Kevin Faw has plenty of ideas for a former church site in Horseshoe Bay a developer wants rezoned from public assembly to residential.
Quma, a development company, has applied to rezone the former church site for a 14-unit multi-family development called Tantalus Gardens at the site of St. Monica’s Church on Wellington Avenue in Horseshoe Bay. The site was sold in 2015. While the half of the property permits a public assembly use, the other half accommodates two single-family homes.
The rezoning is up for first reading at a council meeting on September 9. Residents feel if the council allows the rezoning, a valuable community meeting space would be lost forever.
Concerned local resident Kevin Faw is willing to buy the property from the developer.
“I think the neighbourhood should decide what happens in a public space like this. And I am willing to put my money on the line to try and pursue this because I am one of the neighbours,” he says.
Faw has spoken to several organisations who could use the site. These include day-care providers, environmental groups, faith communities, theatre groups, musical groups, schools and art groups.
His neighbours have suggested a neighbourhood hub, a small cafe run by locals, an office space, a meeting space, a place for local movie nights, birthday parties, anniversaries or even a casual outdoor gathering space.
“In essence, I want to own/hold the property and offer it to the neighbourhood to come and be a part of building something together. And in so doing, create a unique and dynamic space that fosters connection between people and the land/place where they live,” Faw says.
Another resident John Noble believes in Faw’s vision and wants the council to consider the idea when they mull over the proposal this Monday. Noble says as far as he knows, the Wellington Avenue site was purchased by the community 70 years ago as a space for public assembly. It was later bought by the church.
“The community fundraised and bought this land and, of course, the entire purpose was to have a place where local families can gather and enjoy this space as a community,” he says.
Noble also contests the idea that the housing would serve the so-called missing middle. “We disagree with this. This will make the developer rich but it’s not going to help any poor person buy a home here,” he says.
At a meeting in May, the council deferred the development until the Horseshoe Bay Local Area Plan could be complete. It also directed staff that the boundaries of the plan be extended to include the Tantalus Garden project, which it did. However, only the first phase of the plan has been completed, but the staff is “comfortable” in the proposal moving forward because the “proposal was received prior to the initiation of the local area plan and it complies with the housing objectives of the OCP”.
“It doesn’t matter how many people turn up, the concerns are disregarded. There are so many people in the neighbourhood who are passionate about this, but they are pushed out of the conversation. There is a lack of transparency in this process.”
The Western Residents Association in Horseshoe Bay, however, isn’t as comfortable with the idea. “The WRA is of the view that it is premature to move forward with the development prior to having the local area plan complete,” says John Meekison, the WRA president.
Last year, Holly Kemp, the president of Horseshoe Bay Business Association, also wrote a letter to the district expressing her concerns with the proposal. “We don’t want it. The property at this time has a community amenity zoning, and we don’t have any community amenity other than Gleneagles. The development being proposed will create high-end homes that sell for $1 million and over and we don’t need that in this area,” Kemp said.
The staff report to the council, however, paints a different picture of the public support for the project. According to the report, the developer canvassed the neighbourhood for 50 days, spoke to 550 residents and businesses and reported that 85 per cent residents were supportive, and only 8 per cent were opposed.
Sheona McDonald, a resident who lives close to the church site, says she wasn’t contacted as part of this survey. She also says the district has been largely dismissive of their concerns and has engaged more with the developer than the community. “It doesn’t matter how many people turn up, the concerns are disregarded. There are so many people in the neighbourhood who are passionate about this, but they are pushed out of the conversation. There is a lack of transparency in this process,” she says.
Meanwhile, the developer, Peter Nilsson says the Tantalus Gardens project is the missing middle, a collection of duplexes and coach houses. “Tantalus Gardens addresses the need for housing diversity and variety that the community of West Vancouver is looking for as outlined in the Official Community Plan,” Nilsson says.
The district staff has recommended the council give the first reading. Tantalus Garden, the district staff believes, fits in the neighbourhood and provides an alternative to traditional single-family homes.
Council will debate the first reading at a council meeting at 6 pm on Monday, September 9.