West Vancouver mountainside village plan hailed as ‘wonderful’ opportunity

A new report is calling on the District of West Vancouver to plan a new dense neighbourhood along the bottom of Cypress Bowl Road. The idea is to concentrate development of the so-called Upper Lands in that area, while reserving much of the rest for a large new park.

The Upper Lands, above the Upper Levels Highway and between the British Properties and Cypress Provincial Park, is almost 2,500 hectares of public and private property representing just over one-quarter of West Vancouver’s total land area.

The issue for the district is balancing the needs of a sensitive ecosystem, while leaving room for recreational opportunities and future neighbourhoods.

A citizen’s group that was charged with updating a decade-old district study of the Upper Lands is calling on council to preserve as much parkland as possible by concentrating new development in a small area. The citizens’ working group was asked to re-examine the plan because new environmental information had become available and because the district now has a master plan for parks.

“Working groups can step outside of the day-to-day operations of the municipality and look at the big picture from a citizen’s perspective,” explained David Hawkins, a district senior planner who served as a staff liaison to the group.

The group’s chief suggestions for the Upper Lands include not allowing development above 1,200 feet (365 metres) elevation or west of Eagle Creek, and shifting density to the future Cypress Village, thereby preventing housing sprawl.

That leaves the potential for a 1,250-hectare park in the area above 1,200 feet — the most ecologically sensitive area.

British Pacific Properties owns most of the property below 1,200 feet, but also has some significant holdings higher up. It’s being recommended that the district purchase private lands above 1,200 feet that abut district property.

The concept of a mixed-use mountainside village at the base of Cypress excites Ashley Willard Bauman, who co-chaired the citizens’ group.

“I think Cypress Village has the opportunity to create something we are not seeing in the world right now — a wonderful mixed-use urban village that becomes like a gateway to a mountainside that is 20 minutes from a downtown centre,” said Bauman.

The idea would be to build trails to connect nearby Rodgers Creek to the new Cypress Village.

]”It’s only logical that you connect them up,” said Coun. Michael Lewis. “This idea of trading density on the far west of the community for more density around the proposed potential Cypress Village area — that makes a lot of sense.”

Planning for Cypress Village could begin later this year, with a final report going to council in June.

Community keeps West Van building

British Pacific Properties’ nine-year president Geoff Croll, 51, had the $12 open-face salmon-shrimp-turkey sandwich and an $8.50 Guinness stout at Red Lion Bar & Grill this week. Welsh-born prospector Grenville (Gren) Thomas built that Dundarave fixture after discovering the Northwest Territories’ 10-million-carat-a-year Diavik diamond property. UBC-grad civil engineer Croll’s employer hit pay dirt closer to home.

It was during the Depression in 1931 when Guinness family interests prevented West Vancouver’s bankruptcy by paying $75,000 for some 1,620 hectares of land. Individual lots are now worth 70 times that. Still, slow initial sales boomed only after the Park Royal shopping centre opened in 1950. Not that BPP sells bare lots today on its property’s undeveloped half. Introduced in 2000, construction agreements became mandatory in 2010 for the Highgrove project’s 11 single-family homes and 18 townhouses. Post-recession prices ran to $2.5 million.

By 2012, they’d more than doubled for the Highview project’s 16 single-family homes. Those smack on West Van’s 365-metre elevation contour, the present limit for residences, now resell for up to $10 million. Slightly downhill and averaging 3,700 square feet, five of 20 multi-family homes have sold in the contiguous Aston Hill development.

Such buyers “like to see the product,” Croll said regarding May’s construction completion.

They may also wish to see the stores, restaurants and professional premises for which British Properties dwellers descend to Marine Drive. Croll envisages them for Cypress Village further west in the Rogers Creek Planning Area. Still three years away, the project may include two hectares of rare level land that BPP traded away in a density-transfer agreement. Called McGavin Field, it was to be a now-uneconomic rugby-football facility.

Croll, a former Hillside Secondary and Rowing Club flanker, admires its Georgia Strait-to-Burrard Inlet panoramic view. Figuring to live there himself, he said: “I have the perfect opportunity to create my ideal neighbourhood.”

For now, there’s Mulgrave Park to develop with 15 houses running to $6 million apiece, eight semi-detached homes, and 53 single-floor apartments. Other than three 1960s rental towers beside Park Royal North, “It’s our first venture into the apartment market,” Croll said of the units, which will range from 1,000 to 4,000 square feet. Some 200 more are planned for a 250-unit project in Planning Area 6, with servicing to begin in 2016.

“Rogers Creek was successful because it was a community plan,” Croll said. “Not one person spoke against 700 new housing units in West Vancouver. That’s when you know you’ve done your job.”

Taking the cake: Thomas Fung, whose Fairchild Group owns six TV and six radio stations across Canada, welcomed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Chinese New Year celebrations in Aberdeen Centre. Instructively for politicians, owner Fung demolished his original mall and, for $135 million, tripled it to 380,000 square feet to compete with nearby Richmond Centre.

Harper sidestepped the Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle restaurant’s private dining room that the Hong Kong-born Fung says “is like my office.” Now owning international rights for the chain that Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou opened, Fung may soon acquire the original outlets.

West Vancouver, UBC-campus and L.A. Chef Hung outlets followed Aberdeen Centre’s. Others in Surrey and California are due. There are four in Shanghai and two in Beijing with two more imminent. Fung expects to have 60 in Canada, the U.S. and Australia by 2010. He said Air Canada has agreed to put Chef Hung dishes on international and domestic flights. The carrier also sponsors Fairchild’s Miss Chinese Vancouver Pageant, the 20th version of which will benefit Vancouver General Hospital on July 19 and air to millions in China and elsewhere. A related December event will benefit B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre.

