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District of North Van may expedite seniors care and worker housing for Lynn Valley Legion site

Earlier proposals to redevelop the site with apartments were highly controversial. The latest version is mainly seniors care and health worker housing.
District of North Vancouver council is considering a plan to expedite redevelopment of the Lynn Valley Legion with seniors care and affordable housing for health workers. | Cindy Goodman / North Shore News files

A plan to redevelop the Lynn Valley Legion site with a new Legion hall, child care, and affordable housing for long-term seniors care and healthcare worker housing may be headed for the express lane with the District of North Vancouver.

The proposal includes two four-storey buildings with up to 96 seniors long-term care beds and 16 to 20 non-market rental homes for healthcare workers, a new 4,000-square-foot Legion hall with a community kitchen, and a childcare space.

The Legion has not yet formally filed its development application, but it has already found a champion on council in Coun. Catherine Pope, who brought a motion July 24 asking staff how the proposal could be expedited through the district’s usual process, which can take years to reach a decision and even longer for construction and move-in.

Pope stressed that council should follow the recommendation B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel McKenzie, who has called for a vast expansion in the number of publicly funded care beds.

“I think we’re a community that cares for its seniors,” Pope said.

Lynn Valley Legion president Linda Findlay warned council that dragging the process out could jeopardize a lot of desperately needed amenities.

“The current iteration for renewing our lands that we will be submitting for consideration offers unparalleled community benefit. This becomes even more evident when we consider that the present site nearly consists of a parking lot and a small, single-level cinderblock building,” she said. “If not here on our lands, then where? And if not now, then when? We cannot afford to delay even further the ability to provide sorely needed seniors housing and other community benefits.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is currently evaluating whether it will partner on the project and pay for the seniors care portion.

Expediting project controversial

Mayor Mike Little said he was open to getting a report on how the project could be sped up, but he warned district staff are stretched thin as it is, and he cautioned that he would not be in favour of forgoing a public hearing allowing everyone to sound off to council before they make a decision.

“I don’t know how quickly we’ll be able to expedite it. Even if this project has overwhelming public benefit… I still think there’s just still going to be some necessary process in order to make sure that it’s built in the correct way,” he said. “I think we have an obligation still to go through the public hearing process when it’s a dramatic change.”

Past proposals to redevelop the site with a new Legion and rental apartments have drawn rebuke from the nearby residents, with petitions racking up more than 2,000 signatures calling for council to reject the application. For some of them, the latest iteration is no improvement.

Brandon Wong, who lives nearby, said he plans to go into seniors care nursing as a career for himself, but he told council the Lynn Valley Legion site would not be appropriate or fair to neighbours.

“I don’t see any benefit that it has,” he said. “Frankly, it’s quite frustrating that it feels like we’re going to be pushed away from my home.”

Lynn Valley's Barbara Haines also called on council to tap the brakes on the project, noting many neighbours have concerns about the potential height and density at the site.

“The official community plan continues to state that any developments should respect the surrounding residential neighborhoods,” she said.

But Don Peters, chair of the Community Housing Action Committee, told council he faces constant calls for help from seniors and their families looking for affordable care homes when none are available.

“As we know, the pandemic revealed serious deficiencies and weaknesses in the long-term care system,” he said. “The long-term care situation on the North Shore is indeed dire and worsening by the day. Our district alone needs 276 of these care units. What will that number be a year from now? Or two?”

Trudy Hubbard, past president of Kiwanis North Shore, said she agreed the neighbourhood needs both seniors and worker housing.

“It takes a while to get these buildings off the ground, but we need it now. Living on the North Shore is no longer affordable, and commuting is next to impossible,” she said.

North Van council agrees

Ultimately, district council voted 4-1 to ask staff to report back on how the Legion’s proposal might be expedited. Coun. Betty Forbes was the lone opponent.

Forbes said there were too many ifs and unknowns about the current proposal and expressed sympathy for the neighbours who have been opposed to redevelopment plans at the Legion.

“It seems to me the cart is way ahead of the horse here. It’s not that I don’t agree with the assessments and the needs that have been spoken to. I do. But I also believe in proper process,” she said.

Coun. Jim Hanson said there was too much potential good on the line to risk losing it through a public hearing.

“I think it would be upsetting to us and upsetting to the community if the benefits of a project of the type that’s being envisioned are significantly delayed due to delays in the process,” he said, adding that the need for seniors care is only going to become more urgent. “We’re marching towards the need for these types of facilities. It would be very foolish in my view of governments, including this local government, to not be alert to this demographic reality.”

Couns. Herman Mah and Lisa Muri were not present for the meeting.

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