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City to create Harbourside task force

800-unit residential proposal south of automall would require change to OCP

THE future of the City of North Vancouver's Harbourside lands will be studied for four to six months by a city staff-led task force, council decided Monday night after a heated discussion.

The vacant waterfront lots immediately south of the North Shore Auto Mall are owned by Concert Properties and Knightsbridge Properties, who hope to build anywhere up to 800 new homes and 370,000 square feet of business space there. Introducing residential spaces into a commercial area requires a change to the official community plan, as well as a rezoning application. Last week, the landowners' representative, Chuck Brook, told council his clients were eager to move into a public hearing on the strength of the public consultation work they had done over the past 16 months.

In September of last year, council was poised to form its own consultation task force - at the developers' expense - to study both the land-use question and what civic amenities the city ought to extract from Concert and Knightsbridge. The task force was intended to include city staff, local residents, business owners, various advisory panel members, a representative of the Squamish Nation and one from the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. That motion was deferred until after the local elections.

On Monday, Coun. Rod Clark attempted to change the funding model, arguing

the city should pay for its own task force and avoid any appearance of bias. Only one councillor, Pam Bookham, seemed to back this idea, and Clark himself was mollified when Gary Penway, deputy director of community development, assured council that the landowners would give the city a cheque, estimated at $60,000, but the task force members would remain "city staff, working for me."

After Clark's amendment was defeated, Coun. Linda Buchanan said she thought the task force as a whole was unnecessary.

"Looking at the amount of material we have been provided tonight, as well as last week, there has already been a 16-month community consultation process. We've been given numerous reports. What will we accomplish through this task force, or learn differently than we know today?" she asked.

Bookham responded: "When the proponent takes charge of the public input period, he has to be driving the public towards the outcome the developer wants to see. That's perfectly understandable and that's the feedback we started to get almost immediately. . . . That's the difference between a developer-driven process and a community-driven process, which is what we can provide."

Bookham noted the previous council had unanimously endorsed a task force in principle, and questioned what had changed.

"What has changed," said Coun. Craig Keating, "is that when I supported a task force last September, I also opposed the notion that we delay that work. The other important thing that has changed is that . . . one of the jobs of the task force would be to make recommendations to city council for the provision of community amenities."

Keating said since then, the city had changed its policy to require cash contributions from developers to an amenity fund rather than specific amenities. He also described the process as having endured "an unreasonable delay."

"This is a community-defining project," said Coun. Rod Clark. "It is a huge introduction of residential in an area that has none, which is beside an auto mall which happens to be lit up like a landing pad every night of the week. Residential down there, to me, is very suspect."

Clark described the public consultation data from Brook and his clients as "extremely, extremely suspect," and rattled off their statistics in an emphatically scornful tone. "Public open house number 1, Westview elementary school, back on May 25, 2010: invitations 600, attendees 40, total comment forms 24. Public workshop, 850 Harbourside: invitations 600, attendees 23, participants 19, completed forms seven! Open house number 2, invitations 600, attendees 105, completed forms 40. Town hall meeting, invitations 600, attendees 20, completed comment forms two. Two!

"You tell me why we should introduce residential down on Harbourside based on those sort of numbers," he said.

Clark accused the applicants of "using statistics to baffle us." Coun. Guy Heywood said he was generally in favour of introducing residential units to the Harbourside area, but said there were still some questions he wanted to hear answered about the potential impacts. "I'm of a mind where I want my cake and eat it too," he said. "I would like the task force to proceed. I'd like it to proceed expeditiously and move forward with the public hearing immediately upon its presentation."

Council voted 4-3 in favour of forming a city task force, with Buchanan, Keating, and Mayor Darrell Mussatto in the minority.