Guinness Family quietly pushes ahead with West Van development plans

Not too many people are paying attention to what’s happening in West Vancouver. That’s because most of the change is happening in remote parts of the district, only visible if you’re a local driving through.

Geoff Croll, president of British Pacific Properties, has even tried to lure real estate agents over by picking them up in a limousine for a recent open house.

British Pacific Properties (BPP) has flown largely under the radar in its 84-year history as the development company in charge of developing 4,000 acres of property owned by Britain’s Guinness family. Until recently, the developer has been moving slowly.

“We have been kind of invisible, which is okay when you’re only selling 10 units a year,” Mr. Croll says.

The BPP of old was all about single-family housing. The BPP of the future is about townhouses, duplexes and condos as well. Mr. Croll wants to build apartments that are 1,000 square feet and priced at less than $1-million, featuring spectacular views.

“It’s a product we haven’t offered before,” he says.

Mr. Croll is standing inside the show home for their Aston Hill subdivision, which is part of West Vancouver’s Rodgers Creek area. Of the 20 duplexes built, they’ve sold six. They aren’t what immediately spring to mind when you think of “multi-family.” These duplexes are 3,700 square feet in size and priced at $3.2-million. At $875 a square foot, Mr. Croll reasons that it’s better value than what you get in Point Grey, which is well over $1,000 a square foot. To an international market, such as the buyer from mainland China, that’s especially good value.

The duplex is aimed at the wealthy downsizer who used to live in 6,000 square feet. But it’s still a riskier venture than the traditional single-family house. Not everyone wants to share a wall with a neighbour, even if it feels more like a big house than a duplex.

But another challenge is that the windy hillside roads make it tougher to entice real estate agents and buyers.

“It’s hard to find. It’s been challenging,” Mr. Croll says. “They are used to a grid system for roads. This doesn’t show up on a car navigation system and some GPSs. It takes forever to get onto Google Maps. So people just give up.”

Anyone old enough to remember the historic Hollyburn chair lift will know where we’re standing. The chair lift is long gone, replaced by luxury houses with some of the best ocean views on the planet.

There is a lot of parkland, too. Although BPP owns the land, land use is determined through a collective process, helped along by a working group of volunteer citizens. In talks with residents, they found that trees mattered.

“The main focus of Rodgers Creek was to cluster development areas where it makes sense, and save the rest of it as green space,” Mr. Croll says. Roughly 55 per cent of the area is protected green space.

Over the decades, BPP has sold off or developed about half their land holdings. They’ve got about 1,000 acres of developable land. The other 1,000 acres or so is above the 1,200-foot elevation line, where development has long been out of bounds. But 1,000 acres is a lot of land to develop – the size of Stanley Park.

In 1931, the Guinness family purchased the land for $75,000 and then invested $1-million in infrastructure. The Olmsted Brothers designed the first British Properties subdivision. They were the firm that designed New York’s Central Park. And of course, the company also helped finance the Lion’s Gate Bridge and built the Park Royal Shopping Centre in 1950, to help grow the area.

Throughout the decades, BPP mostly sold off serviced lots of land to developers for various subdivisions. They rode the market highs and lows, including the ultra low recession of the 1980s.

The company is still family run, with four Guinness family members on a board of eight.

“We are a very small part of their overall business interests, but they’ve always shown interest and still care about it.”

With Rodgers Creek, the company returned to its roots in house construction. It’s a slow process. It took two and a half years to receive approval to develop Rodgers Creek. It takes six months for a building permit and 18 months to build a house.

“There is a lot happening in West Van right now,” Mr. Croll says. “And the number of building permits has skyrocketed. People are buying properties with bungalows on big huge lots, and they’re knocking them down and building new houses. I think the municipality is a bit overwhelmed with activity, and we get caught in the crossfire.

“They know we’re not going anywhere. We don’t own land anywhere else. Our business is completely in West Van.”

He’s got a vision for this environmentally important remaining chunk of land. A mountain trail is under construction to connect Rodgers Creek to the future Cypress Village, which is the key component in making these neighbourhoods walkable, and sustainable.

A council-appointed citizens group has drafted a paper that recommends concentrating density into the future village and increasing preserved park area, as opposed to creating residential sprawl. It would include rental and seniors housing.

“You need to concentrate development if you want to make those things happen,” says senior community planner David Hawkins. “One of the key ideas of Rodgers Creek is that it would be a community that would be served by a nearby village. It’s been on the radar for a while now.

“You’ve got a large landowner there, but the municipality also has land holdings, and ultimately it’s within our community.”

Rodgers Creek has already gone through the community planning process. Now there are a series of upcoming meetings about the future of the Upper Lands, a 6,700-acre parcel of undeveloped land north of the Upper Level Highway. It includes the plans for Cypress Village. The public is invited to give their feedback at meetings on April 11, 14 and 16. Details are on the district website.

“Cypress Village has the potential to deliver something that doesn’t exist in the Lower Mainland,” says Ashley Willard Bauman, co-chair of the Upper Lands working group, which prepared the report. “It’s a whole new way to live and experience the mountainside, one of the most exciting propositions. And it’s starting at the very preliminary stages.”

Mr. Croll is keen on the village creating vibrancy, but also acting as a destination, with good restaurants and pubs for mountain bikers. His renderings show a Whistler-style retail complex with a public square, surrounded by trees and a killer ocean view. But it’s too early to know how big the village will be, or its precise location.

“We would like to have it planned and zoned within three years,” he says. “And then put in a coffee shop within five years from now. That’s my goal, to be able to sit and look out over the ocean, and have a coffee there.”