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West Van ponders 350-square-foot 'micro' apartments

Tiny suites would be offered to local workers first, developer says

West Vancouver is taking some baby steps toward tiny apartments.

Council voted 6-1 Oct. 4 to advance a proposal from Park Royal’s parent company Larco to build 199 micro-unit market rental apartments at the corner of Taylor Way and Clyde Avenue.

About 90 per cent of the units would be only 350-square feet, which the developer hopes will be snapped up by people who work in West Vancouver but are priced out from living there.

“We are seeing, without a question, the smaller units are in higher demand when it comes to registration and we believe that the younger market that is looking for more affordable, attainable housing would rally to these types of units,” said Rick Amantea, Park Royal vice-president.

Although the apartments would be available to anyone, Amantea said prospective tenants who work in West Vancouver would be given the first chance to register, and the company is willing to offer them two months of free rent in the first two years of their lease as an incentive.

But since 2017, West Vancouver council has had a policy to not consider rezoning properties that have not gone through a local area planning process unless the project provide some “public benefit” as determined by council. The vast majority of preliminary applications that have come forward have not been able to find a majority vote by council to proceed.

The Taylor Way local area plan is still two to four years away, according to staff. If council were to allow a start to the rezoning process now, Amantea said the micro-suites could be ready for move-in by 2024.

District staff say the proposal will need more vetting, but they did recommend council proceed, given the relatively affordable rentals so close to transit and amenities.

Six of council’s seven elected members agreed.

“This is an empty lot. It's been empty for 40-odd years. It's providing no utility to the community whatsoever,” said Coun. Craig Cameron. “Local area plans can be a useful tool, but they should not be used to freeze all activity in the municipality for years and years and years on end … obstructing any sort of progress. We have imminent housing needs and we have done almost nothing to address them over the term of this council.”

Coun. Nora Gambioli noted the Taylor Way local area plan is unlikely to produce drastically different proposal than what Park Royal was pitching.

“Except that we will be probably five more years behind schedule in actually providing some affordable housing,” she said. “That’s not what we want. We need to walk the talk here.”

Coun. Peter Lambur said the proposal was “intriguing” but it would amount to spot rezoning, which he chastised council for doing.

“I really am dismayed that some of my colleagues on council have kind of given up on completing the (official community plan) and relegated the Taylor Way local area plan to some far off future,” he said, noting council should prioritize getting the Taylor Way plan done in less than five years. “I come from the school and point of view that every development deserves a plan and the developments will be better for it.”

Coun. Sharon Thompson supported moving the micro-suite proposal ahead, but warned she may not support it when it comes time to vote for rezoning. Thompson expressed doubt there would be a market for small apartments in West Vancouver and suggested the site might be better used as a hotel or tech offices – options that could be on the table following a local area plan.

“I am really banging my shoe on the table to make sure we get Taylor Way and Ambleside done as a top priority in our current strategic plan,” she said.

Coun. Marcus Wong and Bill Soprovich, both of whom typically vote against advancing developments before local area plans, supported Larco proceeding with a formal application, saying the innovative and cheaper housing was enough of a public benefit.

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth sided with the majority, saying West Vancouver doesn’t have the luxury of time when it comes to finding ways to house people living on retail or caregiver salaries.

“We just lost our fifth police officer to Surrey because of the commute. Many of our restaurants have decreased their hours, considerably. ‘Help Wanted’ signs are in virtually every business, from Park Royal to Horseshoe Bay, and I'm very concerned. I'm very concerned that we aren't going to have the amenities and services that actually make West Vancouver super desirable.”

Council’s 6-1 vote gives Larco the go-head to do further consultations and prepare a formal application, which will kick off a typical rezoning process including first reading of a bylaw, a public hearing and final vote.