District of West Vancouver council has debuted plans for 170 units of below-market housing on a plot of land the district purchased in Ambleside.
Using its windfall from the sale of the old West Vancouver police station, the municipality purchased the 76,000 square feet of land at 2195 Gordon Ave. from Vancouver Coastal Health in 2014 for $16 million with the intention to one day develop it into affordable housing.
Council voted unanimously Monday night to send two concept design options for public consultation this fall. Under the plans made public at council, there would be 170 purpose-built rental apartments offered at 30 per cent below-market rates, as determined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. data, plus 30 market strata condos to help the district recoup revenues.
The studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units, would be massed in one of two potential layouts: three six-storey buildings, or two larger six- and seven-storey buildings. (Staff had previously considered allowing buildings of up to 12 storeys but rejected that approach.)
Housing costs in West Vancouver are among the highest in Canada, staff noted, and vacancy rates are below one per cent. New rental units in West Vancouver currently lease for $1,500 to $4,500 per month, according to staff research.
The target market for the subsidized rentals would be “moderate” income households in two particular demographics: young people who work in the district as well as families with kids in the local school system. Families with parents aged 35 to 54 have been reduced to just 14 per cent of the population, down from 21 per cent in 2011. Younger people age 25 to 34 are now West Van’s “missing generation,” accounting for only two per cent of the population. Those trends have produced challenges for the district, staff noted. Today, three-quarters of West Vancouver’s workforce has to commute there for work and one third its students come in from other districts, district staff noted.
Although council’s vote only moved the project ahead to public consultations, members of council were enthusiastic in their support.
“This is a big deal for West Vancouver. It’s an opportunity for us to target, specifically, two demographics that are missing from West Vancouver – our workforce, which now primarily consists of people driving here, which never used to be the case, and young families,” said Coun. Mary-Ann Booth. “This is a crisis because, projecting into the future, you end up with a ghost town if you don’t replenish that group. West Van has changed. We must respond.”
Booth conceded, however, that the project would not be affordable for baristas and retail clerks also priced out.
Public consultation on the project will consist of surveys, open houses, public information meetings and meetings with stakeholders. It will fall to the next council however to decide whether to proceed or amend the plans.
Coun. Craig Cameron said he’d like to see the district investigate other options for affordable housing, including the affordable ownership modelled after the Whistler Housing Authority. But in the meantime, he said he hopes to see this project through to completion.
“I’m very happy to see this move forward. Like all of us, I wish it had moved forward a little faster but the public should know we’ve done our due diligence going forward with a proposal that all of us on council will be behind and hopefully all of the people on the new council will be behind it as well,” he said.
Following the meeting, Mayor Michael Smith said the four-and-a-half year delay was partly due to the long time it took to get possession of the property, as Vancouver Coastal Health migrated the services it once offered there to a new location.
“It’s just a question of staff resources and staff time. We’ve been underway now for well over a year in planning but we took a long time because wanted to get it right,” he said.
If the next council opts to move ahead with the project, it would still require a rezoning process.