Commentary on Keith Rd Public Hearing

Voices commentary on the January 19th Public Hearing for a 16 storey tower (93 units) at 161 E Keith (Victoria Park). Links to letters to the Mayor and Council members from residents Linda Heese and Bob and Peg Heywood are also provided.  Details of the BC Supreme Court Decision are available in previous posts on this website.  If you share our concerns please contact Council members.

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Many North Vancouver residents are hoping that the recent BC Supreme Court ruling forcing the City of Vancouver to halt a tower development in Yaletown has set a legal precedent that might apply to the recently-approved development at 161 East Keith Road. Most of Justice McEwan’s reasons for judgment in the Vancouver decision seem to apply equally well to the Keith Road situation.

The 16-storey mixed strata/rental tower fronting on Victoria Park was approved by City of North Vancouver Council on January 19, exactly one week before Justice McEwen’s Vancouver ruling came down.

Apart from the fact that the East Keith development is way too big for the site – almost three times larger than the existing zoning and Official Community Plan allows – the public input process was rushed, with inadequate notice and lead time to allow the public to study the details of the proposal. (Bob and Peg Heywood make this point in their letter to Council here 161 EAST KEITH). And some important information provided to the public was inaccurate, or contradictory, or missing altogether. (See Linda Heese’s letter to Council detailing these deficiencies in the public information, and how they directly connect to Justice McEwen’s ruling 161 East Keith – New Public Hearing Request).

The project’s supporters on Council say inflating the density on the site through bonusing is necessary to create more rental housing, which the city needs because our stock of affordable rental units is aging and must be replaced. That need is real – however, we don’t see high-rise projects like this one as the solution. The units in this building are relatively small studios and one-bedroom units, suitable mostly for singles. And as market rentals in a brand new building in a desirable area, they certainly won’t be “affordable”. In fact by encouraging the city’s headlong rush towards greater and greater density, we’re just ensuring the speculative rise in land values will continue, rents will keep rising, and North Shore housing will become even less affordable.

This over-sized building has been (as Councillor Bookham pointed out) shoehorned into a property that is too small for it. This was achieved by relaxing the city’s regulations on setbacks — the building will be practically on top of its neighbours – and by finessing a dubious transfer of density from the adjacent city-owned boulevard. Detailed information on how that transfer was calculated and valuated were not provided.

Every resident who spoke at the public hearing, or submitted their opinion by letter or signed petition, was against the proposal in its current form. Council approved it anyway, by a 4-3 vote.

The four who voted to approve the development have not shared with us whether the developers in this case were among the developers who funded their election campaign. And frankly it’s appalling that this should be an issue at all. But it is. How can citizens trust a process in which public input is hurried, information is lacking, and the people voting on it routinely accept money from the companies who are proposing the developments?

The mayor’s slate made it very clear when they were elected that it was all systems go for development in the city. Public hearings are little more than an inconvenient step they have to put up with before the rubber stamp comes out.

Here’s hoping that Justice McEwen’s ruling changes that.

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Contacts for Council:

http://www.cnv.org/Your-Government/~/media/City%20of%20North%20Vancouver/Documents/Mayor%20and%20Council/City%20Council%20Members%20Contact%20Information.ashx

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