THE massive Low Level Road project has been given the green light by City of North Vancouver council.
Councillors voted 5-2 Monday night to sign an agreement with Port Metro Vancouver that will allow the raising and relocation of the east-west thoroughfare to make room for two new rail lines. The municipality will contribute 2.39 hectares of land underneath the road for the project, as well as $800,000 in exchange for a bundle of community amenities.
Even the most ardent supporters of the proposal, however, admitted it was far from perfect.
Lingering issues included bike paths along the route that critics say are too narrow and put cyclists at risk from traffic, a loss of vehicle access for businesses in the 300-block of East Esplanade Avenue, and the potential for increased noise and pollution from added rail traffic.
The project provides a long list of community improvements, however, including the bike lanes, slope stabilization, a new section of the Spirit Trail, traffic safety improvements and noise mitigation, which city taxpayers won't be on the hook for, argued Mayor Darrell Mussatto.
"(If) we take that on ourselves to do the slope stabilization and stuff, that's a little over $30 million," he said. "$30 million is a heck of a lot of money for North Vancouver."
"Overall, I think the benefits far outweigh the dangers on this project."
Coun. Craig Keating agreed that some groups will be left dissatisfied, but voted in favour of the proposal because of the high paying industrial jobs it would bring to the city.
"I have yet to see, at this council table, a proposal that's 100 per cent perfect, and this is no different," he said, adding that the preferred design had the support of 80 per cent of residents who took part in the planning process.
"This is good news for the city. This is the single largest private-sector investment in our community in over a century."
Separated bike lanes and a solution that worked better for East Esplanade Avenue businesses would have been preferred, said Coun. Don Bell, but he added that the design was arrived at through the "classic Canadian form of compromise."
"It's not ideal, but I'm prepared to accept that," he said.
But for Couns. Pam Bookham and Rod Clark, the lingering issues were just too much to abide.
Clark said he would like to be supportive, but with a "fundamentally flawed" study on rail yard noise and not enough study on increased air pollution from more engines, he'd have to vote against the proposal.
"We've had this horrendous, long process and here were are, the night we're supposed to make our final decision, with an incredible number of loose ends, and that is just unacceptable to me," he said. "We do not, in this town, tolerate this from any developer who comes in front of us. Port Metro Vancouver is a developer. It's as simple as that, so why are we giving them a special deal?"
Bookham made a last ditch effort to delay the process once more and ask PMV to postpone the deadline for making a decision and consider a new plan that would only involve one new rail line and separated bike lanes on Low Level Road.
Coun. Guy Heywood countered that he had brought up the idea of a single rail expansion to PMV and learned it was a "nonstarter" for them to make the investment. Bookham's motion was voted down 5-2.
Bookham added it was council's duty to put the community's transportation needs first and foremost while the city was being pressured by PMV to make a decision.
"I don't want to be responsible for the first death of a cyclist on what we thought was an improved, better Low Level Road," she said.
The city will ask PMV to conduct new noise and air quality studies now and one year after construction is complete with the goal of mitigating increased noise and pollution.
The $104-million Low Level Road project is being jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, along with TransLink, the City of North Vancouver, Port Metro Vancouver and some private partners.
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