West Vancouver Council at Odds over Idea of Developer Paying for Planner

This story originally appeared on
Brent Richter
December 14, 2016

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West Vancouver may soon be staffing up to pin down plans to develop 350 acres of the side of Hollyburn Mountain into a new village – but there’s some disagreement over who should be paying for it.

Council voted Monday night (December 12) to explore “cost-recovery options” for the planning process that must happen before British Pacific Properties can begin work on Cypress Village.

It’s been a concept on paper for years, and council intends for it to be a full-service community filled with a range of housing options and price points and a commercial hub.

But district planning staff are currently stretched too thin to continue advancing the proposal any further.

Council is now hiring a consultant to research how the developer can pay to keep the project moving.

The idea won the support of five of council’s seven members, but not before a feisty philosophical debate about who should be paying for new planners.

Councillor Nora Gambioli said she has no problems with the notion of Cypress Village, but she rejected the idea of British Pacific Properties’ money speeding up the process.

“I have no problem with the concept. I have a problem with this process of the proponent effectively proposing to give the district ... a million bucks to get this on the fast track,” she said. “I do believe it’s a conflict of interest.”

Past councils made a point of keeping tax increases to zero, which has resulted in the planning department being funded for only a small staff, Gambioli added.

“If it’s of huge benefit to the community ... then we should be putting that money into the budget for 2017 and we should be hiring more of our own planning staff who are working for us, to work on the OCP,” she said.

Councillor Christine Cassidy also voted against hiring the consultant, saying it would set precedent for other developers looking to buy their way onto council’s list of priorities.

But Councillor Craig Cameron expressed frustration at the apparent catch-22 council finds itself in.

“We’re always criticized for allowing developers to have freebies – that they make too much money and we’re not holding their feet to the fire. Now we have a developer and we’re holding their feet to the fire and we’re getting them to pay their own way and we’re criticized again. We can’t win,” he said.

Putting off Cypress Village, which is still bound to be a long, slow process, any longer would amount to dithering, he added.

“This notion that we need it but we can somehow just wait and futz around and get to it in the fullness of time, what we’re doing by doing that is putting off taking action on what we’ve identified as community needs and there’s no rationale for doing that.”

And there is no question that West Vancouver needs what’s being proposed, Mayor Michael Smith said.

“It’s a vision that has to happen. This is not one specific project. We’re talking about something that, in 25 years, is going to be one of the cornerstones of West Vancouver,” he said, adding that the municipality also owns a large chunk of the land in question.

“I’m fully supportive of this. We badly need it and British Properties knows the potential is there to leave a legacy of a real community above the highway instead of a bunch of big single-family houses. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Members of the now-defunct Rodgers Creek and Upper Lands Study Review working groups, which council relied on to help shape the planning process thus far, both came to council urging them to keep the Cypress Creek project moving forward.