REJECTING a call to kill the project now, District of West Vancouver council has unanimously approved taking a controversial plan to redesign the 1300-block of Marine Drive to the public to gauge feedback over the coming months.
A crowd of increasingly restless West Vancouverites packed council chambers Monday, waiting nearly two hours to express their thoughts on Grosvenor's plan to develop the 1300-block of Marine Drive.
The international property development company unveiled its plan to build tiered mid-rise buildings joined by a galleria last month.
If council approves the $37-million project, Grosvenor would become owners of the block, which includes the West Vancouver police station. In its place, Grosvenor would erect a seven-and an eight-storey tower on either end of the street, each one sloping down from mid-block to two-storeys at the lowest points.
Grosvenor's plans include 88 units, with approximately one-third of the suites measuring more than 2,500 square feet.
The mixture of ground floor retail space and modern architecture with a covered community meeting area failed to win over Monday's crowd, although there were a few supporters.
Former real estate agent Stephanie La Porta said the design represented a break from the stagnancy that has characterized Ambleside for several decades.
"I am sorry to say nothing of great significance has changed in Ambleside since my teenage days," she said.
La Porta praised the plans for incorporating West Coast architecture, wide sidewalks, and space for an art gallery, all without leaving a tax burden for residents.
"The do-nothing option means further decline to the Ambleside area," she said. "I can only hope that this project is the first of many like it."
Along with traffic and parking concerns, the proposed buildings' shadowing effects were a hot topic at the meeting.
The project received staunch opposition from Keith Pople, a director of the Ambleside Dundarave Ratepayers' Association.
The development would be a radical change for the neighbourhood, eroding the village feeling of Ambleside, according to Pople.
In what became a recurring theme for the evening, residents rejected the project while pledging support for more modest development in the area.
"I fully support the redevelopment, in fact, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't," said Scenery Slater.
Slater drew cheers from the capacity gallery when she called on council to kibosh the deal.
"Please, council and mayor, save us all some time and money and reject this proposal now," she said.
In a brief presentation, the site's chief architect explained the process that led to his design.
"We went to the public with a blank piece of paper," said James Cheng of Grosvenor.
"The form that most people seemed to support was the convex one," he said, explaining that the tiered approach should have the effect of making the towers seem less imposing.
Cheng compared the view of the buildings to a "3D park."
"On every layer of the terrace there's green garden," he said.
The development will bring more people to the area and revitalize business at Ambleside, according to West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce vice-president Maggie Pappas.
"I drive through Ambleside every single day . . . I see plenty of highrises," Pappas said, discussing the surrounding area. "Architect James Cheng seems to have captured every single idea from the ideas fair," she said.
While a looming tax hike is a concern, lifelong resident Dolly Cartwright was one of many citizens who were more concerned about looming towers.
"This can be done beautifully and they don't have to be 20 storeys," she said.
Other residents complained about a lack of parking that would keep away senior citizens and visitors from outlying areas.
A suggestion that neighbouring homeowners be compensated with a reduction in their property taxes was also met with applause at the meeting.
Coun. Nora Gambioli took issue with the esthetics of the building, as well as Grosvenor's decision to share development plans with the media.
"This is our process to steer," Gambioli said.
The development is bulkier than anticipated, according to Gambioli, who suggested a 123-foot pole be erected on the building site to give residents a notion of relative shadowing effects.
Mayor Michael Smith cautioned Gambioli to keep an open mind during this part of the process.
Coun. Craig Cameron said council faced a conundrum given the current, unacceptable state of Ambleside. While he said he did not want to stop the new plan in its tracks, the use of public space, the impact on traffic, and the mixture of housing at Ambleside would all need to be examined, said Cameron.
"It can't be purchased and occupied for two weeks a year by non-residents," Cameron said, noting the Coal Harbour renters who use those apartments as vacation spots.
Presenting one plan to council may have been the wrong move, according to Coun. Bill Soprovich.
"I've been trying to keep an open mind here as to why there aren't alternates to what we see tonight," he said.
Besides supporting the public engagement process, Coun. Michael Lewis pledged to be impartial until after council receives community feedback.
Ambleside is one of three special sites identified in West Vancouver's official community plan, meaning limits on height and density can be suspended if council decides the development is in the public interest.
A survey of 110 homeowners last June suggested that the vast majority of West Vancouver residents opposed any development taller than three storeys.
Coun. Mary-Ann Booth recused herself from deliberations.