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[ Text and photo originate with Rider Cooey / Editing and posting by Joseph Jones ]
Start and Stop of Unsafe Pantages Demolition
The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) is a partner in community resistance to gentrification and condo development in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The 138 East Hastings site of the old Pantages Theatre has blipped strong on the radar for some time.
A fast head start on demolishing the Pantages and four adjacent buildings has been followed up by July 15 revelation of a condo development application.
The DNC criticized the demolition on grounds of health and safety violations. On 30 June 30 2011, City officials issued an overdue stop-work notice. By then the Pantages had been gutted and adjacent buildings levelled. The developer seems to have just walked away from a half-acre debris field littered with tinder-dry wood.
Residents became concerned about fire hazard. The following report by Rider Cooey of Citywide Housing Coalition outlines his attempts to get City officials to deal with the dangerous conditions at the abandoned worksite. Cooey does not believe that City officials and politicians would for a moment tolerate such a situation in neighbourhoods like Dunbar, Point Grey, Kitsilano, or Kerrisdale.
Apparent Arson Attempt
During the night of Wednesday 27 July, three firetrucks attended the abandoned demolition site of the Pantages. According to witnesses, two firefighters used a ladder-truck to reach the open roof of the old theatre and then go down into the building.
"Flaming debris was thrown from a nearby building" into the shell of the Pantages, Acting Fire Chief John McKearney told me the next day. That quick response came 10 days after I had started complaining about the Pantages fire hazard. It was only the second City response I received. [See appendix on sequence of communications below.]
Since the June 30 halt to demolition, the abandoned site, protected only by a flimsy fence on the lane, has sat littered with century-old splintered wood — a recipe for arson. An "accidental" fire offers definite advantages to clearing a demolition site. Safe and lawful demolition by the rules is slower and costs more.
Worthington Properties owns the Pantages site and four adjacent lots. Front man Marc Williams says he owns Worthington. He is trying to convince City Council to approve a six-storey condo development on the site. City officials stopped the demolition because unsafe practices were endangering both the workers and residents of nearby hotels.
The "flaming debris" incident capped off a ten-day period, July 18—28, during which I had been phoning and emailing City of Vancouver fire and building inspection officials about the fire hazard present at the Pantages demolition site.
Sequence of Communications
Telephone call to
Fire Prevention Division, VFRS
#201 - 456 West Broadway
Report of fire hazard to "Tim," who said a Fire Prevention Inspector would take a look tomorrow, no earlier. I clarified on the existence of half an acre of dry fuel, plus whatever's inside the Pantages.
Email to CoV building officials and to City Councillors, reporting a lot covered in woody debris, some of it gathered into 3 to 4 foot piles. [See story photo.]
Demolitions in Vancouver are governed by the CSA Standard Code of Practice for Safety in Demolition of Structures. Section 3.2.4. on Fire Protection states:
22.214.171.124. All combustible debris shall be removed as promptly as is practicable.
The Regent Hotel is flush against the Pantages, and a fire in the Pantages would pose an immediate risk to the Regent.
Smoke from a fire anywhere on this site would pose a serious hazard to the residents of the several surrounding hotels. Combustible material includes wood, plastic, fabric, linoleum, etc.
> Please inspect both the empty lot and the interior of each
> floor of the Pantages, noting accumulations of "combustible
> debris" cited in 126.96.36.199 of the /CSA Code of Practice for
> Safety in Demolition of Structures/.
> If you find hazards of any sort, please ask the owner for
> remediation, including a more effective fencing system.
Email from Rick Cheung, Acting Assistant Director of Inspection Services:
"The fencing is secure, and there does not appear to be any unsafe conditions created by [sic] the demolition site."
Rick Cheung, P.Eng. Acting Assistant Director - Inspection Services
Email back to Cheung:
Thanks for your response. But please tell me:
a) If a city inspector has actually entered the Pantages to see the
amount and distribution of combustible debris on the remaining
b) If conditions inside the building are deemed safe in relation to
both fire hazard and resumption of demolition work.
Another email to Cheung:
Three fire trucks responded to the Pantages demolition site last night, about 10pm. Action — Please investigate last night's incident and tell me what happened.
I strongly suggest that you — or other CoV Inspection staff, or Mayor and Council — tell Marc Williams / Worthington Properties / Studio One Architects that:
1) Barriers to intruders must be greatly improved at both the Pantages shell and the debris field.
2) Combustible material in the Pantages and on the debris field must be either removed or wetted down regularly.
28 July, later :
Acting Fire Chief John McKearney called and said burning material was thrown from "a nearby building" on/into the Pantages. He asked if I had any more detail about the events last night. He asked if I had any suggestions (!) for improving barriers to intruders. He said nothing about requiring removal of combustible debris, or wetting it down.