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West Van wants limits on doctors and dentists, vets and fitness studios in street-level storefronts

Pharmacies also join nail salons, currency exchanges and real estate offices among businesses council would rather move upstairs
West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce chair Elaine McHarg on Marine Drive in Ambleside, an area, along with Dundarave, that the chamber would like to see have a more "people oriented" business mix to increase foot traffic in the retail area.

Fewer doctors’ offices and pharmacies and more wine bars and pastry shops are on West Vancouver council’s wish list for street-level retail in key commercial areas.

On Monday, members of council voted to direct staff to come up with bylaw changes that would restrict some types of businesses – including business and commercial schools, fitness and body care establishments, health care offices, pharmacies, pet care and veterinary offices – to no more than 20 per cent of each block at street level in Ambleside and Dundarave commercial areas.

The move is an expansion of restrictions already in place in West Van that limit several other kinds of businesses including nail salons, real estate offices and financial services, like money exchanges, to no more than 20 per cent of each block’s prime street-level real estate.

The move is intended to encourage vibrancy in the district’s walkable commercial areas, said Coun. Christine Cassidy, who introduced the motion.

Cassidy said while dental and doctors’ offices and pharmacies have been increasing at street level, those businesses aren’t the kind that encourage people to linger and breathe life into commercial areas.

Right now, opportunities to walk along Marine Drive and “amble into a shop, buy something, have a bite to eat or a glass of wine” are few and far between, said Cassidy.

Instead, street-level storefront space is being occupied by uses that are “sucking the life out of the vibrancy of our commercial areas,” she said.

Cassidy said that has meant there’s no commercial space left at street level to house businesses like restaurants and retail space.

Cassidy added the businesses being targeted for street-level restrictions can still operate on the second floors of commercial buildings. “Just go upstairs,” she said.

Both Maureen O’Brien of the Ambleside Dundarave Business Improvement Area and Elaine McHarg of the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce spoke in favour of the move.

McHarg said there’s a clear need for an improved retail mix at street level. But she added it will also be important to communicate the change to current and potential future commercial tenants.

Coun. Sharon Thompson said the lack of available space at street level is being exacerbated by construction currently underway in the commercial areas, resulting in some stores like “a beloved hardware store” being pushed out of the area entirely. “Because all the ground floor space is taken up with money exchanges,” she said.

Coun. Nora Gambioli questioned what kinds of businesses would be left on the street, other than restaurants, if all the restrictions were put in place. She added she'd like to see more input from district staff and the public.

Cassidy said when stores like At Home and Kerrisdale Cameras had to leave their commercial buildings, “there was nowhere for them to move to. So, they moved to Edgemont Village, and they didn’t come back,” she said.

“We need to animate our neighbourhood and not have people going to Lower Lonsdale for a good time.… We want them here creating a vibrancy in our community.

“If we talk about being able to walk to shop, it’s a long walk to find somewhere to shop in West Vancouver.”