British Columbia

West Vancouver mayor chastises council for failing to apply climate change policies it had just passed

District of West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth went from applauding her fellow councillors for passing climate change policies to admonishing them for not supporting a moderate density rezoning application in the span of an hour on Monday evening.

Council turns down moderate density development as mayor complains 'it's never the right project'

A frustrated West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth admonishes council for passing climate change policies and then failing to apply them — all on the same night. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

District of West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth went from applauding her fellow councillors for passing climate change policies to admonishing them for not supporting a moderate density rezoning application in the span of an hour on Monday evening.

"We talked a big talk earlier about looking at every decision through a climate lens," said Booth, during a five-minute speech where she repeatedly pounded her fists on her desk. 

The district unanimously passed two motions that moved it closer to taking direct action on lowering emissions, four months after declaring a climate emergency

Among the planned changes are creating bylaws for carbon friendly construction and electric vehicle charging requirements and a climate fund to help pay for emission reductions directly under the municipality's control, such as district-owned buildings and vehicles. 

Later that evening in a 4-2 vote, council rejected the proposed Tantalus Gardens development on an abandoned church site, which would have contained six single-family homes and eight duplexes.

"This is the number one thing in our control to affect greenhouse gas emissions," said Booth.

"We've got 1,700 huge houses that are empty, burning a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. And we're now [rejecting] a little compact pocket neighborhood that's nicely designed."

Proposed design for Tantalus Gardens, a group of 14 single-family homes and duplexes in West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay community, replacing four lots that include a church that has closed. (District of West Vancouver)

Density debates

Booth's frustration continued a dynamic that has been common at West Vancouver council over the past year.  

In 2018, the district approved an official community plan for increasing the amount of housing units by 5,000 over the next 25 years, based on concerns around five straight years of population decreases

Booth was elected mayor on a platform of adding more density and diversifying the district's housing stock — but in her first year, some projects have been defeated or delayed in split votes, often after blowback from local community groups opposed to development. 

"Our number one issue is housing diversity, and it's never a good time. It's never the right project," said Booth.

"Well I've got news. There's no magical place in West Vancouver for somewhere where it's going to be better. There isn't."

Councillors who voted against the Tantalus Gardens project cited community opposition to losing the church, and worries the units wouldn't be affordable to families. Several said the project had merit, and hoped it could be delayed until the local area plan for Horseshoe Bay was completed, allowing for more consultation. 

But Coun. Craig Cameron — one of two people on the seven-person council that typically sides with Booth — was skeptical more consultation would change the debate. 

"It's never the right project," he said.

"If it's in an existing single family home, then it's out of character. If it's in an area with more density, then we're adding density to an already dense area. So, you know, I think at some point we're gonna have to walk [the walk]."

One new unit approved

The council meeting ended on a somewhat absurd note, as it debated whether to allow the subdivision of a 95-year-old house, so a second building could be constructed on the north end of the lot. 

At first, it seemed as though it would fail along the same lines as other contentious development votes on council.

"I know it's checking boxes but I think there's a lack of sensitivity here," said Coun. Sharon Thompson.

"It's got to fit in the neighborhood, and ... I don't think this makes the community — that neighborhood — feel comfortable at all."

The debate ended with Booth saying "this one's going down as well," but Coun. Marcus Wong voted in favour of the change and it passed 4-3.

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