North Vancouver council gets an earful at divisive public hearing

Public hearing set to conclude Wednesday in council chambers

The prospect of a rezoning that would more than sextuple the density at Emery Place split concerned residents right down the middle during a four hour public hearing Tuesday.

If approved, Mosaic Homes would build a 411 units arrayed among two 12-storey buildings as well as eight-, six-, and five- storey buildings, displacing 61 rentals in the process. Mosaic’s project also features a four-storey podium and 46 townhouses spread between six buildings.

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As it stands today, Emery Place is “underutilized,” contended Mosaic senior vice-president of development Luciano Zago.

Zago noted three of Emery Place’s four-bedroom homes are occupied by couples.

Mosaic is assisting with the relocation of 46 Emery households, half of which include families with young children. On average, those households have been presented with at least three rental options in North Vancouver, Zago said.

However, many of those rental options are out of reach for the working class families who live in Emery Place, responded resident and mother of four Kelly Bond. For a comparable four-bedroom rental in Blueridge, Bond would face a rent hike of $610, an increase of approximately 28 per cent. Other rental options would result in Bond paying the same price for one fewer bedroom.

The notion of relative affordability was a theme among the 39 speakers who addressed council Tuesday. Detractors charged that the rezoning would leave the neighbourhood’s current residents facing a dearth of rental options while supporters suggested the project is overdue to help assuage the district’s dearth of rental options.

While 327 of the new units would be strata, the remaining 84 would be evenly divided between market and below-market rentals.

Of the 42 rentals earmarked as affordable, 23 would be rented at 85 per cent market rates and the other 19 would be rented at 75 per cent of market rates. The least expensive units are reserved for households earning between $49,000 and $91,000 per year, according to Mosaic senior vice president Geoff Duyker. If a household’s income exceeds $91,000, they will have six months to move out.

Based on 2017 averages, the cheapest, subsidized two-bedroom rental in the new Emery Place would cost $1,688 a month, a hike of $371 from current rates. The most heavily discounted three-bedroom units would be $57 cheaper than current rates.

“There’s a lack of secure rental. That’s the situation I’m in,” said Andrea Watson, who supported the project. “Canadians talk about the weather. If you’re in North Vancouver, you talk about the housing situation.”

Watson described six months spent scouring the district for rentals only to find housing that was too expensive or too small or stayed on the market too briefly. She said she eventually moved her family into a basement suite with “zero security.”

Watson said she would support any development bring a greater diversity of housing to North Vancouver.

“I would love to continue to raise my kids here,” she said.

But while some district residents discussed their desire to move into Emery Place, current Emery Place residents discussed their fear of moving out.

“This is the second time that me and my children have been displaced just because a development company wants to come down and tear down our homes,” said Debbie Brooks, a resident Emery Place for the last 12 years .

“If we’re forced to move, we’re going to have to go back to a two-bedroom and I’ll sleep in the living room,” Brooks said.

Likening the densification of Lynn Valley to Metrotown, Brooks described the struggle she would face if forced to move from her ailing mother.

“I can’t, and I will not, be forced to take the only grandchildren that my mom has, for whatever amount of time she has left to live, away from her.”

John Gilmour, a former council candidate and a former Emery Place resident, noted the relative lack of density on the five-acre site.

“It’s understandable there is concern about the temporary loss of rental units,” he said. “However, this development will actually increase the supply of rental.”

Mosaic has proposed paying displaced residents a lump sum based on the duration of their tenancy. A one-year tenant would pocket $240, while a 15-year tenant would receive $3,500. Mosaic would also offer tenants three months free rent and $2,000 for moving expenses.

In written comments, former councillor Mike Little suggested the project was: “doing the right thing, the wrong way.”

While the project aligns with the district’s official community plan, Little contended that council’s focus while drafting the OCP was on the rash of school closures rather than the housing crisis.

He also noted the difficulty Emery residents might face in finding similar housing given the decades during which no purpose-built rental housing was created in the district.

The district has a “higher than normal duty of care in the current climate, to the current residents,” Little explained.

The project received strong support from Community Housing Action Committee members as well as David Hutniak of Landlord B.C., who based his support largely on the housing supply crisis.

Council also heard from employers and employees who backed the project. Jeremy Miller, who employs dozens of workers through his landscaping company, noted that many of his workers commute from Squamish and Coquitlam due to their inability to find housing in North Vancouver.

Geoff Petrie, who said he lives in Vancouver and works in the District of North Vancouver, welcomed the rezoning.

“The lack of rental opportunities and the cost of rental . . . have been the only reasons that I have stayed in East Van.”

The project’s total floor space ratio – which measures total floor space against lot size – is 2.16. Site coverage is estimated to be 65 per cent.

If the project is approved, Mosaic would pay the district a community amenity contribution of $11.9 million.

With more than 20 speakers still holding their peace at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the public hearing is set to resume – and possibly conclude - Wednesday evening in council chambers. Council is not permitted to receive further information once the public hearing has closed.

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