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Dilapidated ‘heritage’ building at heart of 24-storey False Creek development

Opsal Steel building on East 2nd Avenue in Vancouver is part of a development plan that includes an extra-tall apartment building.

Does a dilapidated warehouse with gaping roofholes really have “heritage” value?

That’s just one of the questions being asked by some business owners riled by a development plan that would trade heritage preservation for an exceptionally tall condo tower in Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek.

The rezoning proposal by Bastion Development involves rehabilitation and official heritage designation for the Opsal Steel building — “a prime example of early 1900s construction” according to the developer — in exchange for bonus density and height in two proposed residential towers flanking the red, barnlike structure.

The controversial plan for a 12-storey tower at 15 East 2nd Ave. and a 24-storey tower at 97 East 2nd Ave. goes to a public hearing next Tuesday in city hall.

Michael Naylor, senior rezoning planner, said some business owners in the 2nd Avenue and Quebec Street area have complained about the height of the 24-storey tower, which exceeds the 15-storey height limit for the area.

A staff report calls the response “significant” — since previous rezoning applications in the area have generated no interest from neighbours.

Tom Shiffman, landlord of a property directly across 2nd Avenue from Opsal Steel, said “I don’t know how something that is practically ready to fall down retains heritage status,” adding that the rehabilitation plan for the rickety 1918 structure is “a bit laughable.”

“They’re talking about disassembling the building and using the lumber to make a new building.”

Shiffman said he supports redevelopment of the site, but argues that a 24-storey tower on 2nd Avenue will open the way for “a big wall of towers on one side and the little industrial ghetto they want to maintain with no views on the other side.”

Preet Marwaha, owner of nearby Organic Lives restaurant, said he doesn’t have a problem with a 24-storey tower as long as Opsal Steel is dismantled, because his clients hate looking at it.

“The building is not much of a landmark. At the end of the day, it’s an eyesore.”

A previous owner asked the city to “de-list” the Opsal Steel building from the city’s Heritage Register because of difficulty marketing the parcel of land it sits on, and that presented a “dilemma” to council, according to a staff report from 1997.

The building is “the largest surviving example of heavy timber frame construction . . . typical of early False Creek industrial buildings,” according to the report.

The developer did not respond to an interview request by deadline.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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Dilapidated ‘heritage’ building at heart of 24-storey False Creek development.

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