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West Vancouver narrows focus for Ambleside local area plan

Public support was strong overall, with some concerns raised over displacement of a few organizations and businesses, and potential conflicts of interest with elected officials

Like a well-worn knit sweater that you’re reluctant to replace, consensus is growing in West Vancouver that its beloved Ambleside area is due for a substantive update.

District council and members of the community lauded senior community planning manager David Hawkins on Monday evening for his weighty update on the Ambleside local area plan.

Following his presentation, which summarized public engagement while outlining a proposed framework and next steps, council voted unanimously to pass the eight recommendations in the report. Those include: having staff consider the province’s direction on regulating single-detached homes and discussing land-use options in five neighbourhood sub-areas; having staff draft bylaw amendments that would limit residential units to rentals on parcels with existing purpose-built rental; and having staff prepare a transportation plan for the area.

Overall, support was strong, with some concerns raised over the relocation of a longstanding community church, displacement of some businesses by residential buildings and potential conflicts of interest with elected officials who own property in or near the affected area.

Based on feedback to the early draft proposals, staff recommended the target area of the local area plan be reduced in size, removing the section north of Fulton Avenue east of 20th Street – nearly a third of the originally targeted area.

Plan targets residential density, securing rental apartments and key business areas

From there, Hawkins honed in on the lack of housing diversity in residential areas, outdated zoning affecting apartments, and how clearer commercial chunks could be carved out along the Marine Drive corridor.

The current state of affairs shows a clear lack of housing diversity. In the study area, there are 481 single-detached units, zero coach houses and 26 “ground-oriented” units (roadhouses, duplexes etc.). From community conversations, what staff heard was that added housing makes the most sense if it’s close to transit, shops and other amenities.

“There was interest in missing-middle housing, but not the apartment forms that some of the options have proposed for consideration,” Hawkins said. Beyond that, there is a range of options for adding some density besides the row house and townhomes shown in public documents so far, he said.

Moving on to Ambleside’s apartment areas, Hawkins noted that high-level planning was done in the late 1950s, with most of the development happening in the ’60s and ’70s. Some of these areas were zoned specifically as apartments, and some fall under land use contracts, all of which will expire next year.

Many sharing similar building forms, 55 of the apartments are strata and 31 are rentals. As it stands, there are “abrupt transitions” in these areas, regulations leave little flexibility for owners, and rental tenants are vulnerable to renovictions.

“Right now, a rental building could be replaced with a strata building without any need for council approval under current zoning,” Hawkins said, suggesting that one category of apartment zoning could be reserved to rental only. Staff also proposed a moderate increase to allowable density of new apartments, a moderate increase of the apartment area, as well as opening the portfolio of options to include more building types less than 10 storeys tall.

Characterizing the next part of the presentation as a design brief, Hawkins showed ideas for how two key locales could become more effective commercial hubs. Those are Ambleside by the Sea and Hollyburn Corner.

Starting with Ambleside itself, he noted the high street is quite long – 3,000 feet, which is around twice the length of Edgemont. Staff are proposing to shorten it, while converting some of the space to residential, the 1800 block in particular.

“We’re suggesting that there’s an opportunity to move to six to eight storeys on the sides to create that [housing type] variety, but also achieve rental,” Hawkins said. “Rental housing is very sympathetic to a business area. Renters tend to drive less, they tend to walk more, they tend to shop locally, work locally.”

Regarding Hollyburn, Hawkins said it has a “gap-toothed” expression, “where there’s a missing piece in the retail landscape, and typically with retail we want to focus around corners to really create that central focus.”

Hawkins said that these hubs will be considered in the context of Dundarave and Park Royal North, and that staff will work to highlight the unique aspects of each area in concert with one another. Staff will prepare more detailed illustrations of these areas during the next phase of the plan.

Public feedback mostly positive, some concerns raised over displacement and potential conflict of interest

While some comments and concerns were raised, a lengthy list of speakers generally voiced their support for the ideas in the report, while complimenting the efforts made by Hawkins and his team.

Ken Vinal, a reverend at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, said the plan unintentionally excludes things like churches, based on proposed density for multi-purpose developments. But Hawkins said that the intent of the framework is written to enable what Vinal was proposing. Coun. Nora Gambioli proposed an amendment to formally address Vinal’s concerns, but it was voted down.

Resident and former West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce president Maggie Pappas said one issue threatens the project’s progress, but could easily be corrected by following the provincial Community Charter.

“Mayor Sager and Coun. [Christine] Cassidy share a perceived pecuniary conflict of interest, since properties you both own are squarely located inside the outline area for housing and commercial rezoning,” Pappas said.

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.

“This perception may prevail in media attention, that if either Mayor Sager or Coun. Cassidy were to sell their rezoned-area property, once this initiative passes, the profit will be substantially larger than today,” she continued. “Ignoring the appearance of potential impropriety increases resentment and pushback in the community.”

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.

Responding to Pappas, Sager said, “Just one point of clarification: there is no proposed rezoning to my building.”

Pappas replied that her point wasn’t that the building itself would change in a beneficial manner. “The point is that the whole area is in that zone. So everything receives an uplift in the area,” she said.

“I hope as a council he will find declaring the conflict and recusal an easy solution, the only one that will stop accusations about profit from such an important initiative,” Pappas added.

Cassidy contended that her property was on the north side of Fulton Avenue, and therefore outside of the local area plan study area.

“So Maggie, guess what? I’m still included in the vote,” Cassidy said.

Pappas replied, “If something were developed across the street from my property, I would definitely benefit from it.”

As public input wrapped up, Coun. Peter Lambur began reading through the report’s numerous recommendations, with mayor and council commenting on, and then passing, each one.

When he got to the fifth item – to have staff prepare bylaws, for consideration this fall, that would secure rental on lots with existing purpose-built units – Lambur paused to highlight its importance.

“This, perhaps, is the biggest and most significant recommendation that we’re making this this evening … the limitation on the form and tenure, to rental tenure, is a big move,” he said. “It seems to be so difficult to grow, much less maintain our rental housing stock.”

After this recommendation – and all the others – passed, a full council chambers erupted with applause.

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