THE District of West Vancouver needs to get some thorough flood hazard prevention plans before venturing any further forward with development in Ambleside, according to some in the community.
Heavy winds coupled with a rare king tide on Dec. 17 led to a storm surge flooding much of Ambleside Park and putting the first floor of the Silk Purse and Music Box Gallery under two feet of water.
With the district contemplating a redevelopment of the 1300-block of Marine Drive that would include underground parking, as well as a series public revitalization projects in the neighbourhood, it’s time to establish plans to keep the rising sea level at bay, says John Doyle a West Vancouver real estate agent and developer.
“You can’t allow buildings to be built that are going to get flooded in the future, especially with underground car parks like this one (Grosvenor),” Doyle said, adding he is not opposed to the highrise development being approved.
Doyle is in the process of building waterfront townhouses in Squamish, where the municipality has been more proactive in dealing with potential floods in its bylaws, he said.
“They’re all over dyking – everything else. They seem to be way ahead of West Vancouver,” he said. “I have seen no such document calling for dyking along where the Silk Purse is and I would think, in order to protect that lower Ambleside area, you would need to start thinking about how you’re going to that.”
Doyle is expecting the dyke the District of Squamish is requiring him to build to cost about $200,000 for 120 feet of waterfront property. In his view, dyking is the only option for Ambelside’s waterfront.
“It would need a substantial dyke along there, otherwise it’s going to flood up to the railway line and into the Silk Purse area and into the streets,” he said.
While the district doesn’t have any language in its official community plan around sea level rise or mandating storm surge protection, the issue is front and centre for district staff, according to Ray Fung, director of engineering and transportation.
“If we’re talking about coastal sea rise as a result of climate change, that has been a fairly recent emerging issue, and so when the OCP was revised last here in 2004, it never really contemplated this issue. It’s been quite emerging,” Fung said. “However, in terms of setting a habitable floor elevation and protecting critical electrical equipment and mechanical equipment above a certain elevation — those types of considerations are definitely taking place within development applications.”
And the district is looking into measures to mitigate the risk of storm surges, tsunamis and rising sea levels, Fung said. While installing dykes would certainly be effective, it’s also very expensive. The district is now looking at installing breakwaters off shore that will help absorb and dissipate the destructive energy of waves before they come crashing into the shoreline.
Meanwhile, the Silk Purse is still not fully repaired from the December flood. It was “divine intervention” that the water damage was limited to the studio space in the back, according to Sara Baker, executive director of the West Vancouver Community Arts Centre. Still, Baker would like to see some assurance that the next storm won’t be the last one the arts centre faces.
“It’s every 25 or 30 years or so that this seems to happen and I think the district should really look at doing some sort of dyking system along here. I’m concerned that if it happened again, they’re not going to be able to repair again,” she said. “We really value our heritage waterfront home here and hope we can remain here.”