Zoning and Official Community Plans, worthwhile until they’re not

Home buyers make property choices based on municipal zoning and Official Community Plans. Provincially mandated OCPs are “a statement of objectives and policies that guide decisions on municipal and regional district planning and land use management.”

However, large-scale land developers see OCPs as impediments easily overcome by effective lobbying of municipal politicians.

North Vancouver District (NVD) is considering Darwin Property’s proposal near Capilano University for two six-storey buildings with 315 residential units plus commercial and amenity spaces and underground parking for 210 cars.

The land is now designated as Parks, Recreation, and Open Space (PRO) in the zoning bylaw, and Open Space and Natural Areas (POSNA) in the Official Community Plan (OCP). It is on the east side of Monashee Drive, at the crest of Seymour River’s west escarpment.

The site is immediately above an occupied residence almost hit by a landslide in 2007. The hillside failed after heavy rains overwhelmed drainage systems and the runoff destabilized forested grounds below. The slide narrowly missed an occupied residence but took out mature evergreen trees and blocked a walking trail beside the river. Unlike a landslide on the Seymour River’s east escarpment, no person was killed or injured.

In 2010, International consultants BGC Engineering Inc. delivered to NVD its ‘Landslide Risk Assessment for Select Escarpment Slopes’. BGC identified forty residential properties below Capilano University with HIGH or VERY HIGH risks of being affected by slides on the river’s west escarpment.

NVD restricts development at the bottom of the slope and should not consider large buildings at the top. Obviously, it is better to prevent landslides than to dig out afterward.

The ban on construction of buildings and major land disturbances in this area should continue in accordance with established zoning and the OCP. North Vancouver District should allow no activities that require movement of heavy equipment and construction of additional roadways on or near river escarpments.

Vigilance is needed to protect lands above North Vancouver rivers. Land users benefit by extending properties that are not closely monitored. Some years ago, I photographed wood chips and soft organic fill that had been dumped over the hillside edge in an effort to create additional flat land above the river. The work was illegal; more importantly, it was dangerous.

Approval of the proposal for 1310 Monashee Drive would encourage comprehensive development of other natural spaces atop the Seymour River’s east side escarpment. This would negatively affect abundant wildlife in the area.

To meet housing needs, vacant lands west of the site, between Monashee and Lillooet away from the hillside, could be used for residential accommodation.

District residents paid a premium to acquire properties adjacent to open spaces and natural areas designated by the OCP. Their property taxes have always reflected that premium. They should not be endangered because a developer wants to build on a greenbelt and profit mightily because upzoning will instantly multiply land value.

If NVD approves Darwin Property’s application, the District would elevate dangers to nearby residents and invite further threats to green spaces that are important to all current and future North Shore citizens. If this site is developed, the one immediately north will likely follow.

The are photographs I took of dumping at the edge of the Seymour River west escarpment. The objective was to increase the flat land but these unnatural additions are unsafe. Loose fill and organic matters were deposited.

A public comment by the resident affected by the landslide referred to in the above text:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed development at 1310 Monashee Drive, North Vancouver. We live at the bottom of the Seymour River’s west side escarpment (immediately below the proposed development site) and were witness to [the Seymour Slide].

I was home with my wife at the time of the slide (2007) when I sensed something very wrong, I thought I was witnessing an earthquake. I yelled for my wife to exit the front door, we both ran out to observe the hillside, 40 meters to the north, sliding down bringing tons of earth, rocks and trees with it.

It was a formidable sight, you could hear trees cracking and smell freshly split wood and see the air filled with water vapour. This was an experience I hope never to confront again.

It would be very difficult for us to find comfort in any reassurances that may be offered with respect to water management and slope stability if further development were to happen.

Categories: Environment

7 replies »

  1. Does that mean that the developer is a candidate for the Darwin award? This sounds like an April fools joke with the name of that parcel of land

    Liked by 1 person

    • A favourite strategy of this and other private sector developers is to pursue huge profits by acquiring property not designated for development, then pressure friendly council members to approve new uses that do not conform to zoning and Official Community Plans.

      Another is to make promises about uses of property and how rents will be established in ways helpful to the community. Trouble is those promises might be unenforceable and quickly forgotten.

      Municipalities and citizens put great effort into Official Community Plans but developers may see them not as as guidebooks but barriers to be overcome by applying influence. Often that persuasion involves political contributions organized by real estate organizations.

      Bad developers don’t want to build better communities; they want to build more profitable enterprises.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While Darwin Properties sells this as housing for students and faculty of nearby CapU, the company resists guaranteeing that use. They admit they may “go to market.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The “Eye” lives on a hill, a rather steep hill, which housing lot my father bought in 1963.

    My dad was a graduate forester from UBC and he knew something about hills and the stability of hills but before he purchased the half acre plot. My dad, with another forester friend and a graduate UBC geologist he knew, walked several miles along the base of the hill, to do a visual survey of the land until they reached the Reef in Point Roberts, discussed the matter over some beer and walked back!

    Point of discussion, the hill/cliff was the remains of a glacial moraine, built on layers of silica sand and clay, the hill also had many artesian aquifers at the base and at where the layers of silica sand and clay met.

    The hill was stable but my dad was advised not try to change the natural slope by adding back fill or debris to enlarge the back yard; do not cut trees as they absorb a tremendous amount of water and do not build on the actual slope.

    My father and now myself have done exactly what should be done, now for the past 60 years, but we are the only one, as during that time, people enlarged their backyard foot print by pushing back fill over the slope; cutting trees for a better view and building on the slope; with the result of a substantial amount of hill failures (a polite way of saying landslide) and even a collapse of a swimming pool!.

    Except our portion of the hill, where trees grow and the hill is as natural as it was back in the 1960’s.

    From the photo’s I see, anything build on this land will be prone to major failures; it is all wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I often wonder how long some of these politicians memories are, or how long have they lived on the North Shore. History is an important factor to consider before zoning changes. Do they ask WHY THE ZONING RESTRICTIONS EXIST??? 🙄


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