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Darwin eyes big plans for North Vancouver

Winter club, industrial park on the go east of Seymour

The North Shore Winter Club could eventually be moving from its home on East Keith Road to a state-of-the-art facility off Dollarton Highway, should a land swap and rezoning with North Vancouver-based Darwin Construction be successful.

It’s just one of several projects Darwin has in the works east of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.

The club’s leadership have been looking to either renovate or replace the club facilities if it can be done in the right location, with similar or better amenities, at no additional cost to members and with no interruption of service.

“We are excited to report that we believe we have found a potential relocation opportunity that meets this criteria,” wrote club chairman Jay Frezell in a letter to the club’s membership earlier this year after meetings with Darwin.

That location is 2420 Dollarton Hwy., which is currently a boarding school that has been mostly closed in recent years but is currently being rented by Bodwell High School. If the deal is approved by winter club members, Darwin will seek to rezone the existing land for multi-family development, although Darwin President Oliver Webbe could not say how many units would be required on the site in order for the deal to be financially viable.

“This is all in early stages,” he said. “It’s not something that will happen overnight.”

Just east of the potential winter club site, Darwin has partnered with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation to develop a 16-hectare light industrial park, something the District of North Vancouver’s draft Maplewood area plan foresees at the site.

“We do know our priority corporately… is we want to create jobs there,” Webbe said. “This will be the last shot to get it right for employment lands. There is extremely low vacancy for industrial uses.”

Darwin acquired the plot from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in a land swap involving 10 industrial properties at the foot of Mountain Highway, which will soon be incorporated into Western Stevedoring’s Lynnterm East Gate terminal. Before the Dollarton Highway was built, the land held a gravel pit that included a barge channel, giving it access to Burrard Inlet.

Darwin is also waiting on the Maplewood plan to be completed before the developer submits a proposal for a two-hectare plot of land it owns immediately north of the new Stong’s Market.

Anything that happens at the site would be done in keeping with the district’s Maplewood area plan, which is still in public consultations, although Webbe gave a ballpark estimation that it would be about 500 units.

The site contains some light industrial buildings as well as an older 58-unit rental complex called Maplewood Gardens. Webbe said all of those housing units will be replaced with new below-market rental units and the existing tenants given first right of refusal to move into them at their current rents after a roughly 18-month construction period.

Rents in those units going forward would be capped at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s Level 2 affordability, which, today, ranges from $1,220 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,525 for a three-bedroom.

“I don’t think there’s any developer that’s making that kind of commitment to affordable housing,” Webbe said.

The company, meanwhile, is temporarily shelving a proposal for redevelopment of the commercial properties on Deep Cove Road just north of Mount Seymour Parkway, including the Raven Pub.

The plan to build townhouses would have allowed the pub to stay open until its new location closer to Mount Seymour Parkway is ready for move-in, but the proposal was facing blowback from the community and a petition asking council to reject it.

“We wanted to put it on hold so we could reconnect with the community and set up a meeting with the neighbours so we can clearly understand what the issues are that they have with the project and change our plans – revise our design to reflect their comments and see if we come up with a project that is supported by the entire community,” he said.

That meeting with the immediate neighbours is scheduled for this evening with a larger open house meeting to follow.

Webbe said the project is personally important to him because his entire family lives within a few blocks.

“We want to make sure, because that is the gateway to Deep Cove, that whatever was done there is done right – that it was fitting in with the rest of the community,” he said. “For that one, we’re going to move at a nice, slow pace until the community is supportive of it.”