First Shaughnessy neighbourhood in Vancouver to see more density allowances

The protected First Shaughnessy area in the Vancouver Westside will need to see new gentle densification allowances in order to comply with the provincial government’s various new legislation relating to housing.

First Shaughnessy is located at the northwest corner of the broader Shaughnessy neighbourhood in an area generally framed by by West 16th Avenue to the north, Arbutus Street to the west, King Edward Avenue to the south, and Oak Street to the east.

This sub-area of the Shaughnessy neighbourhood was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s as an enclave. To this day, it remains a very low density neighbourhood — comprised of big houses (mansions) on large lots with older architectural styles — with existing City of Vancouver regulations providing the sub-area with special heritage character area protections.

However, according to a new City staff report that will be deliberated by Vancouver City Council next week, the restrictive zoning spanning First Shaughnessy will need to be changed to align with the provincial government’s new legislation relating to enabling small-scale multi-unit housing on single-family lots.

According to City staff, a total of 586 First Shaughnessy zoning district lots and 1,128 protected residential zoning lots elsewhere in the city would need to adopt the new multi-unit zoning, which would likely enable existing large homes to be divided into multiple units and the construction of infill housing structures.

Additionally, the northernmost areas of the First Shaughnessy sub-area — generally along West 16th Avenue — are within the outer 800-metre radiuses of the transit-oriented areas emanating from SkyTrain’s future Arbutus and South Granville stations. Under the provincial government’s new transit-oriented development legislation, residential uses up to eight storeys would be permitted for such sites on the outer edge of each transit-oriented area radius.

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Small-scale multi-unit housing and transit-oriented development legislation impacts. (City of Vancouver)

first shaughnessy neighbourhood vancouver small scale multi unit toa

Small-scale multi-unit housing and transit-oriented development legislation impacts. (City of Vancouver)

City staff note that they will be returning to City Council this June with detailed policy recommendations for approval ahead of the provincial government’s June 30, 2024 deadline for municipal governments to create bylaws and policies that comply with the small-scale multi-unit housing legislation and the transit-oriented development legislation.

However, it remains to be seen whether higher densities within First Shaughnessy are economically viable due to land prices.

In reaction to City staff’s report on the various forthcoming changes to comply with provincial housing-related legislation, including the changes to First Shaughnessy, BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon applauded the new signals coming from the municipal government.

“All communities, wealthy or not, have a role to play in helping address housing challenges. Thank you City of Vancouver for the work to align with our legislation,” wrote Kahlon in a post on X on Wednesday.

“This is a step in the right direction. We hope all local governments align with our site standards to see more homes built.”

The forthcoming new municipal decisions would effectively repeal the 2015-approved policies by City Council to create a new heritage conservation area spanning the First Shaughnessy sub-area. At the time, this was in response to concerns over the growing number of demolitions of heritage character houses.

The 2015 revised designation for the sub-area created new protections for both heritage homes built before 1940 and the conservation of the neighbourhood’s overall heritage character. As well, it provided some flexibility and incentives for facilitating heritage building rehabilitation.

According to the Heritage Vancouver Society, the previous policies in place for First Shaughnessy between 1982 and 2015 deemed the sub-area to be a heritage “character” area, which greatly differentiates from the heritage “conservation” area policy that has been in place since 2015. Under the previous policy, new building developments that replicate the area’s character — known for architectural styles such as Arts & Crafts, Federal Colonial, and neo-Tudor — would meet the minimum requirements of the zoning.

Prior to 2015, policies in effect since 1982 enabled the construction of larger houses and the reduction of “character-defining estate landscaping.” Furthermore, a 1994 ruling by the City created the precedent that enables the vast majority of houses to be demolished.

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First Shaughnessy conservation area. (City of Vancouver)

first shaughnessy conservation area vancouver map 1

First Shaughnessy conservation area. (Google Maps)

The municipal government even has an advisory design panel for the First Shaughnessy sub-area, called the First Shaughnessy Advisory Design Panel — not dissimilar to the municipal government’s city-wide Urban Design Panel. It provides City staff and City Council with input on preserving the special character of the heritage conservation area.

“In [First] Shaughnessy, curved tree-lined streets were laid out which followed the contours of the land, in contrast to the grid system common in Vancouver. Residents would be able to enjoy generous lot sizes of a minimum of 10,000 square feet. The centrepiece of the plan for the area was The Crescent, a circular drive fronted by expansive properties situated on the highest ground east of Granville Street,” reads a 2015 City staff report explaining some of the century-plus old urban design and planning choices for the area, which was termed as a “Garden City concept of urban planning.”

“The idea of a protected garden enclave, strictly residential and emphasizing natural and private spaces, became popular in North America, and many were developed in larger cities. The urban form of these enclaves was often coordinated through the use of early land use controls typical of modern zoning, including controlled setbacks, landscaping, and design controls. Also highly influential on the design of these enclaves was the work of Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons, who designed many such enclaves in pastoral, picturesque styles, featuring vast expanses of plantings to achieve a soothing sense of nature’s richness.”

Numerous properties in First Shaughnessy carry a storied past, but one particularly notable property is the 1910-built Glen Brae Manor at 1690 Matthews Street. Originally built for an owner of a False Creek sawmill, it was briefly owned by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s for their headquarters. According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, it became a private hospital in 1980, and its ownership was later transferred to the City of Vancouver to fulfill the private hospital owner’s wishes in her will. Since 1995, after renovations, the four-storey, 16,000 sq ft mansion has been used as the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. The hospice holds a 50-year lease with the City for a nominal $1.00 annual rent.

As another example of institutional use, the 1911-built Hycroft Manor at 1489 MacRae Avenue was briefly owned by the federal government as a military hospital between the Second World War and 1962, when it was acquired by the University Women’s Club, which continues to own the property to this day. Prior to its previous government ownership, its large ballroom in the basement “was the scene of many balls held for Vancouver’s social elite.”


Christmas lights at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. (Rich Lam)

Hycroft Manor heritage homes to visit in Vancouver

Hycroft Manor. (University Women’s Club of Vancouver)

filming in Vancouver

Hycroft Manor. (University Women’s Club of Vancouver)

One of the single largest multi-unit projects built in Shaughnessy was the 2012-built The Crescent on McRae at 3238 Granville Street — located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Granville Street and West 16th Avenue, right on the northernmost extent of First Shaughnessy.

The City’s decision to permit The Crescent’s complex of 14 strata townhouses was particularly controversial. While The Crescent’s density and uses already go above and beyond the provincial government’s small-scale multi-unit housing legislation, its lot is amongst the largest properties in First Shaughnessy that are impacted by the transit-oriented development legislation.

Some foreign consulates in Vancouver have also found their place within First Shaughnessy. This includes the consulate for the People’s Republic of China in a 2002-built mansion on a 57,000 sq ft lot at 3380 Granville Street.