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West Van to attempt sale of donated land

If courts approve, cash raised would be used to expand Ambleside waterfront parkland

The District of West Vancouver is looking to sell off 2.4 acres of land that was donated on the promise it would become a park in order to fund the expansion of Ambleside waterfront public lands.

District lawyers are preparing an application to the B.C. Supreme Court to alter the trust under which Pearly and Noreen Brissenden bequeathed their home at 2519 and 2539 Rosebery Ave. more than 25 years ago.

But the Upper Dundarave land just below Highway 1 was never dedicated as or developed into a park. The land is very steep, and it has no parking, access to transit or amenities, according to district staff, making it unsuitable for any future park use. The Brissendens’ home, an early example of Modernism from 1947, is still on the land and is rented out by the district.

Initially, staff had proposed selling the entire property but the plan now going before the courts would see the northern half of the land retained and dedicated as park with new trails to be built. The southern half would be sold for redevelopment, and the proceeds would go towards the purchase of the last two privately held residential lots on Argyle Avenue (1444 and 1448 Argyle Ave.), part of council’s long-term plans for the Ambleside waterfront vision. Staff estimated those two lots are worth about $10 million together. A survey by the district found 58 per cent of respondents favoured selling or leasing the Brissenden land to fund their purchase.

If the sale goes through, a plaque honouring the Brissendens would be placed near the trailhead on their former property and the stretch of waterfront purchased would be renamed Brissenden Waterfront Park, with its own dedication plaque.

Council approved the plan by a vote of 5-1 on June 19 but not before wrestling with the ethical question of asking the courts to amend the trust.

“Not all council decisions are black and white. There is a lot of grey in the world. This is certainly one of them,” said Mayor Mike Smith. “We all respect the generous donation of the Brissendens and we want to honour that in every way but the reality of the situation is we’ve got a piece of land that for 25 years, we haven’t even collected any taxes off it. It’s done nobody any good and it’s almost disrespectful to the Brissendens to leave the current situation in place.”

Coun. Craig Cameron also acknowledged the “solemn promise” a trust represents, but he said council has an obligation to act in the best interests of the community as a whole.

“Upwards of a million people walk the SeaWalk every year and one only needs to go down to Harmony Arts to see what kind of utility this parkland will provide to the community and indeed the region if we use the funds to purchase those properties,” he said.

Coun. Christine Cassidy was the only elected member who opposed the plan, warning the district’s honour was at stake. Cassidy chastised councils of the past for never living up to the original promise of creating a park on Rosebery, noting that the Brissendens could have sold the land and donated the money to other charities they supported.

“No, he trusted that West Vancouver was going to act honourably and recognize his contribution and they have never done so – not even with a plaque in front of it,” she said.

The plan to vary the trust and purchase the waterfront lots for the community has the support of Pearly Brissenden’s friends and former law partners.

“I don’t know why the municipality didn’t do much about (the land), quite frankly,” said John Elwick in a later interview. “He was a good trust lawyer and I think he might understand if it wasn’t being put to use and it could be used elsewhere.”

Neighbours of the Brissenden property urged council to resist the plan and find another way to pay for the Argyle lots.

Paul Hundal took council to task for never using the property as it was originally intended.

“This trust has been violated for the last 27 years,” he said. “When I see council saying ‘It’s not utilized as park’ well, of course it’s not. It’s never been opened. ‘It has no amenities.’ Of course you have no amenities. You didn’t put any in,” he said.

Joyce Chow, who lives on nearby Shamrock Place said Brissenden Park as it is provides valued trees, which offer the neighbourhood a buffer from the noise and pollution coming from the highway.

Others warned that selling the land would dissuade any other future donors from leaving land assets to the district.

“As a NIMBY, I find it a bit unfair that the small neighbourhood will actually have to give up our amenity to support a regional amenity that should be supported at least by the whole of West Vancouver if not the whole regional district,” she said.

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