How do you shape an axe handle? . . . the pattern is not far off.
- from the Book of Songs, fifth century BC
IN A DECEPTIVELY simple essay entitled Earth Day and the War Against the Imagination, Pulitzer prize-winning poet and eco-essayist Gary Snyder says, "Real estate and business people like to argue that economic growth and development are inevitable."
In what's become a landmark statement, he argues: "It is not selfish for any community or neighbourhood to try to find ways to check unwanted growth and expansion in its own backyard."
And: "Those who try to shove growth down our throats are precisely the people who profit from it."
An old English teacher like District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton should appreciate this. As they say in the TV cop-shows, "Follow the money."
Swelling density and slamming huge residential towers into other people's communities is a surefire strategy for the wealthy to grow very wealthy. The ownership of North America's professional sports teams includes a preponderance of real estate developers, and we know what it costs to buy one of these franchises and pay the all-star employees. Next time you spot one of those colossal holes being excavated for another highrise tower, remember the builder's maxim, "Where there's muck, there's money."
Somewhere along the line while everyone was watching hockey reruns or Desperate Housewives, people in North Vancouver stopped caring about big residential growth the way they used to - the kind that's preparing to steamroll the district under its current developer-cosy, Talk Big, Do Little council.
Like the tax increases and senior administrators' salaries here that keep soaring, the latest proposal district officials appear willing to entertain ranges beyond Magnum-Sized into the Obscenely Objectionable. That's déjà vu for the more than 1,000 local residents who signed petitions a year ago against the 11-storey complex at the top of Mount Seymour Parkway. It got rammed through against their wishes. How will they feel looking up at a tower three times that height at the bottom of the hill near the bridgehead? 32 storeys? Right, that's the height of the eye-sore proposed for the Seylynn neighbourhood near the bottom of Mountain Highway. Not to mention two other towers at only 24 and 28 storeys.
Count Dracula help! It's a vision straight out the Romanian Socialist Paradise of 1972.
Once, it was the job of mayors, councillors and civic planners to tell developers what was, or wasn't likely to be welcomed in municipalities. It saved time and trouble. But at the council chat about it Oct. 15, discussion about the impending Seylynnageddon height wasn't a problem - oh, a shadow-cast or two maybe - but the obscene new benchmark of 32-storeys wasn't a problem. Hell, district planners came up with the idea themselves. No, the hot topic for those councillors who could stay awake was "parking lot ratios."
Wait a minute. Wasn't the original Seylynn five-acre site offered for redevelopment precisely because it's walking distance from Phibbs Exchange and all the commuter buses a happy young renter desires?
Parking? Ernie Crist died for this? What parallel universe are Walton, his councillors and planners living in?
A previous plan for the Seylynn site ran off the rails. It called for two 25-storey towers and clustered lower buildings. Way too big, but that was the deal. Now another development championed by Mark Sager, former mayor of West Vancouver - who was also involved in the original proposal - wants to fatten things up big time. The new proposal's impact makes the original deal look like Lego-block units. Don't believe the district hall sale job: What's being hustled now is vastly different. It's an entirely new proposal and it wants cutting off at the knees to be brought back up with a seldom-used ingredient: common sense. The district is not Surrey Central. It's not Vancouver across the moat where big-buck developers have brainwashed the aging hippies running council into the Helsinki Syndrome: "Think like we do."
So who's selling out the district's character and landscape features? Disturbingly, Walton and senior planners don't deny the outrageous increased height proposals have come from inside district hall, not from the new developer. Their rationale is that changes to Keith Road at Mountain Highway oblige a right-of-way through the Seylynn turf - a give-back, so 32 storeys.
That's a gift, hog heaven for any developer! It was Ministry of Highway bureaucrats who changed the same piece of road that first wrecked Seylynn's functioning single-family neighourhood. Now district bureaucrats are set to give away the farm again. "Would you like fries with that, sir?"
As justification, Walton points to the official community plan that took seven grinding years to complete. Critics argue the developer-friendly OCP boils down to instructions about where to plant the "Build Here Now" signage.
An alternative? The pattern is not far off. As local resident and naturalist Elise Roberts says, "Any increase in population here is going to have an impact on green space. Any new development has got to be consistent with the size and density of the North Shore Winter Club - that would fit with the character of the neighbourhood."
The club's 16-storey tower fits. To create a community, lower the height and spread around smaller buildings.
Community observer Lyle Craver underscores this view: "In 2009 councillors mentioned they were already giving up many concessions based on the previous applicant's well-established track record. That's the baseline. We don't know these new people. But now 100 more units are added, plus a third highrise tower, and 75 per cent of the originally proposed commercial space is removed."
Densification, urbanization; this district gang is out of control. So much for Walton's view of "a complete community." Margaret Atwood warns that "Gigantism precedes extinction."
The next election in two years can't come fast enough. What's at stake here is the very nature of the district.
The public hearing on the development was tentatively set for Nov. 6.