West Vancouver considers ‘housing reduction’ strategy

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

James Weldon
Van. Courier

WEST Vancouver neighbourhoods could take a dramatic turn for the exclusive in coming years if the municipality adopts a “housing reduction” strategy outlined in a staff report tabled in-camera last year.

The confidential 90-page document, provided to the North Shore News Thursday, calls for a gradual decrease in the number of residential units in the community over time, with the aim of creating “elbow room” in overdeveloped areas.

If adopted, the plan would mark a stark departure from the approaches of surrounding municipalities, which have by and large embraced densification in recent years for reasons of environmentalism and affordability.

“This strategy is about responding to residents’ needs,” said an official with the municipality, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the preliminary nature of the plan. “De-densification actualizes a vision that has long been demanded by West Vancouverites. We’re confident this change will be a popular one.”

The 2011 staff report, titled West Vancouver Rarified Land-use Strategy: Embracing the 20th Century, calls for the proposal to be adopted in phases, with a moratorium on new development coming into effect in 2013, followed by the implementation of “passive expropriation” policy, which would see the district buy a certain number of listed homes every year and remove them, gradually “alleviating the pressure that has been a source of anxiety for the community.”

The strategy also envisions the eventual demolition of the “viewblocking, person-intensive” residential towers in the Ambleside and Dundarave areas. The official acknowledged that aspect of the plan could prove controversial among some groups, “the people who live there, for instance,” but made assurances the municipality would undertake it in a managed and sensitive way.

“We’d obviously let them get out first,” she said. The new policy is in response to long-standing resident opposition to growth of all kinds, she explained.

“Basically what people in West Vancouver hate most is people,” said the official. “This aims to address that concern.”

In recent years, fears of change, riffraff-ization and a kind of traffic Armageddon have helped suffocate West Vancouver densification efforts ranging from tower proposals to modest townhouse developments to an “outrageous” program that would have seen tasteful, architect-designed coach houses appear in up to five backyards.

The municipality has finally come to the conclusion that those fears are entirely reasonable, said the official.

“Residents don’t want to live in some nightmarish Hellscape,” she said, “like Kitsilano or the City of North Vancouver.”

This piecemeal, reactive process has clearly had a positive outcome, preventing unwanted affordability and sustainability from entering the community, said the official, but the municipality wants to be more proactive.

“We’ve decided not only to stop more people coming in,” said the official. “But to start getting rid of the ones who are already here.”

Slowly emptying out the community would have the added bonus of boosting home prices, many of which still hover below the $1.6-million median mark, she said.

In the discussion section of the report, staff envision a kind of Utopic future, projecting the transformation to its logical extreme.

“The ideal, decades from now, is to get down to one, really nice house,” said the official. “Until that one is sold, at which point we’ll knock it down too.”

The plan also looks to enlist other municipalities’ help, suggesting council approach North Vancouver about demolishing some of the “more unsightly portions” of that community to create a “view margin” within “looking range” of West Vancouver. Similarly, it weighs encouraging the depopulation of Lions Bay and possibly removing Passage Island altogether.

The authors further discuss a resident proposal to have the City of Vancouver take away the “shanty town” on Point Grey, and possibly the landmass itself, which “totally blocks the best part of Georgia Strait,” but they reluctantly dismiss the idea as “appealing but impractical.”

After a debate by council this spring, the report will go to public hearing one year from today: April 1, 2013.

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