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West Van rejects rental-only zone for Ambleside apartments

Building owners need to be consulted, say majority of council
Seaside apartments in Ambleside catch the gleam of July sunshine. West Vancouver council has rejected a bylaw that would have created rental-only zoning on lots with existing purpose-built units. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

A majority of West Vancouver council has rejected a proposal to zone 30 Ambleside properties with older purpose-built apartment buildings as rental-only in the future.

Council voted Monday night to reject the move, a proposal that district staff and housing advocates said would help protect the municipality’s limited stock of affordable rental housing.

The move would have put the brakes on moves from property owners to redevelop the properties as strata buildings, potentially losing rental housing stock for good.

But council members who voted against the rental-only bylaw said they didn’t want to approve the zoning change before talking to building owners.

They also spoke about the need to provide more financial incentives for landlords to build rental apartments, including greater density or buildings which combined rental and strata units.

Most of the 30 rental apartment buildings pointed to in the proposed rental-only zoning were purpose-built as rentals in the 1960s and 1970s.

Under current zoning, many of those older rental apartment buildings could be replaced with a strata building without any need for council approval, leaving many of the area’s tenants vulnerable to ‘renovictions,’ senior planners told council.

The rental buildings are home to about 1,600 households – or about one in ten of the households in West Vancouver, staff said, adding rents in the buildings are about $1,000 cheaper than most other rentals in West Vancouver.

Renters and housing advocates who turned out to a public hearing Nov. 20 urged council to adopt the zoning change, saying it would help give peace of mind to many lower-income seniors who live in the apartments towers.

But a majority of council indicated this week they were concerned about changing the zoning without talking to the building owners, saying the move might make it harder for property owners to bring in redevelopment plans that are economically viable.

The result could be deteriorating older buildings – “money pits” that nobody wants to fix or rebuild, said Coun. Linda Watt. “We [could] end up with slumlords,” she said.

Coun. Scott Snider said few building owners even know about the planned rezoning. Those who do told him nobody would rebuild a purpose-built rental unless they could have considerably more density than is currently allowed, he said.

“I think that there’s there has to be a different way of protecting the rental stock,” he said.

Couns. Peter Lambur and Nora Gambioli urged their council colleagues to vote in favour of the rental-only rezoning.

“Today the opportunities for new below-market affordable rentals in this community or anyplace really are virtually non-existent,” said Lambur. “The problem that we have in West Vancouver is our affordable rental exists mostly in older buildings, purpose-built rental buildings, and without protection, this affordable rental housing stock will erode.”

Lambur said the move would represent a “pause” while the district comes up with a long-term plan for rental housing.

Gambioli said voting in favour of a rental-only zone was “a pretty clear choice in my opinion” about protecting housing for 3,000 of West Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents.

“The community needs us to stick up for our vulnerable residents, not for our multi-million-dollar corporate owners,” she said. “We absolutely must keep every rental unit that exists in this community.”

The rezoning wouldn’t prevent owners from submitting other proposals – including ones that mixed strata and rental housing – to council for consideration, Gambioli added.

Those arguments weren’t enough to sway the majority of council, however, and the bylaw which would have established the rental-only apartment zone in Ambleside was defeated, with only Lambur and Gambioli voting in favour.