In 2014, the District of West Vancouver used money from the sale of land to Grosvenor, on which the old Police Station sat, to help pay for the new West Vancouver Police Station and to buy the land and buildings at 2195 Gordon Avenue (west of the Kiwanis and North of the Community Centre). The purchase price was $16 million. The value of this land, if zoned appropriately and sold for strata condominium development, is $80 million according to the District (a potential gain of $64 million or roughly $4,000 for each property owner in West Vancouver).
The recommendation from staff and our Mayor and Council is that the land be used to build 30 market condominium units and 170 below-market rental units. The reduced rental units would be rented for $1,470 for a one-bedroom unit up to $3,150 for a three-bedroom unit. Qualifying incomes would be from $59,000 to $126,000. Current median income in West Vancouver is $90,000. According to Statistics Canada, 33 per cent of residents of West Vancouver have incomes below $60,000 and would therefore not qualify.
The District started a consultation period for this proposal in early February to end March 15. This was extended to April 15. This was very rushed consultation which was conducted while many residents were rightly focused on the B Line. On April 29, the Mayor and Council agreed to take this proposal to the next stage by proceeding with plans to rezone the property. They did not agree to extend or broaden consultation.
The consultation and due diligence conducted on this initiative is in my view (and many others) badly flawed. 2195 Gordon is a unique site given its location in our District and the Community should be satisfied that we are using the site for its highest value to the community. The consultation and survey only considered one possible use for the property — that of subsidized rental suites for those of moderate incomes. A number of residents asked for an extended consultation period and a broadening of the consultation to consider other possible uses of the site. This has not happened.
With regard to “due diligence” I am unaware of any written report that went to Council or is available to the public that demonstrates what other alternative uses of the site might be with pros and cons and financial consequences to taxpayers of each (e.g. seniors housing, more deeply subsidized housing to meet needs of businesses and employees, sale for maximum value, uses of other lower-value sites for subsidized housing and sale for maximum value).
There does not appear to have been any surveys of businesses and their employment needs; the market and prices of rentals currently available in West Vancouver and consideration of the many new market rentals proposed or approved; whether employees in West Vancouver who might qualify would be interested in such subsidized rental properties, etc. There is also little detail in the proposal of who would manage such a rental property and how the lucky few would qualify. Before we jumped to using this property for subsidized housing should we not have an overall needs assessment and housing policy for West Vancouver?
This decision also has as a background a District that has already added a surcharge to property taxes to cover maintenance of facilities, has a shortfall of approximately $14 million in 2020/2021 and an unfunded liability for future major capital projects over the next decade of $200 million. In a recent Council meeting, even a casino in West Vancouver was pondered to help meet the funding deficit. Recent Community experiences with the Grosvenor Development, Official Community Plan, 751/752 Marine Drive development (at south east corner of Taylor Way and Marine Drive) and the B Line fiasco suggest that citizens need to more closely watch the Mayor and Council and what actions they are taking on residents’ behalf and the impacts of those actions on our community and taxpayers.
We currently have a Mayor, and some Councillors, who have their own vision for West Vancouver which unfortunately does not always line up with that of many residents and local communities. Public consultation in West Vancouver seems too often to be presenting one option to residents on any issue with a predetermined outcome. We saw this in the B Line debate and consultation, and, unfortunately, are now seeing in the consultation around 2195 Gordon Avenue. Fortunately, we do have some Councillors who actually want to listen and engage with residents and do not approach issues with a predetermined view of the final outcome.
The proposed use of the potential gain on this site of $64 million for subsidized rental housing ($350,000 subsidy for each of the 170 units) may well be the best use for this very unique and valuable site. Good governance should though have provided to Mayor and Council from staff a range of options for use of this site , the pros and cons of each and the financial consequences to taxpayers. This ought to have been made public via a written report and some of the alternative options should have been presented for consideration by the public during the consultation process. This is particularly the case as this will be one of the largest single investments made by the District for many years.
Poor governance and due diligence and inadequate and rushed consultation processes should not be acceptable to any of us as we know it would not be acceptable in our own businesses or where we work. Should you wish to have Council consider other options for the 2195 Gordon Avenue site and conduct consultations around alternatives please write to mayorandcouncil@westvancouver.
Graham McIssac is a 37-year resident of West Vancouver.