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Progress Report: District of North Vancouver takes a village approach to growth

DNV's community plan calls for multiple town centres meant to serve as focal points for future growth
Progress Report
The Lynn Creek area of the District of North Vancouver has seen major growth and development in recent years.

Note: This story originally appeared in the North Shore Progress Report, a special feature section of the North Shore News. 

The District of North Vancouver is a municipality surrounded by some of the most stunning natural scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world.

For tourists and residents of nearby cities, DNV is the gateway to wild wonders of the North Shore Mountains, highlighted by attractions Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Seymour Provincial Park, Lynn Canyon and the mountain-meets-sea splendour of Deep Cove. 

For residents lucky enough to live in the district, those stunning green spaces are right on their doorsteps. But life in the district also comes with unique challenges to go along with that unique beauty. DNV’s development has been shaped by the odd fact the area’s urban core was chopped out in 1907 to become the City of North Vancouver. That left the District of North Vancouver as a bit of an awkward shape, wrapped around the city like a neck pillow. It’s like the district is a delicious jelly doughnut but someone has taken a bite out of it, chomping out much of the really tasty bit in the middle. 

That geographical challenge has guided the development of the district for decades, with the predominant pattern being suburban single-family homes sprawling up and out from the dense urban core found in the city. That pattern, however, has changed in recent years thanks to a concerted effort undertaken by the district, guided by a new official community plan that was developed in 2011, following years of community consultation. 

One of the OCP’s central tenets was the establishment of a network of connected “town and village centres” to act a hubs for future growth in the district. Each centre is meant to be a focal point for development, serving to support effective transit, walking and cycling options, and promote healthy living and social interaction, while limiting urban sprawl into the district’s abundant green space. 

And growth is necessary for the district. According to the latest census data from Statistics Canada, millennials – those aged 25 to 40 – make up just 15 per cent of the district’s population, compared to 25 per cent in the City of North Vancouver, or 23.1 per cent of Metro Vancouver as a whole. In raw numbers, there are fewer children newborn to age 14 living in district now (14,565) than there were in 2001 (16,065).

Building villages

Changing those trends is part of the district’s “village centre” plan, which aims to provide a variety of housing options aside from the single-family homes which make up 49 per cent of the district’s housing stock now, according to StatCan. There are currently five centres targeted by the district to serve as central hubs: Edgemont Village Centre, Lynn Valley Town Centre, Lynn Creek Town Centre, Lions Gate Village, and Maplewood Village Centre. All of the centres are in different stages of the development timeline, offering a unique perspective of what has happened in the district, where things are now, and what is coming in the future.

The Lynn Creek Town Centre – loosely bordered by Lynn Creek to the west and the Highway 1 approach to Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing to the north and east – offers an interesting look at how the district’s plans are working.  

A decade ago that area was populated by mostly older single-family homes and light-industrial commercial space alongside an old rec centre and overgrown, underused park. Some of those features remain today, but the park has received a major makeover and now boasts an inviting community space complete with a creek trail, skate park and open green space. And something else new to the neighbourhood has popped up in the last decade: residential towers. 

That inviting park space is now surrounded by developments, along with a fancy new community centre under construction. And more residential units are likely on the way.  A proposal for a 420-unit mixed-use development billed as “the heart of Lynn Creek” is up for final adoption soon, having already received the endorsement of the majority of district council at second and third readings. The proposal includes a number of residential buildings ranging from seven to 24 storeys tall, as well as commercial space that includes a grocery store and child-care centre. It’s one more major step in a comprehensive plan to turn the Lynn Creek neighbourhood into a thriving and self-sufficient community hub.

The district’s other central hubs tell their own stories of growth and change. Both Edgemont Village Centre and Lynn Valley Town Centre are well-established neighbourhoods that have grown – mostly vertically – in recent years to welcome more residents, making good use of nearby amenities.

Lions Gate Village is another neighbourhood that is set for major growth. A major piece of the puzzle fell into place earlier this year with the opening of the Lions Gate Community Recreation Centre. According to the 2021 census, there were about 600 people living in the burgeoning Lions Gate neighbourhood last year, but the OCP foresees about 5,000 people living there by 2030.

The one town centre that is slower to plant its roots is the Maplewood Village Centre. Plans have been percolating for years, but in December of 2021, DNV council shot down a major redevelopment proposal that sought to build more than 500 residential units plus commercial space at the aging Maplewood Gardens complex on Old Dollarton Road and the adjacent industrial buildings on Front Street.

Getting out of gridlock

But there is other growth and renewal happening around the district. Ecole Handsworth Secondary and Ecole Argyle Secondary, the district’s two biggest high schools, have both been completely rebuilt in the past two years, while plans have been approved at Capilano University for on-campus residences to finally be built.

Connecting all the dots, however, is still a challenge, as traffic remains one of the main concerns across the district.  After years of planning and heavy construction work, the $200-million Lower Lynn Improvement Project was completed in late 2021, relieving some of the traffic bottleneck pressure that builds in the area surrounding Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing, while also providing upgrades for alternative modes of transportation. 

More hope may be arriving in TransLink’s newest 10-year plan, unveiled in April. A new bus rapid transit line linking Metrotown in Burnaby to Park Royal in West Vancouver via the Ironworkers is among the priorities in the next round of transit improvement. That link – which is listed for “immediate” planning and design work, with completion in the second half of the 10-year plan – would connect district residents to the east and west, and offer another fast and efficient transit option for getting across Burrard Inlet. 

The North Shore Progress Report also contained features on the City of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The entire feature is also available as a digital edition.