Vancouver, B.C., says it wants density. But it isn’t sure how much is too much when it comes to a proposed project along its new rapid transit line just outside the downtown core. 

The proposed nearly 1 million of square feet of the Marine Gateway project by PCI Group on the Canada Line—designed by Busby Perkins + Will—attracts plenty of attention, both for its right-there design—including a 35-story tower—and for all that it offers in density close to a transit line.

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The stacked towers at Marine Gateway

The project creates a discussion where city planning, architecture and engineering and transportation issues all come into play.

Proposed at LEED Gold, development includes stores, restaurants, medical offices, condominium and rental homes and business offices at the southeast corner of Marine Drive and Cambie Street on the shores of the Fraser River.

But feedback from the community, city and urban design panel has the developers behind the $220-million project retooling their efforts.

Local reaction doesn’t mix too well. There is obvious reaction, on both sides, to the stacked look of the towers that are now no longer part of the selling point of the project. The tower image came out early in the process and has subsequently been stripped from promotional material, an effort to not polarize those who don’t find it visually attractive, I can only guess.

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A visual rendering of Marine Gateway

Plus, with a recent decision by the urban design panel against the overall design of the project, only narrowly, reworking of the look both in the interior of the project and in its most visually striking piece certainly awaits.

While the stacked tower draws attention, the Marine Gateway project does pose several questions for Vancouver development and engineering outside of major downtown cores. With low-rise projects all around, how dense is too dense? And because amenities are farther from each other outside of downtowns, these mixed-use projects often become self-contained. Is that a good thing? Does it promote community?

Vancouver wants to be careful with how it handles Marine Gateway. There is a citywide push for density along the light rail line, but this is the first major development in that push and the city wants to get it right. It doesn’t want to risk pushing nearby industrial land prices too high, upset neighbors to the point that it creates resistance to future development along the line or simply instill an overall fear about density.

This discussion becomes more important because it meshes development, construction design and transportation into one arena. If there is anywhere to put density, put it along rapid transit lines. Do it with mixed-use and creative architecture and engineering. Vancouver runs on the right track, so we’ll wait and see if trains keep rolling past Marine Gateway or if the city will get off the tracks and explore the possibilities.

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Marine Gateway interior