Vancouver Heritage Density Bank

A Policy Tool for Heritage Conservation

The “banking” of density to facilitate heritage conservation was approved by Vancouver City Council in 1993. The Vancouver Heritage Density Bank is a market-driven, financial incentive to encourage people to conserve their heritage building by selling the additional density allowed if they demolished the building and built to the site’s zoning potential. Owners could deposit “airspace” into a bank, and when the density was purchased for use at another site, the payment compensated owners for additional costs associated with restoring the building. The density bank was originally conceived as a tool for heritage restoration, but has since been used to provide other amenities. Council set a precedent at the Woodward’s development when they approved of the transfer of amenity density in addition to heritage density. The Transfer of Density Policy outlines where density can be transferred to and from:

“7 (b) Transfer of density may be considered for approval by the Development Permit Board involving heritage sites located within and between the various zones of the Central Area including: Downtown District ODP, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, C-5, C-6, HA-1, HA-1A, HA-2 and CD-1, and those portions of C-3A located west of Main Street, north of 16th Avenue, and east of Burrard Street, except that no heritage density may be transferred onto sites located in the HA-1, HA-1A and HA-2 Districts.

From 1993 to 2011, just over 3 million square feet of density for transfer has been approved. Of that just over 1.8 million sq. ft has been transferred – leaving just under 1.2 million sq. ft in the bank. More than 40 heritage sites have been restored and rehabilitated as a result. In 2008 the city determined that there was too much accumulated density and put a freeze on the transfer of density. It has been estimated that a healthy balance in the bank is in the order of 500,000 square feet or the equivalent of approximately two years of absorption. Until a healthy balance is achieved there will continue to be a freeze on the creation of new density. While staff proactively look for new landing site opportunities, including areas like Northeast False Creek, achieving a healthy balance is still a few years away. City Council has directed staff to investigate opportunities to transfer density beyond where it is currently permitted in the policy.

The Heritage Density Bank as originally conceived worked exceptionally well for encouraging the conservation of heritage buildings. It is important for the future of heritage conservation to return the bank to a healthy level as soon as possible. Once the bank has achieved equilibrium or balance, there needs to be criteria in place to assess priorities. Heritage Vancouver strongly supports the use of the bank solely for heritage conservation with strict guidelines to define the type of heritage conservation that is eligible. This will go a long way to ensuring a healthy Heritage Density Bank and an effective tool to support heritage conservation well into the future.

From Janet Leduc
Executive Director, Heritage Vancouver
March 30, 2012