Metro Matters

Will a new North Vancouver District mayor bring a new housing agenda?

Three people are hoping to replace Richard Walton as the municipality's leader

3 people are hoping to replace Richard Walton as the municipality's leader.

A development led by Mosaic Homes is replacing 61 units at Emery Place with new buildings that will have more than 400 rental and strata units. (District of North Vancouver)

If you had to draw up a "typical" Metro Vancouver municipality in this year's local elections, it would look a lot like the District of North Vancouver. 

There's a retiring mayor. A divide between candidates that want to keep moving forward on the current agenda and those that want to slow things down and new, younger candidates that think council has been dominated by the same types of people for too long. 

And, of course, looming over everything is housing: what should be built, what shouldn't be built and how to keep the city affordable for the middle-class families that have characterized the sprawling municipality's many leafy neighbourhoods.

"I think that the developments that have been taking place in the district have been too much too fast and have created a situation where the community is very concerned about how much it's going to change in the near-term future, and we need someone in that mayor's position to change the culture of the organization," said former Coun. Mike Little, who's hoping to replace outgoing Mayor Richard Walton.

"We're working against our own best interest. We need someone to come into the community, calm things down, set out some actual priorities to deliver the actual units that will serve our community, rather than serve investments."

Pace of growth

Little, who ran for the federal Conservative party in 2015, believes the district is growing too fast and hasn't properly planned or regulated high-density developments around major corridors.

"I am a conservative, but I recognize that the market is responding to the global demand, which is for investment units. So we have to interject ourself as a local government and try to figure out what will serve Lynn Valley, what will serve Seymour."

It's a characterization that Roger Bassam, the only sitting councillor looking to succeed Walton, rejects. 

"We need to achieve certain densities in those town centres, have enough people to fill the buses, and those buses can run between those centres, and you can get an actual transportation network running. We're getting there. Some people think we're getting there too fast ... and have been working very hard to slow everything down and stop it if possible," he said. 

"Unfortunately, stopping leaves us in the current bad situation we're in. We're not in a good place around transportation, around housing affordability and doing nothing is not a solution. We have a good plan."

As depicted in this mockup, a proposed North Shore Innovation District in the Maplewood region is meant to create 4,500 new jobs and 1,000 living spaces. (Darwin Properties)
 

New, younger party

While Bassam and Little disagree on housing policy. They're both part of a generation of councillors that has led the district for the last decade, which could leave room for other contenders for mayor.

"I'm running as mayor for the district of North Van because I think it's time for a new style of leadership," said Ash Amlani, a candidate for the new Building Bridges Electors Society.

 A former advisor for the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC Centre for Disease Control, the 32-year-old Amlani believes her coalition will attract voters who want a more diverse council and a greater diversity of housing options, including using density bonuses and other incentives for developers. 

"I have been a policy advisor in both the provincial and federal governments, and neither of my opponents can say that," she said.

"At a time when other levels of government are looking to collaborate with municipalities, who do you trust to get the best results for North Vancouver? There's a real choice in front of people ... and they have to choose between career politicians and a fresh face."

Changed forever?

There are non-housing issues in the municipality — namely transportation and amalgamation with the City of North Vancouver.

But with transportation solutions contingent on other levels of government, and the city lukewarm on the concept of merging with the district, the focus will likely be on the overriding anxiety of the district's transformation.

"We can't become a retirement village, and we can't build more skyscrapers for millionaires," said Amlani.

"No contractor, no nurses and teachers. They're not going to be buying these million-dollar units in the sky. In fact, we're displacing them," lamented Little. 

Not surprisingly for the candidate associated with the status quo, Bassam strikes a note that is either realistic or accepting, depending on your point of view. 

"Lynn Valley was recognized as a blue-collar neighbourhood. There are no blue collar neighbourhoods on the North Shore anymore. We're definitely much more affluent as a community, and it changes the way it functions," he said.

"The question right now is, are we willing to continue with the [Official Community Plan], maybe make some refinements? Or are we saying, too much traffic, I just want to shut everything down?"

"I don't think that will serve us well in the long run."

CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.

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About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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