Council candidates debate West Vancouver’s future

Debate veers from art to transit to who’s actually read the district’s official community plan

What will West Vancouver become? And what will be left of what it was?

Those were two issues addressed Wednesday as the municipality’s 13 council candidates talked life, work and parking before a full-to-bursting crowd at the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre.

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“Some of my colleagues joke: ‘You know why Marcus is single? Because there’s nobody left in West Van,’” Marcus Wong told the crowd, noting the joke underscored the need for more housing diversity. “People want smaller and smaller homes: 2,500 square feet or less,” Wong said. “We don’t have a grand plan for what we want our community to be.”

“We actually do have a grand plan,” incumbent Coun. Nora Gambioli responded, holding up West Vancouver’s unanimously approved official community plan. “I’m a little concerned that not all 13 people at this table have read it.”

Providing subsidized housing – and choosing who gets to live in it – is a “slippery slope,” but West Vancouver needs to figure out a way to house teachers as well as police officers and firefighters, said former West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce president Gabrielle Loren. “If there’s a disaster, what’s going to happen to us if nobody’s here except the night shift?” she asked.

Her position was echoed by David A. Jones, who also promoted workforce housing.

However, any vision for the community’s future needs to include parking, advised Jones, who has underscored the hardship faced by Ambleside merchants due to parking shortages. Jones suggested there were a few locations where new parking spots could be created.

After suggesting a parkade that could, “bring in big bucks” for West Vancouver, candidate Kate Manvell briefly floated another idea. “I think it’s time we thought about pay parking during the daytime,” she suggested before being drowned out by a chorus of dissent. “OK, OK, OK. Forget that idea,” Manvell said.

After citing his role as a guardian of neighbourhood character over two decades on council, incumbent Coun. Bill Soprovich promised to fight for residents. “I want to see this community of neighbourhood character come back to the early days,” he said. “I got my butt slapped for supporting Grosvenor, I don’t want to do that again.”

Soprovich offered his rationale in supporting Grosvenor’s Ambleside project, explaining it seemed reasonable to accept millions of dollars for a new police building.

“Fifteen years from now we might look back and say it’s not a bad building,” he said.

While Gambioli and incumbent Coun. Craig Cameron suggested the project failed to supply the type of housing the community needs, Sharon Thompson differed.

“There is a market for that. When you live in the wealthiest community in Canada . . . people who can afford that stuff are looking for areas where they can get out of their single-family homes.”

Noting her degree in urban studies, Thompson suggested Ambleside may be able to accommodate 1,000 new units.

“The planners know how to create that type of density,” she said.

Asked the same question, Cameron noted the new units were set to be built at a rate of about 40 a year over 25 years. By building on municipal land and a few other sites, the units could be added while preserving neighbourhood character, he said.

In order to offer more affordable housing in Ambleside, “We’re going to have to do some shifting around,” said former school principal Andy Krawczyk, noting the fashion in which apartments in the area were designed in the 1950s.

Asked about view corridors, Gambioli, a former lawyer, told the crowd there is no legal right to a view.

“The rights of an individual to their view cannot outweigh the needs of the entire community to deal with transportation . . . and affordable housing.”

While the candidates were virtually unanimous in keeping Dundarave the way it is, Manvell shared an unsubstantiated rumour on development in the area.

“We all know Jim’s Hardware has been sold,” Manvell said. “I have been told that Grosvenor has bought it as well. ... I doubt if they want to put a park there.”

Grosvenor does not own the site and the district has received no development application, stated district spokeswoman Donna Powers

To make West Vancouver accessible to all generations the community needs to offer more purpose-built rentals and start “doing something” about vacant homes, Krawczyk said.

Hosted and organized by the Ambleside Dundarave Ratepayers Association, many of the questions focused on development and views in those neighbourhoods.

Asked about a 37.5-foot height limit in Ambleside, retired businessman Jim Finkbeiner reminded the crowd that all change will be driven by economics.

“If you put an artificial height limit like 37.5 feet and it doesn’t work economically, then somebody’s going to have to subsidize if you want redevelopment,” he said.

The best way to preserve neighbourhood character is for community groups to band together and establish their own guidelines, suggested former councillor and vigilant council watcher Carolanne Reynolds. “Councils love seeing neighbourhoods all agree on something,” she said.

Peter Lambur, who joined council following the 2016 byelection, quoted a resident who opined that council: “has to stop thinking of West Vancouver as simply real estate.” Noting he was elected on his “neighbourhoods first” platform, Lambur called for greater community collaboration. “A lot of the consultation is one-way consultation,” he said.

Mersey agreed, suggesting the pro-development crowd dominated a public hearing on the development at 752 Marine Dr. “To me, that was very illustrative that we do have a problem,” she said.

In addition to discussions about preserving neighbourhood character, the candidates also debated the preservation of the Silk Purse.

“I would like to see every effort made to retain the Silk Purse,” said ADRA member Heather Mersey, who has previously called for West Vancouver to offer services on the waterfront strictly by using the existing building footprints.

Thompson agreed. “Somehow we need to retain a building like that on the site,” she said.

Noting the rising tide at the waterfront, Gambioli said retaining the Silk Purse will be “impossible.”

After encouraging the audience to contribute their ideas on preserving the Silk Purse, Reynolds suggested the gallery might be moved. “It would be a shame to lose something that’s part of our heritage.”

Finkbeiner noted that council doesn’t seem to have made much progress on the issue. “Either do something with these facilities or shut them down,” he said.

The election is slated for Oct. 20.

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