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District of North Van council approves Emery Village development in split vote

Following a lengthy and at times contentious debate Monday, District of North Vancouver council voted 4-3 to approve the 411-unit Emery Village development, displacing 37 households.
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Following a lengthy and at times contentious debate Monday, District of North Vancouver council voted 4-3 to approve the 411-unit Emery Village development, displacing 37 households.

Casting the decisive vote, Mayor Richard Walton explained that, rather than playing “musical chairs with people’s lives,” council is abiding by an official community plan that concentrates density in town centres.

Consisting of 327 stratas and 84 rental units configured among a pair of 12-storey buildings as well as eight-, six-, and five- storey buildings, Mosaic’s development will replace the 61 rentals currently located as 1200 Emery Pl. Mosaic is slated to pay the district a $11.9-million community amenity contribution.

“We simply cannot turn off the switch on projects ... that are consistent with the policies and guidelines that we have laid out,” Walton said.

In uprooting the current residents, the development violates community values like compassion, inclusivity and mutual respect, argued Coun. Jim Hanson. “The idea that they would be merely collateral damage to a decision that must be made is, in my view, unacceptable to these values.”

There will be “no collateral damage,” countered Coun. Robin Hicks. “I am certain that no one will find themselves homeless from this proposal,” he said, drawing jeers from many Emery residents in the crowd.

Hicks praised the relocation package, which offers tenants a lump sum based on duration of tenancy as well as three months’ free rent and $2,000 for moving expenses. That package is likely the envy of renters in basement suites and stratas who would likely not get a dime if displaced, noted Coun. Roger Bassam.

Bassam discussed the painstaking process of drafting the OCP and the necessity of putting bigger developments in town centres, thus saving single-family neighbourhoods from: “the pressure of densification.”

“The only prudent way to combat the price of rent is to increase the availability of supply,” Bassam said. “If you believe in the OCP and recognize the town centres will dramatically improve our community, then this project is very easy to support,” Bassam said.

It is also illogical to base a housing decision on the OCP, which was largely drafted before real estate values skyrocketed and vacancy rates plummeted, Hanson countered.

“This rezoning fails. It doesn’t achieve enough around housing affordability.”

The project includes 23 rental units set to be rented at 85 per cent of market rates and another 19 units to be rented at 75 per cent of market rents.

Providing affordable rentals has been challenged by the unrealistic expectations of some district residents, according to Walton.

“The challenge we have in North Van is that our community speaks passionately against the inconvenience of construction, height and density, yet expects us to provide broader services such as non-market housing from a Spartan storeroom,” he said.

He also reminded his colleagues and the gallery that Mosaic could renovict tenants without a public hearing or a council bylaw.

While acknowledging the traumatic nature of displacement, Hicks warned that deferring development would exclude young professionals and service workers from the district.

Politicians who “throw up their arms in despair or offer quick solutions by slowing things down are unrealistic and ignorant and ignore or misunderstand the reality of market conditions,” Hicks said. “We must embrace change.”

Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn expressed the opposite point of view, suggesting that affordable housing would be destroyed and the replacement would largely be out of reach for the missing generation.

“The people that are paying this price – and it’s a big one – are those who can least afford to,” MacKay-Dunn said. “What is the rush?”

Coun. Lisa Muri concurred, accusing council of gentrifying the community and jousted with Walton after she criticized her colleagues for approving nearly every major development proposal.

“We are pushing out one group of people to accommodate another. I don’t call that dignified.”

Muri addressed her closing remarks directly to Mosaic, asking for a delay so Emery residents can find a replacement home in the community and keep their children enrolled in school.

“You could just wait for a few more months until temporary rental housing is built,” she said, referring to a modular housing project in Maplewood pending approval.

There may not be a way to shield Emery Place residents from “the brutal realities of the market,” Coun. Mathew Bond said.

“The market is not serving the majority of people and specifically it’s not working for anyone that didn’t already own property five or 10 years ago,” he said.

Bond noted the council has not approved any rental projects big enough to: “make any impact on market rents.”

Hanson also pondered how the development would affect local traffic.

“Is now the time to add 411 units to Lynn Valley? Will that render any benefit to our current transportation circumstances, or will it only make a bad situation worse?” he asked.

Emery Place resident Kelly Bond said she was disappointed but not surprised at the decision, describing herself and her neighbours as “sacrificial lambs.”

“I know there’s tears. I guess there was hope,” she said of her neighbours.

A mother of four, Bond said she would likely leave Lynn Valley for the Fraser Valley. However, Bond promised to advocate for affordable rental housing for as long as she stays on the North Shore.

“I’m not letting this go until it’s all the way through and ... they’re putting the shovels in the ground.”

Emery Place resident Terry Wagner said council’s decision may force him from Metro Vancouver.

“We are not against the development per se but there are no options,” he said.

Bond agreed, noting she recently mulled a four-bedroom unit in Deep Cove that would cost her an extra $9,600 a year.

Wagner criticized some councillors for a lack of logic and others for being out of touch with the reality of life as a renter. “Be careful who you vote for,” he advised.

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