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Bureaucratic quagmire blamed for end of beloved North Vancouver restaurant

Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant was a fixture in North Vancouver for 40 years
The owners of the former Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant told District of North Vancouver council they tried to make a development proposal work for a decade before throwing in the towel. | Jane Seyd / North Shore News

A property that was home to a beloved family restaurant for more than four decades will likely be sold after being mired in municipal red tape for the last 10 years.

District of North Vancouver council voted recently to remove one bureaucratic chokehold which owners said had stymied development plans on the site of Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant at 5020 Capilano Road for more than a decade.

It’s a property that’s been owned by the same family since 1972, when founder C.C. Sun first opened the North Vancouver restaurant. The business was later passed down to his daughter, Kathleen Sun, who ran it for many years as a favoured local destination for wedding dinners, anniversaries and other family celebrations. The restaurant was also later operated as CC’s Chinese Restaurant by Sun’s son Alexander.

The restaurant closed until further notice last year.

Ten years ago, the family partnered with Three Shores Development to build a new development on the property, which would have included townhouses, apartments and a new version of the restaurant. At the time they made their application, the plan mostly fit the requirements of the existing C2 zoning on the property, although the developer also requested certain variances. The family voiced optimism at the time that the project would breath new life into their business.

But council of the day put a hold on issuing permits, saying they wanted plans to conform to new zoning still under development, which would blend in better with the surrounding neighbourhood and take the project down one storey – from four storeys to three.

A long and involved district-led rezoning process then ensued. Eventually the family decided last year to cut their losses and abandon the plan.

During comments before council Jan. 22, Douglas Holliday, the third generation to oversee the restaurant, blamed the bureaucratic quagmire created by the district for dashing his family’s hopes of making something of the years they put into the business.

“At every single turn we faced roadblock after roadblock at the direction of staff and council,” he said.

Holliday said the family spent years trying to deal with requirements of the district planning process and doesn’t have the resources left to go more rounds of coming up with an acceptable proposal.

“We’re a small family business, not deep-pocketed developers,” he said.

He blamed the district for forcing them the shutter the restaurant, which according to online posts had also suffered with weather damage to the building and staff shortages. Holliday told council his mother had died before a resolution about the property could be reached. Now the family would like to sell the property and move on, he said.

Council said they were sad to see the family business go.

“I think everyone has a story about Capilano Heights,” said Coun. Herman Mah. “It kind of reminds me of The Tomahawk. It’s a landmark. It was one of the places that my wife and I had our first meal when we moved here about 22 years ago.”

Mayor Mike Little noted only one member of the current council was on the council 10 years ago, when the process started, adding neither the current council nor the previous council had the issue brought forward for consideration.

According to a staff report, many of the delays resulted from the owners or developers not responding to requests from district staff.

Planning staff said no building permits were actually held up, because none were applied for.

Regardless, Little added that any “withholding bylaws” that prevent issuing of permits should have a sunset clause, rather than being added to a property indefinitely.

Noting the lengthy delays, council voted Jan. 22 to lift the bylaw that would have effectively put a hold on building permits for the property, which owners said would make the property easier to sell.

Council noted any future owner who wants to develop the land will be coming forward with a clean slate.