West Vancouver considers 'housing reduction' strategy

The purchase and elimination of view-blocking homes would be part of a long-range “de-densification” strategy being considered in West Vancouver.

 

The purchase and elimination of view-blocking homes would be part of a long-range “de-densification” strategy being considered in West Vancouver. 
Photograph by: supplied , for North Shore News

BY JAMES WELDON, NORTH SHORE NEWS

 

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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