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Kirk LaPointe: West Van council lets Seawalk dog decision run away from them

Bypassing public consultation on such a divisive issue could come back to bite council
Pedestrians enjoy a sunny stroll on the Seawalk in West Vancouver. District council is set to enact changes that would allow dogs on areas of the Seawalk where they were previously prohibited.

Notes that could be columns on their own, Vol. 382:

Before I start, full disclosure: I’m not anti-dog. Owned them, generally loved them.

Dogs have never been healthier and more nurtured than during the pandemic. We may be going too far.

To be fair, West Vancouver is loaded with dog rules: maximum three per household, leashed except at designated parks, licenced over six months, fines for barking that disturbs neighbours, for not picking up, or 14 other infractions. Pretty restrictive, actually, probably time for a rethink.

Council this week directed staff to modernize the framework. Problem is, rather than make that study the set piece for changes, it has made changes the set piece for study.

The district will hustle in bylaws and amendments to eliminate a five-metre dog-presence setback at various venues and permit three new locales to walk your dog: Horseshoe Bay Park, Ambleside Seawalk, and the Centennial Seawalk.

The latter site is worth questioning. There’s that novel chain link fence that separates scampering dogs off-leash on a dirt path from their walking owners on the paved walkway. It works ingeniously to keep the Seawalk without pets but also somehow with them. The result is a glorious, safe experience. Lots of little kids, lots of couples, lots of runners, lots and lots of walkers, and dogs as adjacent accompaniment.

Now it’s going to be little different than Vancouver’s Seawall which, if you’re as familiar with it as I am, is where dogs walk their owners. It will work for those who love them; for those who don’t wish to deal with them, or more importantly who can’t for various health or mobility reasons, they’ll stay away. Sorry to say, it’ll seem more successful and less inclusive than it really is.

Oh, and it is worth noting the changes passed with no public consultation – it was actually promoted as such in the motion from Couns. Linda Watt and Christine Cassidy. Mayor Mark Sager said if it “turns out a disaster, council could always change it back.” There we have it: the shaggy-dog standard of democratic process.

• • •

Last weekend was great for taking in the crisp, autumnal West Vancouver beauty.

Usually, one of the niftier walking paths crossed a 36-foot wooden pedestrian bridge between Eagle Harbour Road and Keith Road. It vitally links a beach, a neighbourhood, a school (Eagle Harbour Elementary) and a park (Verdun).

In mid-June the bridge failed. It seemed a relatively simple fix if nimbly addressed, but has turned into a case study of how too many government cooks spoil the broth.

The bridge is over a stream, so the province needed to be alerted. An engineer needed to be contracted. Old design records needed to be located. A budget needed to be found. The mayor needed to be involved.

A local resident offered to pay for a rebuild. Might take a couple of days, he asserted. But no, it wouldn’t, now that government was here to help.

Weeks went by and with them the summer season and the start of school with no walking to it. Then Halloween. Will it be done by the Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s? If that’s the over/under date, I’d place a bet on the over.

• • •

The province’s legislation to crush short-term rentals through such entities as Airbnb and VRBO collides with bylaws of almost every community, and almost every community has a reason or five to complain. West Vancouver is no different.

The bill is a party pooper for B.C. investors. The short-term rental heyday for multi-property owners is ending – they’ll only have their principal residence, secondary suite and living unit on that property for any rentals of 90 days or less. West Vancouver bars rentals of 30 days or less – although it happens – but places no limit on the properties an owner can rent. A slight shock might come.

Laws have unintended consequences. In the district’s case, with no hotels for short-term stays, the film and television production sector will be affected by this change in tenure. We may lose some business. Our bylaw is sturdy in standing up to party houses, but the 90-day minimum is worrisome for out-of-towners who come here for short-term treatment or convalescence on the North Shore. The bill will need further refinement.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of Business in Vancouver as well as vice-president, editorial, Glacier Media Group, the North Shore News’ parent company. He is also a West Vancouverite.