District of West Vancouver council won’t be considering any changes for the old Masonic Hall on Bellevue Avenue anytime soon.
Council rejected considering redevelopment of 1763 Bellevue Ave., Monday night, possibly until the municipality has completed its Ambleside Town Centre Local Area Plan, which won’t happen until 2024 at the earliest.
In 2016, council rejected a seven-storey building with 20 strata units and three commercial storefronts at the site. It’s mostly sat vacant since then, but the owner approached council Monday night asking for input on a new proposal.
The latest version would see a nine-storey building hold 28 strata units and six rental units, which would be offered at 70 per cent of market rates set by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., plus commercial storefronts and second-floor offices.
District staff had flagged a number of issues with the plan, including the building being too dense and too wide for the site, the number and size of rental units included, and the fact that it would rely on a vehicle elevator to access the parking garage. Still, they recommended it go forward to public consultation.
At issue was whether council would apply their policy under the official community plan that allows them to consider development applications before the local area plan is complete – if it provides some kind of broader community benefit.
Council spent almost two hours parsing the proposal and pondering public participation but wound up paralyzed in polemic.
Coun. Craig Cameron said the proposal, as its written, isn’t good enough but moved that it undergo revisions following input from council, staff and the community. The district’s need for both market and non-market housing are well known, he argued, and the business community is crying out for revitalization in the neighbourhood. Anything would be better than the status quo, he added.
If council approves a budget to start the Ambleside planning process this fall, it would still take another 18 to 24 months to complete, staff estimate. Adding in another 12 months for a rezoning process and two years for construction, it could be 2027 before anyone actually lives at the site of the former Masonic Hall.
“That to me is a completely unacceptable timeframe to have a building that is doing absolutely nothing for the community, and for the Ambleside area, or for the owners,” he said. “We just simply cannot freeze all development in Ambleside for 12 years and expect to have a functioning community. That’s not, in my view, reasonable governance.”
Coun. Nora Gambioli said the proposal was too tall, too dense, and had too much parking, but she wanted to see public consultations move forward.
All of the flaws staff noted in the proposal are the kinds of things that should be addressed through a local area plan, Coun, Peter Lambur argued, who added the height of the building would be a non-starter in a “historically height-sensitive area.”
“Everybody knows that Ambleside has fought for years and years to keep it at a three- and four-storey limit,” he said.
Coun. Bill Soprovich agreed it must wait until the LAP is done.
“We cannot allow development to proceed without a plan. It’s a simple process. We know what we want in Ambleside,” he said. “I just feel, at this point in time, this developer should go away. Period. It’s not our job to tell him how to develop his property.”
Coun. Sharon Thompson suggested that the municipality could expedite the Ambleside plan if council were to divert staff resources away from everything else in the municipality’s strategic plan.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s up to council to set our priorities and in what order we want to accomplish them,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to lead the developer on, only to bring an altered version of the project back before council and engage in the same debate.
Cameron’s motion went down to defeat, with Coun. Marcus Wong joining Lambur, Soprovich and Thompson voting against.
Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said she was “disappointed” the property would continue to languish after so many years.
“Now I’m looking back and my worst fear has come to fruition. It has sat there as a derelict building. It has been occupied by unauthorized visitors, shall we say. It has been tough for the owner to maintain it, to maintain security,” she said. “Studying this for another six years is not going to get us anywhere. We could be getting housing. We could be getting property taxes and the decision is actually fairly straight forward.”
When Booth asked if there were any other motions council members wanted to entertain related to the site, no one put up their hand. Exasperated, Booth asked if she could at least get a motion to receive the staff report for information, which is typically done as a formality, but that too failed to gain interest from council.
“I don’t have the stomach to receive this as information,” Cameron responded.