West Vancouver goes to court to sell donated land

The District of West Vancouver will be in court next week seeking permission to sell off a piece of land donated to the municipality so it could be used as a park. If approved by the courts, the district will sell part of Brissenden Park to purchase more waterfront land in Ambleside for public use.

In the late 1980s, Pearley and Noreen Brissenden negotiated with the district to bequeath their 2.4 acres of land on Rosebery Avenue in Upper Dundarave on the condition that it “be used and maintained for public park use.”

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But previous councils never gave the land park designation and never installed any infrastructure there.

“The property is not well suited for use as a public park,” the district states in its petition to the court. “The terrain is steep and the property is relatively difficult to access as it is not on any transit lines. The property has no public amenities, facilities or defined public parking and has never been developed for park use and is unlikely to be widely used as a park in the future.”

The district is now asking the Supreme Court to vary the trust under which it holds the land. The proposal would be to keep 57 per cent of the land and develop it into a park with walking trails but to sell off or lease the remaining land into three subdivided residential lots. Money raised from the new lots would go towards the purchase of 1444 and 1448 Argyle Ave. At least half of that land would be renamed Brissenden Waterfront Park and kept as open greenspace, but the district may choose to build a new arts facility on the remainder as part of the Ambleside Waterfront Concept Plan.

Included in the court petition is a letter of support from Pearley Brissenden’s friends and former law partners who argue selling the land would be in keeping with their charitable wishes.

“If this were to be done, the Brissendens’ gift would be used and enjoyed by the public every day and by many people amounting in the tens of thousands each year. What better use could there be for the property? Knowing the Brissendens as we did, we are sure they would be absolutely delighted by such a use and would endorse the district’s proposal,” they wrote.

But the proposal is being fought by the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General and by some West Vancouver residents.

In 1987, West Vancouver’s mayor at the time Donald Lanskail wrote a letter to the Brissendens saying the land would be “highly appropriate for a neighbourhood park and would certainly become a treasured community asset.”

“There is no evidence that the location or the topography of Brissenden Park has changed in any substantial way since the mayor wrote to the Brissendens in 1987,” the attorney general’s response states.

The attorney general takes issue with the district for never installing any park infrastructure as was stipulated in the Brissendens’ will, and for collecting upwards of $200,000 by renting out the Brissendens’ home over 17 years.

“West Van wants to vary the park trust without having carried out its terms,” the response states. “West Van’s actions or lack thereof with respect to Brissenden Park appear to threaten the park trust’s charitable purpose.”

West Vancouver resident and lawyer Paul Hundal has submitted an affidavit disputing the district’s assertion the land isn’t suitable for park use.

In a series of visits to the property, Hundal said he found adequate parking, mature red cedar and Douglas fir trees, and a spot to sit and enjoy views of English Bay and Point Grey. The nearest bus stop is only 125 metres away, Hundal added, and with the exception of a few steep spots, most of the property is easily walkable – like most properties in the district.

In an interview, Hundal said he would rather the district pay for the Ambleside properties out of his taxes than see the district sell off land.

The Brissendens’ 1948 home, which was an early example of post-and-beam West Coast Modernism has already been demolished by the district.

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