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Fate of Tantalus Gardens in West Van council’s hands

Horseshoe Bay development set for Monday night vote; public hearing closed
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One shuttered church and the hopes of a Horseshoe Bay neighbourhood hang in the balance this Monday as West Vancouver council votes on the Tantalus Gardens project.

Consisting of six small single-family homes and eight duplexes on four lots between Wellington and Nelson above Rosebery Avenue, the proposal raised the ire of many neighbours who said the infill development was likely too expensive to lure the priced-out generation back to West Vancouver.

“Tantalus Gardens misses the missing middle by miles,” said Helen Smyth, at the project’s Oct. 8 public hearing.

Units in the development are expected to cost about $1.5 million, according to the applicant.

After raising three children in the community, Smyth said she recently had to sell and has yet to find any housing options.

“I’m not missing. I’m here. But a house in my community that I can afford and would want to live in is definitely missing.”

Buyers who want density should buy in a dense area, argued Bill Whitehead.

“Are our affordability schemes here going to end up denting our neighbourhoods just to solve someone else’s problem?” he asked. “It’s like anything we do to improve our affordability is going to get diluted by outsiders taking advantage of it.”

While a hefty majority of speakers at the hearing opposed the development, there were also several supporters who suggested the project would add diversity and perhaps a greater feeling of community to the neighbourhood.

After three years in West Vancouver, Liz Campomar said her family of five couldn’t afford to live in the affluent community anymore.

Moving to North Vancouver and immediately meeting her whole block was a marked contrast from the relatively anonymous experience of living in West Vancouver.

“Something like Tantalus will bring more families, more kids into the school system that can walk to school,” she said.

Many speakers opposed to the project focused on the importance of preserving St. Monica’s Anglican Church. “Is preserving a stained glass window a sufficient memorial of our heritage, or is it an insult to our forebears?” asked Richard Smyth.

The church is worth saving, echoed Ron Nairne. “Can there ever be too much community space?” he asked.

After 30 years in a “precarious financial position,” the circa 1951 church closed its doors in 2013. St. Monica’s had tried to make money by renting the space for daycare, recovery groups, thrift shops, boy scouts, girl guides and yoga classes, according to a district staff report. More recently, developer QUMA Properties offered $65-an-hour rentals of St. Monica’s over four months and received zero bookings.

The demolition of the church is not a serious problem in terms of community space, according to Gleneagles resident Ernie Corlett. Both the Gleneagles Community Centre and the Gleneagles Golf Course and Clubhouse are in close proximity, he noted.

The 14-unit development is a “creative and sensitive solution for an underutilized property,” said Denise Duchene, warning that four single-family homes on the site could potentially be far larger and less attractive than the current proposal.

At the end of the four-and-a-half hour meeting, Coun. Craig Cameron thanked speakers for demonstrating “what a proper debate can look like.”

While there was a great deal of contention regarding QUMA’s report showing 85 per cent of residents supported the proposal, Cameron assured the gallery he placed “almost no weight” on any survey.

“It’s about the substance of the points,” he said.

Council closed the public hearing, precluding any further discussion on the proposal.

Council previously shelved the project in May pending the completion of the first phase of the Horseshoe Bay local area plan.

Coun. Nora Gambioli, who owns property near the site, recused herself from the hearing.

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