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West Van council shuts down idea for free arts centre in tower

The new arts facility would have come at no cost burden to the district, but it would have meant building two high-density 12-storey towers or one nine-storey tower in Ambleside to cover its costs.
West Vancouver
District of West Vancouver council has shut down the idea of building an arts facility as part of a proposal for a mixed-use development in Ambleside.

“It’s not going to happen.” That was the conclusion District of West Vancouver councillors came to when considering a high-density development in Ambleside that would also include a new public arts facility at no capital cost burden to the district.

At Monday’s (April 12) meeting, councillors were given an update on a site that was put forward as one of four top-ranked spots to explore for the district’s new Ambleside arts facility.

While it would have been a way for the district to get a free brand-new 21,000-square-foot arts centre, which has been talked about for more than two decades, the density that would have been needed in the mixed-used tower development to cover the costs of the facility was not supported by council.

Staff initiated discussions with the landowners of the north side of the 1400 block of Marine Drive after council directed them to explore two privately owned site options at the March 9, 2020, council meeting.

The landowners were interested and came up with a preliminary draft proposal that included retail along Marine Drive, a second-storey arts facility and residential above.

As part of the redevelopment, it was assumed that the capital cost of the arts facility would be between $25 and $28 million and that no capital cost would be borne by the district, according to the staff report.

“The landowner’s proposal estimates that a development on this site would require a density of approximately 3.4 floor area ratio to provide the facility,” the report stated. “This density could be expressed in several ways including a two-storey podium with two 12-storey elements above. Alternatively, a nine-storey proposal with a more uniformed height could achieve the same density.”

Coun. Bill Soprovich was the first to knock the idea back, during question time, saying it was “ridiculous” to consider such a development without even having a local area plan for Ambleside ready yet.

“The fact that they want two towers and 12 storeys, that's ridiculous to even think that we would do that before a local area plan,” he said. “Even after the plan, that close quarters, not my cup of tea, I’ll tell you that. This should be just shut down right away.”

While Coun. Nora Gambioli first put forward the motion to support including the idea in further consultations, it didn’t pass. She then put forward the alternate motion to take the site and the development idea out of consultations, which passed unanimously.

The arts facilities advisory committee, which has guided the arts centre planning since the fall of 2018, led the process of identifying appropriate sites for a new facility.

There were originally 12 locations selected, which had been cut down to four – two private and two district owned.  Another option for a privately owned site was the south side of the 1600 Block Marine Drive, but the landowner wasn’t interested.  

With the privately owned 1400 block of Marine Drive now out of the picture too, that leaves district-owned sites at Ambleside Park – tennis courts and the south parking lot – as the top two options to move forward to consultations with the public.

Gambioli said the process was instructive for both council and the public to see what it would take to get an arts facility with no cost to taxpayers.

“We're looking at either a very big monolithic nine storey tower or two 12 storey towers on this 1400 block site, and a very high FAR of 3.4,” she said.

“So, I can't see this coming out of the Ambleside local area plan. Even when it is created, I can't see that producing this result in this location, so I think we should not muddy the waters for the public, and we should not include this option in the upcoming consultation.”

Coun. Craig Cameron agreed that seeing if there was a private option that would raise the funds for the arts centre through development was a step they needed to take, but moving forward “the public consultation should be focused on realistic possibilities.”

“I think the answer has come back resoundingly clear that the type of density we would need to pay for the facility, is just absolutely inappropriate for this part of Ambleside, or at all, and there's no way that we would get sufficient public support,” he said.

“So, there's no need to consult about this. It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen before an LAP and it's certainly not going to happen after an LAP, so I think we can move forward with the two public land options on the tennis courts and on the beach side of the railway tracks.”

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth agreed with the overall view of councillors.

“I would support my colleagues who say there's just no point in going to the public with this,” she said. “It's not going to happen, and I think we want the public to have a very clear picture of what they're actually going to support.”

While a lot of money would be saved, Booth said she didn’t believe it was the best location for the arts facility in the first place.

“I'm still hopeful that we can build this with very little taxpayer contributions,” Booth said.  

“I think the paramount concern is to look at a superior site. The best site to draw the most visitors, to be the most enjoyable for a community as a gathering hub, and to showcase all the talent we have here and around the world.”

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. The reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.