Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A Letter to DNV Planning Department /Looking at my Neighbourhood April 2010

The edited letter below was first sent to planners with the District of North Vancouver in April 2010.  Since that time  many of the thoughts it contains have flowed out into the community to become the starting point for a grass roots re-examination of the basis and future prospects for out community

At this most recent meeting of the Lionsgate Neighbourhood  Association, held in February of 2010, I presented my concerns about the need to develop some proactive positions and dialogue regarding development from within the neighbourhood itself.  I was encouraged by the response of others who expressed their support for my general ideas and reaffirmed their own concerns that to a large degree fell in line with mine.

The following is a general outline of what I perceive to be the current situation of the neighbourhood.  For the most part these conditions are largely contained within the areas bounded by the south side of Fullerton Avenue, Capilano Road, Curling Road and Glenaire Drive.  Sections of the Lionsgate Neighbourhood outside of these boundaries do not possess the same combination of lot size, aging residents, age of houses, or density issues (ie; Woodcroft) that make this section of Lower Capilano the sharp end of development issues in the area.

Within the area described above, a relatively small number of homes, all built between 1955 – 57, sit on large single-family lots of between 7 – 10,000 sq. feet.  Several homes are occupied by the original owners from inception of the subdivision, while a large number are long time residents of 20-25+ years.  Many of the residents have raised their children in their homes and now retain the houses in their retirement.

At the public meeting I raised the point that within ten years – whether due to age or health related issues – most of the residents in the area would not be in their homes.  I questioned whether many at a distance of ten years (myself included) were prepared to continue to maintain the property and maintenance required on the homes and lots as presently configured.  Several members of the audience echoed my sentiments, pointing out that the amenities and convenience of the neighbourhood made it a desired and valuable location, but the prospect of maintenance, expense and labour of upkeep represented a daunting prospect.  What is needed within our area is a model of change that allows for retaining the core of its character while accepting and integrating possibilities that gradually reconfigure the area more in line with contemporary realities.

My concerns are that the looming and prolonged threat of large scale development in the area has pressured residents to position themselves in a reactive attitude and that as a group we were failing to develop a proactive voice that frames our interests and needs, contextualized within own terms.

Given the pending development applications from Larco Holdings and the Grouse Inn, (and other smaller developers) any discussion of any change or  re-evaluation of the status quo of “single-family housing” for the area elicits stiff opposition.  Currently all discussion is being driven through the agenda and terms set by Larco’s development ambitions for high density, high rise development.  There is no trust that any development brought forward will not result in horrendous traffic, noise, crowding, construction disruption.  There is no faith from any area residents that any of the proposed developments will but guarantee that the formerly private and stable neighbourhood will be undermined, sacrificed and the residents’ lifestyles degraded.

Between these two polarities I believe there exists an opportunity for a gradual and organic (in the sense of rebirth and revitalization) change and reconfiguration of the area.  More than simply having the potential for re-adaptation, I believe it is necessary and ultimately life-enhancing to work towards a degree of change that recognizes the changed scope of urban living, land costs and lifestyles.

The present tensions with regard to the future of this area have led to stasis, a degree of paralysis, where owners are reluctant to invest in major improvements to their homes due to the future direction of the neighbourhood being indiscernible.
This spectre of uncertainty arose for me when I bought my home here in 1994 (after having rented for three years).  “Why would you buy here?” I was asked, “It’s an area in transition.”  When I began   building an office addition onto my home, a man on the sidewalk, shaking his head, questioned my sanity, “You’ll never see your money back out of it. This will all be coming down.”

Additionally, the current zoning does not anticipate other than very narrow and conventional land use solutions, with no provision for those who might need to change or re-adapt homes due to shifting life circumstances, ie mother-in-law cottages, or duplexes/triplexes. 

As I look around parts of Vancouver, the City and District of North Vancouver, I find any number of well-executed and attractively designed projects, ranging from townhouses to triplex and fourplexes that have been seamlessly inserted into established neighbourhoods.  All have resulted in slightly higher – but eminently livable – density, while enhancing the sustainability and value of the surrounding neighbourhood.  Surely all of these can’t be constructed merely out of vanity and misguided folly?  Why are there no plans/options forthcoming that fall along any of these lines?

In contrast, Larco’s  proposal anticipates and declares the necessity of 400+ units be built on their site, stacked to canyon-like height along both Fullerton and Curling Road.  It needs to be pointed out that Larco bought their property with a known zoning and a functioning business operating on it, and purposely determined to drive that operation into disrepair and oblivion.  They do not have any legitimate cause or grievance to demand that change and development be swung solely to meet their criteria of maximized profit.  One should not expect them to pursue any other course or purpose – it simply needs to be recognized that their self-perceived needs are neither paramount nor supreme.

I believe that given the right context and options, the residents of the Lower Capilano neighbourhood would be willing to accept a degree of higher density, particularly if the change were seen as enhancing their daily lives and mitigating the prospect of runaway development and overcrowding.  Currently all considerations are canted in the direction and towards the pecuniary aims of commercial developers.  The Larco proposals, as presented at neighbourhood meetings over the years, continually leaves the feeling of reducing our neighbourhood to another anonymous highrise hub at the end of a transit spoke to downtown Vancouver.

I look forward to having further discussions with you and the planning department and will be seeking the voices of others in my neighbourhood to bring to the forum.

My final comment is to include the link to a company (albeit in Washington state) that is undertaking development with an approach and product that seamlessly integrates into existing neighbourhoods with viable single-family choices that enhance sustainable use and land value. www.cottagecompany.com/Approach.aspx


Douglas Curran

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