Approved development divides Arbutus Ridge residents

Community organizers call approval a done deal

Vancouver city council unanimously approved a rezoning application last week for a massive redevelopment of sleepy Arbutus shopping mall. The surrounding community itself, however, is far from united in supporting it.

We were all very disappointed because it contravenes almost everything in the city plan that was put together in the 90s, said Doreen Braverman, chair of the 350-member Arbutus Ridge Concerned Citizens Association, of the proposal by property owner Larco Investments Ltd. to build 500 housing units, including 64 rentals for seniors, and 45 low-cost rental units, at Arbutus Village Shopping Centre. We werent against the development itself, we know we need a better shopping centre, but wed like to see more shops and services instead of more densification and more condos. They make it sound as if they couldnt make a go of it as just as shopping centre but the developer owns Park Royal, I think he knows how to attract stores.

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Braverman has a host of complaints about the mixed-used project, which will see the construction of four residential towers ranging from six to eight storeys high as well as two new streets on the seven-acre site near the intersection of Arbutus Street and King Edward. Primary concerns are regarding the increased traffic, potential flooding through the construction of underground parking lots, noise and dust pollution, blocked views and length of time necessary to complete the project.

They say the construction will take eight to 10 years, she said. There are an awful lot of seniors living nearby who are going to have to put up with an awful lot of noise for quite a long time.

She added that city council had previously promised to respect the character of the neighbourhood when developing the area and accused council of ignoring most of her group's suggestions.

Resident Georgina Spilos said she wasnt surprised by the Vision Vancouver-led councils decision.

I fully expected it, said Spilos. Like many in the community, I felt it was obvious that city council and the city planning department intended to push this rezoning through long before an any application was even filed. I used to be more involved but with trying to fight it, but I just became so disgusted in the past two years by the lack of engagement.

Brent Toderian, the city's director of urban planning, disputes the suggestion that the community wasnt adequately consulted.

I would characterize the process as very full and very robust, but at the end of the day, not everyone agreed. But just because not everyone agrees, it doesnt mean there wasnt an adequate process, said Toderian, adding that survey results showed more residents were for the project than against it, although only by slightly more than half. There wasnt what is called a supermajority, which is 55 per cent or more saying yes, but in the community vision language, thats whats called an uncertain result. With an uncertain result, you have to do more planning study and we did that.

Toderian said adding significant residential housing was the best compromise.

Like many shopping centres of that era, it has been struggling for many reasons, including its basic design. It just doesnt have the population support around it to make it viable. This is a phenomenon weve observed across North America. The model of turning failing shopping centres into mixed-use neighbourhood hubs is a North American best practice and, in the context of Vancouver, this facility is fairly modest in comparison to what is being planned in other parts of the city.

Larco, a private firm controlled by West Vancouvers Lalji family, one of Canadas wealthiest families, is offering the city 100 of the new development housing units to be put aside for social housing.

Twitter: @flematic

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