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West Vancouver council vote down zero emission, mass timber housing project

Council has rejected a proposal for what would have been the first-ever zero-emission, mass timber housing development in the district
Delta Group was hoping to build seven strata units in an eight-storey condo at 2204 Bellevue Ave. but the District of West Vancouver council voted down the proposal at its Oct. 18, 2021, general meeting. | Delta Group

The District of West Vancouver council has rejected a proposal for what would have been the first-ever zero emission, mass timber housing development in the district.

Delta Group had applied for a rezoning application to build seven strata units in an eight-storey condo at 2204 Bellevue Ave. The developer intended to build the project to "passive house" standards, meaning it would have produced zero carbon emissions, thanks to solar panels, a geo exchange heat transfer system, heat recovery ventilators and insulation.

The project was up for first reading and to set a public hearing date at the Oct. 18 general council meeting.

In 2017, council adopted a policy of not considering new developments in areas until the local area plan had been finished unless they “deliver significant social benefit,” as determined by council. In this instance, council had voted at its June 8, 2020, meeting to advance the proposal to the next steps: community consultation and staff review, prior to the Ambleside municipal town centre LAP being complete.

“The reason for that was primarily for the mass carbon construction technology that’s proposed,” Michelle McGuire, senior manager of current planning and urban design for the district, reminded council.

“That was a specific OCP [official community plan] amendment that council adopted at the time when climate action changes were being brought forward to allow for proposals like the one before council tonight to advance low carbon construction technology in the district.”

District staff had supported the project as it complied with the district’s OCP, met environmental benefits and at eight storeys, it would have only been a “modest” addition to the area.

But the majority of council felt differently, this time around, and the application was voted down four to three. Councillors opposed raised concerns the building would be out of place for the area and that residents in nearby residences would lose their views. Questions were also raised about why the project did not offer affordable living options.

“This proposal wasn’t necessarily looked at for providing affordable housing but providing something unique in that it would be the first mass timber apartment building in West Vancouver and would serve to advance that OCP direction,” McGuire said.

In response to concerns regarding the building’s height, McGuire said the developer had done a view impact assessment and “only a portion of the available view, not the entire view” would be impacted.  

“They looked at the 180-degree view corridor that would be facing the water for those buildings,” she said.

“Out of the 180 degrees, some of that view is already obstructed by existing buildings and vegetation – but the impact for the two most impacted buildings, at Bellevue Place and Surfside Towers, they estimated … in once case to be 15 degrees and the other case 16 degrees.”

Coun. Nora Gambioli moved the recommendation to be read a first time. She, Coun. Craig Cameron, and Mayor Mary-Ann Booth were the only ones in support of the “pioneer project” going to a public hearing.

“I think the point of advancing this proposal is compelling in terms of our thoughts on advancing low carbon construction,” she said. “As staff pointed out, this mass timber and passive house construction would be a real kind of pioneer project for sustainable apartment design in West Vancouver.

“I don't think that at the end of the day, the results from waiting another three years for a LAP would have a significantly different outcome.”

Cameron added that this was “exactly the kind of ground-breaking project that we need to provide opportunities to in the community.”

“These are the types of technologies that we have to let breathe and give opportunities to so that they can become more and more common, and they can of course become cheaper and more mainstream,” he said.

Coun. Bill Soprovich was first to speak in opposition of the project moving forward, saying it was “a mistake” to do so without a LAP.

“I think this should go to our LAP,” he said. “This building is massive. It is out of character for the area.

“I can't support it. Not at all. I don't even want to go to a public hearing on this.”

Couns. Peter Lambur, Sharon Thompson and Marcus Wong, who originally supported the project during early consideration, all changed their tune.

“I was, and remain, a big fan of the idea of a mass timber building,” Lambur said. “But as I looked at the project a little more closely, I think there are some urban design considerations which need to be more fully explored through the local area planning process.”

He said existing buildings in the area fit together.

“They reinforce a pleasant pedestrian-scale streetscape that transitions to the highrise towers that are set back from the 22nd Street view corridor,” Lambur explained, adding that the look and feel of the area should be preserved.

Lambur was also having trouble supporting the project, given the need for more rental housing in West Vancouver in general.

“We're being asked to endorse large luxury condo residences in the midst of an area where I think we assumed we wanted to build more and more affordable rental housing, so I'm having a little trouble sort of squaring that policy directive, with the application before us,” he said.

Booth said innovative projects like this one that would benefit the future and climate change were no doubt going to be more expensive.

“It's very difficult to build affordable housing if you also want a mass timber passive house design … these things just are more expensive,” she said.

Booth was disappointed the project wouldn’t be moving forward, given council’s previous decision to advance the proposal despite the LAP being complete.

“It would have been, I think, a little fairer to let the proponent know that before he spent a year of money on this project,” she said. “I'm disappointed that we're not going to be able to see this.”

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.