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West Vancouver OKs first rental building in 40 years

West Vancouver council has approved its first all-market rental development in 40 years.

West Vancouver council has approved its first all-market rental development in 40 years.

Despite stiff opposition from adjacent neighbours, council voted 5-1 to allow Hollyburn Developments to build 41 rental suites in three- and four-storey buildings at 125 21st St., surrounding an already existing rental tower.

Council acknowledged the concerns over parking, the loss of green space and views, and the lack of an updated plan for area below Ambleside raised at Monday night’s overflow public hearing but the majority found creating more rental units was a long overdue step towards addressing affordability and stemming the exodus of West Vancouver residents.

“The fact is, we’re in a housing crisis,” said Coun. Craig Cameron. “We’re in unprecedented territory here in Vancouver, and West Vancouver in particular.”

Cameron said he rejected the mentality that people who work in West Vancouver should not have the opportunity to live there as well.

“It violates pretty much everything I hold dear in terms of my sense of the world and what we are as a community. I think we have a responsibility to others to meet their needs,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good enough to tell people to bugger off if they can’t afford to be here.”

Coun. Mary-Ann Booth moved the motion saying council needed to start encouraging other forms of housing while the average price of a home in West Vancouver is $3.7 million and condos sell at $1,000 per square foot.

“It means that all of West Vancouver is going to be having to make some sacrifices to accommodate those that aren’t’ as nicely set up as many of us are already,” she said.

Coun. Nora Gambioli said she too was moved to vote on behalf of the would-be residents who are struggling while West Vancouver’s vacancy rate is a paltry 0.2 per cent.

“As leaders, we have to look at the bigger pictures and what’s in the interest of the community as a whole,” she said. “Many young people will be renters for long periods of time, if not indefinitely. So we have to deal with this pressing transition. If we want intergenerational fairness and sustainability, more rental is needed.”

Mayor Michael Smith said the project fills a gap that West Vancouver has left open for too long.

“We had legitimate concerns (Monday) night but I genuinely believe, when that project is built in two years, hopefully, that people will realize it does not negatively impact their way of life in West Vancouver. It’s going to meet a need and something it is worthy of is the support of this council,” he said.

Coun. Christine Cassidy said she resented being asked to vote on the project when the district’s official community plan hadn’t been updated since 2004, but she begrudgingly voted in favour. Cassidy pointed out that, at roughly $1,700 for a one-bedroom unit, the project would be suitable for well-to-do downsizers, not young people leaving home for the first time and looking to get established. Those downsizers are also important to keep in West Vancouver and might otherwise choose North Vancouver, Coal Harbour or Yaletown where there is nicer and newer housing stock to choose from, she added.

Coun. Bill Soprovich was the lone dissenter, saying other developers would be licking their chops for more similar opportunities, and without a planning policy that supports that type of development, he would not go against the community’s wishes.

“I can’t support a single development in this community until that OCP is in my hand and I’m satisfied with all that goes with it,” he said.

The process for a new OCP is set to begin next year.