In an effort to create a vibrant community with housing options at different price points, the District of West Vancouver recently unveiled its draft OCP. It outlines plans to increase market and non-market rental, seniors and supportive housing units in strategic locations; boost the local economy through small-scale retail, restaurants and services; and regenerate village centres in Ambleside Town Centre, Horseshoe Bay, Dundarave and Taylor Way.
What is the OCP?
The West Vancouver Official Community Plan (OCP) is the guide to growth in West Vancouver, BC. It is an enforceable bylaw that sets forth objectives and policies for land use management and development within the area governed by the OCP.
The OCP is intended to be a blueprint for the future and to provide the basis for zoning decisions. It should be prepared through a process that encourages maximum participation by all community members and provides residents with the background information needed to understand how each alternative will affect their interests.
A good OCP should show how anticipated growth is likely to affect quality of life for current and future residents, as well as those who work or visit West Vancouver. It should also set out a vision for the district and its goals and objectives.
When zoning works well it guides new developments to sites where benefits will be maximized without detracting from the use and enjoyment of those owning or occupying adjoining property. When zoning doesn’t work it often leads to the development of undesirable new buildings and activities that harm the quality of life for everyone in the community.
West Vancouver is a community with many qualities, ranging from its unique position on the coast mountains to its rich cultural heritage and world-class parks. It is a vibrant, family-friendly neighbourhood where residents enjoy the best of both urban and natural surroundings.
But like all cities, there are challenges. One such challenge is the ongoing and growing demand for affordable housing, especially in the area of senior housing.
The West Vancouver OCP has a strong commitment to meeting this need through the creation of new housing in appropriate locations. It is expected that this will result in the development of 5,000 new residential units over the next 25 years.
This new development will bring much needed options for young families and “downsizers” alike; people that will bring fresh energy to neighbourhoods throughout the district. It is also designed to be built on a site that is unique in the region – nestled between two bordering creeks, CN Rail and Westport Road; no other site south of the highway has similar size or degrees of separation to existing neighbouring homes.
What is the Missing Middle?
West Vancouver faces a critical shortage of housing, particularly accommodation at different price points. This shortage, in turn, exacerbates housing affordability problems for existing residents and leads to high property taxes.
For years, local business and community leaders have called for a greater diversity of housing options to address this gap. They believe that the community needs more options for seniors to downsize, families with children to move in and young people to stay.
In response to the need for a greater variety of housing types, the district’s new OCP – an official municipal plan – calls for “sensitive infill,” which preserves the character of single-family home neighbourhoods while adding smaller houses, coach (or laneway) houses and duplexes. It also calls for triplexes, townhouses and mixed-use buildings close to transit and amenities.
The district is well on its way to meeting this goal. But the process can be lengthy, frustrating and sometimes costly.
As of late 2018, 501 new units — almost half of the OCP’s proposed 5,000 new units — have been approved in West Vancouver. In fact, the vast majority of those approved are apartments.
A small number of coach-houses, duplexes and infill detached housing got the go-ahead too. But that’s about all – and the city still isn’t building a significant number of townhouses or multiplexes, which would help address the so-called “missing middle” in the district’s housing stock.
It’s an example of the kind of planning and bureaucratic roadblocks that have dogged West Vancouver since the 1950s, when residents and their associations began to push for more density in neighbourhoods like Ambleside. The result was an intense anti-development backlash that shaped local debate and the agendas at many residents’ association meetings for decades to come.
Despite the OCP’s clear call to increase housing choices, many developers struggle to get their projects approved. The result is an insufficient supply of homes, particularly affordable ones, that meet the needs of people at all stages of life in the community.
What is the Vision?
The West Vancouver Official Community Plan (OCP) is a guide for future growth and development in the District of West Vancouver. It was developed and approved through a four-phase public engagement process that involved more than a thousand surveys, submissions and events.
The OCP aims to protect a very large natural area for recreation and conservation, limit suburban sprawl, and concentrate development in a more compact, sustainable way. It also outlines ways to ensure a good quality of life for all residents.
To do that, the OCP includes a number of innovative concepts designed to increase the density of West Vancouver, enhance connectivity and pedestrian mobility, and promote community health and well-being. The OCP also contains policies geared towards a healthier built environment, better access to affordable housing, and reducing transportation-related air pollution.
Another significant component of the OCP is a new cultural plan. This document will help shape West Van‘s arts and cultural activities, and serve as a guide for the City’s community planners in their planning efforts.
This new cultural plan is part of a larger effort to promote West Van as a destination for visitors, and will incorporate the Smart Growth principles that form the foundation of the OCP’s policies. These include dense development, pedestrian-friendly streets and open spaces, and a commitment to preserving open space as part of the land-use planning process.
In addition to the cultural plan, West Van is also in the midst of a long-term planning exercise for a large swath of land in the Upper Lands between British Properties and Cypress Provincial Park. The District of West Vancouver and its stakeholders are in the early stages of deciding what to do with this undeveloped territory, which represents just under one quarter of the total area of the district.
A major component of this planning exercise is the creation of a working group consisting of members from the private sector, residents and other stakeholders. This will help the District of West Vancouver’s planning staff understand what a wide range of interests are in the area of urban design, and what are the most important issues to address. This working group will be responsible for developing recommendations to improve the quality of life in the Upper Lands area and identifying key strategies to achieve those goals.
What is the Strategy?
The Official Community Plan (OCP) is the district’s most important policy document for the future. It provides Council and municipal staff with a strategic framework for planning and decision making in West Vancouver.
A strong OCP provides the basis for a high level of planning certainty and ensures that new development is compatible with the community’s long-term vision. It also serves as the foundation for other policies, strategies and plans that are implemented to achieve the goals set out in the OCP.
It’s also the key guiding document for land use planning and zoning. These tools provide the means to implement the OCP’s goals while preserving the quality of life in West Vancouver.
Ultimately, the OCP’s strategy is to make West Vancouver an even better place to live and work than it is today. It seeks to create an environment where growth meets the needs of residents at every stage in their lives, including families, young professionals and seniors.
To reach this objective, the district will need to increase the supply of new housing options. The OCP aims to achieve this by promoting new market and non-market rental, senior and supportive housing units in a variety of locations across the district.
In addition to adding new housing, the OCP will be focused on increasing access to transit. This will include working with TransLink to improve bus frequency and efficiency, expanding transit connections between Park Royal and Dundarave and Marine Drive as well as promoting bus-supportive road designs throughout the district.
The OCP also seeks to expand the availability of green spaces in the district. These green spaces help to provide an inviting place for residents to walk and connect with their environment.
One of the most difficult challenges facing the District is traffic congestion. This is caused by a combination of factors, including declining population growth, lack of available housing and fewer people living in existing houses.
To counteract these problems, the OCP sets out a bold set of goals for the community over the next two decades. Those goals aim to create an environment that is more sustainable, safer and more attractive, while increasing the availability of housing and creating opportunities for growth.
Among many other things, David A. Grantham is a contributing author to UmassExtension West Vancouver Blo. He is a renowned expert on real estate in BC.
Born in North Vancouver, Louisiana, Dr. Grantham grew up in Lower Lonsdale. He then went on to complete his business degree at the University British Columbia. As of this writing, Grantham has completed over 100 projects, including the development of a high rise building in Vancouver.
He is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He was a dedicated outdoorsman and enjoyed sports such as hunting, fishing, scuba diving, and snow skiing. His wife, Alison Grantham, and their two daughters survived him. He is survived by his wife Alison Martin Grantham and two daughters.