and it’s not being taken seriously. This is not about the work versus developer. It’s too late for that. You just haven’t thought it through and you haven’t respected the work. This isn’t a minor artist… whatever you do, think twice about moving it.”

 Model of the property site. Photo by Dan Toulgoet.Model of the property site. Photo by Dan Toulgoet.

Before the final vote, Ryan Rohani, a member of the DPB’s advisory panel, voiced support for the project, praising the development team for approaching it in a unique way on a constrained site, as well as its contribution to the creation of job space, its location near a SkyTrain station, and its innovation in design and architecture.

“I do agree that moving the artwork would be a bad idea... I really don’t believe the building’s design takes away from the artwork. I think it adds to it in that it’s such a unique, well-designed building,” he said.

Fredericksen told the DPB that staff have been in touch with Lum and have kept him updated about potential alternative sites but he has not taken an active role in such considerations.

Fredericksen also told the board that the city sometimes considers re-positioning public artwork because the site conditions change over time and artwork can be given new life by adjusting its location.

Meanwhile Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path CEO, told the Courier he was “very pleased” the development application was approved.

“I’d prefer to have [the cross] stay because I don’t think [the building] is impeding it. You can see it from the SkyTrain and you can see it coming up and going down Great Northern Way. We shaped the building in such a way you’d have maximum visibility of the cross.”

The applicant team for the new building plans to apply for a staged building permit, with the stage one application in the spring of 2019. Site clearing and excavation would start in late summer or early fall with occupancy for the building targeted for late 2021.

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