In a bid to stop the exodus of young families from the municipality and repatriate some local workers, West Vancouver council has approved a mixed below-market rental and strata condo rezoning for 2195 Gordon Ave.
“This project is a good news story in my mind. It’s an opportunity for West Vancouver to not only meet its immediate needs but also to lead in the region,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, casting her vote in favour at the July 14 meeting. “We actually are the most expensive city in North America. We actually have a higher price-to-income ratio than Manhattan. When we talk about affordability, this is ground zero.”
Using the money from the sale of the former West Vancouver police station on Marine Drive to Grosvenor, council purchased the Gordon Avenue land from Vancouver Coastal Health in 2014 for $16.4 million. After two and a half years of study and consultations, they narrowed down their options for the site to include a mix of 50 strata condos in an eight-storey tower at the southern portion of the land and 167 below-market rentals and seniors day facility in two six-storey buildings on the northern portion.
The below-market rentals will be offered at an average of 70 per cent of market rates, which should put them in reach of households earning $50,000 to $120,000 per year. Working age people 25 to 44 make up only 16 per cent of West Van’s population compared to the 28 per cent Metro Vancouver average, staff noted.
With the rezoning in place, the district may now start a procurement process looking for developers partnered with non-profits who will either buy or lease the land on a long-term basis and build the housing, which district staff estimate will provide a $26-million return to the municipal coffers.
The vote followed a lengthy public hearing in which supporters outnumbered opponents about 7:1, although significantly more people wrote to council urging them to vote down the project.
Those who opposed the project questioned the wisdom of providing below-market rentals for households that make more than $100,000 per year when the municipality could sell the land outright for the benefit of existing residents.
Resident Duncan Pearce argued the best way to get the lower rents council desires is to let the private sector increase supply to meet demand.
“The issue can be resolved by council at very little cost with widespread density bonuses applied to privately owned sites that are developed as rental,” he said. “With the Gordon Avenue project … council is engaging in a very substantial social experiment that, with respect, hasn’t been carefully thought through.”
Most, however, argued the project would be an important first step in making the municipality more hospitable for working families and less reliant on commuters.
Jonathan Lloyd, rector of St. Stephens Anglican Church, said he has been astonished by the number of health-care workers he’s met while serving as chaplain at Lions Gate Hospital who drive long distances because they can’t afford to live on the North Shore. He urged council to approve the rezoning or risk “becoming an island for seniors.”
“It is imaginative, transformational and it will build our community. If there are two things the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me, it's that dollars do not make our world go round but rather community does.”
Michael Markwick told council he raised his five children just a block away, but today, none of them could afford to live in the city they grew up in.
“If we do not have families in West Vancouver, then we cannot have a West Vancouver. It seems to me that is the measure of the highest and best use of this land,” he said.
The majority on council agreed. Couns. Bill Soprovich, Craig Cameron, Nora Gambioli and Marcus Wong joined Booth in voting in favour.
“It's a difficult decision. I have to weigh: do we sell the land for an immediate benefit? Or do we invest in it, as it were, for the next generation and generation after that?” Wong said. “Surely the soul of humanity is faithful service to the unwritten commandment that says: we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.”
While everyone on council agreed to changing the official community plan to allow development on the site, Couns. Peter Lambur and Sharon Thompson both voted against the rezoning because they felt it was too restrictive, either because the municipality would be leaving money on the table or because it targeted the wrong group for affordable housing.
“I get the sense that a lot of the people that are in support of affordable housing on this site, or whatever passes for affordable housing, don't appreciate what the opportunity cost is to achieve that,” Lambur said. “And I'm still concerned that the breadth of affordability that we're contemplating right now … is too narrow and leaves a lot of the more vulnerable people in our community that we think we would like to serve and help on the sidelines.”