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A Big Idea man faces his people

Nothing that lives can sidestep politics Thomas Mann WE'RE AT LYNN VALLEY PUBLIC LIBRARY, A WEDNESDAY MORNING, 9: 30 AM. District Mayor Richard Walton is here for his monthly meetthe-people session.

Nothing that lives can sidestep politics

Thomas Mann


District Mayor Richard Walton is here for his monthly meetthe-people session. He does this around the community - at Parkgate, Capilano.

Mayor Ralph Klein used to do this in Calgary too. It was the first time I'd seen it, and people appreciated it back then - especially the kind of people who might be intimidated by City Hall bureaucracy, or who needed something clarified fast. Drop by and talk to your mayor.

Today's topics are transportation and housing. Bob Morgan, an Edgemont guy, has cycled to get here and has brought newspaper clippings. He's bugged about TransLink, about parking issues and about the lack of long-term vision in the kinds of redevelopment proposals coming forward in North Vancouver. Somehow city and district issues get blurred.

The mayor does his best to explain how decision-making works. He reminds Bob of what Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan has said, that "good public transportation is the reward for residential housing density."

"The economics of public transit are always going to be challenging," says Walton.

It's not an easy job being the mayor. You have your supporters, but somebody's always mad or disappointed.

"We've had seven development applications for the Edgemont area in the past few months" Walton explains. "There's a six-lot assembly proposal for housing fairly near the centre, and there are seniors who are interested, but already there's pushback from those who are concerned about single-family neighbourhoods."

Bob Morgan says he's heard enough about that.

"The single-family neighbourhood doesn't work anymore," he contends. "Where are we headed? Our own children can't afford to live here now, and as we age, the people who'll look after us in Lions Gate hospital can't afford to live here either."

He'd like to see more options; the kinds that tie in to more efficient public transit schedules.

"The real question for our district council, for any municipal council, is: 'Are we a developerdriven, or a planning-driven council?'" Walton offers. "In the district, we've got a well-educated community, and without engagement with that larger community, you're going to galvanize pushback.

"We're really a series of neighbourhoods, so there's a need to consult over a wide area. We have an Official Community Plan, but it can be short on solutions. The city, which is effectively the downtown of North Vancouver, has laneway housing, for example. The way district neighbourhoods are built, there's only limited potential with that for us."

A few library patrons look on as Morgan and Walton exchange views regarding the housing issue. It's a surprisingly democratic exercise: public discourse between the guy we've elected to lead and the people he answers to. That's genuine public access.

In many ways we're still a big village.

What comes next startles me: a revolutionary idea. "Mayor Richard Stewart of Coquitlam and I have been talking about a new idea on Metro Vancouver's housing committee," Walton says.

"One way of helping aging parents who've got more room than they need, and young people who can't otherwise get into home-ownership, is a strata-title-within-family-type development.

"For instance, if you have a two-storey home, there could be new zoning to permit two separate titles. Aging parents could help their grown children with ownership; adult children could own their own property, and live alongside their family.

"There'd need to be covenants on the property, of course. There'd be building code issues. The provincial legislature would have to pass a law. There are issues to resolve, and it would take time, but I think we'll hear more about it."

Think that over, citizens. What a breakthrough. A generation of young Canadians who weren't born with trust fund endowments will see this as a blessing. The sanctity-of-the-single family-neighbourhoodcrowd won't like it, but in a broadminded European way, that's also exactly what might be preserved-seniors aging in place, and young folks with the opportunity to live where they were born alongside their kids.

What took us so long to get here?

Walton, who was raised in a row-house in Manchester, thinks it out loud for us: "There are always issues with change. People are already complaining about densification along Seymour Parkway. Traffic has slowed, but that's densification along bus routes: Where else can we put it?

"So we're telling developers to slow down; the community can only take so much. People need to see the value proposition for change, and that's in terms of their quality of living."

Might there be growing tolerance for change? Solutions? "We'd need to start with area-by-area consultation," the mayor says. "We've got the OCP, but we've also got the old neighbourhood plans that have been around for a while."

The downside is those plans took forever and felt like makework projects for planners. But Mayor Walton's concept is a fresh start. Besides, who's got a better idea? Meanwhile, there's the massive Seylynn Village development coming, with groundbreaking by end of summer, re-routing of the bottom of Keith Road, and a pedestrian crossing from Crown Street over Lynn Creek to Park & Tilford Mall.

There's also the Spirit Trail still bumping along, that Walton says should be continuously linked from the Pinnacle Hotel to Ambleside within a year.

There's a new contract with the RCMP that has everyone feeling bad, and the Burrard Inlet pipeline proposal that won't go away. There's a sewage treatment plant on the way in behind Norgate . . . some days everything looks like politics.

With an idea man at the district's tiller though, I have a hunch we'll be talking again.