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West Van mulls rental-only rezoning for Ambleside apartment towers

The change would impact the future redevelopment of 31 buildings in West Vancouver's Ambleside neighbourhood

A zoning change that would ensure purpose-built rental apartment buildings in Ambleside can’t be redeveloped as strata condominiums will go to a public hearing in West Vancouver next month.

West Vancouver council voted Monday to give first reading to a zoning bylaw that would see 31 rental apartment buildings identified in West Van’s draft Ambleside local area plan earmarked as rental properties in perpetuity.

Most of the rental apartment buildings in the municipality in Ambleside were planned in the late 1950s and were purpose built in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these areas were zoned specifically as apartments, and some fall under land use contracts, all of which will expire next year.

The zoning bylaw under consideration by council would restrict those properties to development of rental apartments in the future.

Under current zoning, many of those older rental apartment buildings could currently be replaced with a strata building without any need for council approval, leaving many of the area’s tenants vulnerable to ‘renovictions,’ senior planner David Hawkins told council when they first examined the issue earlier this summer.

“It’s very hard to achieve new rental housing,” Hawkins said Monday, adding a concurrent risk is “we lose our rental stock” that already exists to redevelopment.

“The most affordable housing in West Vancouver already exists,” he said, adding there are 1,600 purpose-built rental units in those apartment buildings.

Since 2018, the province has given municipalities the power to designate zoning on certain properties as rental only, precisely to address this issue.

If passed, the rental-only zoning would apply to about 30 of West Vancouver’s 80 apartment buildings.

Coun. Nora Gambioli said the issue is “very, very important.”

The buildings are currently rental “but they are not zoned rental,” she said. “They could put up luxury condos and sell them as strata. I don’t think very many people understand the significance of what we’re talking about here.”

Gambioli said council has received one letter from the owner of an Ambleside apartment building who feared the aging building would never be redeveloped if strata ownership was prohibited.

But she said she’d like to hear from the public, including “people who are living in these rental buildings,” as well as others who would like to be.

A public hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for Nov. 20.

On the larger issue of changes to the official community plan which would set the stage for Ambleside's apartment area to accommodate a bigger range of housing types in future, council opted to defer further discussion and a vote on how to move forward for another week.

The proposed changes to the official community plan would set general policy on the kinds of development the district would like to see in future in certain areas of Ambleside. Among those, the plan envisions more housing for seniors, rent-to-own apartments and row housing and townhouses to address the “missing middle.”

Hawkins said by changing the OCP, council isn’t rezoning those properties or committing to redevelopment of any particular site. “It does send a signal that these types of housing are desired,” he said.

Coun. Peter Lambur said he had some concerns about wording in parts of the plan, such as those which stipulate a range of building heights, like “six to eight storeys.”

Gambioli said she had concerns that the public doesn’t understand the plan. “It’s very complicated,” she said. “My impression from what I hear is people don’t understand what this is.”

Discussion on the rezoning of the apartment properties and changes to the official community plan that impact Ambleside's apartment area first came to council for discussion in September. Council decided to seek a legal opinion after former West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce president Maggie Pappas said Mayor Mark Sager and Coun. Christine Cassidy could be in a conflict of interest over property they own in the local area plan.

Sager has a commercial property at the corner of 15th Street and Marine, and Cassidy has a property on the 2000 block of Fulton Avenue.

According to the Community Charter, locally elected officials with a financial interest in a matter that will be discussed or voted on at municipal council must declare those interests and not participate in discussion, vote or exercise influence on the matter.

On Monday night, Sager said council has received the legal opinion which stated there is no conflict of interest in either member of council participating in discussion on the Ambleside apartment area of the plan. When it comes to more detailed discussion of the commercial area in the plan in future, Sager said he will abstain from taking part because “I do own property on the corner.”

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated the rezoning bylaw had received third reading. That is incorrect.