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The plump, white cat pushes itself against Scott Akin’s shin.
He leans over to give the cat a quick scratch. The used book store’s lights cast a yellowish tint on the feline’s fur and make the room feel warm and cozy. It’s the prefect pulpy environment for treasure hunters and bargain seekers. Yet something’s missing — customers.
“There are a lot of empty shops and too many banks,” Akin says of West Vancouver’s Ambleside strip.
Having previously owned a store on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, he bought The Ambleside Bookbarn eight months ago. The area is beautiful, he says. It’s right next to the ocean, a prefect weekend outing for shoppers, but so far it’s disappointed.
“If we are going to attract Vancouverites over to shop, we have to create something to draw them here,” Akin says.
And that’s exactly what the District of West Vancouver intends to do. With its centennial around the corner in 2012, council plans to pump life back into the historical heart of the community. To aid it, the municipality has head-hunted the man behind Whistler Olympic Village, Joe Redmond. He will supervise the new Ambleside Revitalization Commission and, after 30 years of district studies, help assemble a plan for municipal land.
“We are looking at this as the beginning of the next 100 years,” West Van Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones says.
A new home for emergency services
Although the project, dubbed AmblesideNow, has no fixed timeline, Goldsmith-Jones says the district hopes to move the West Vancouver Police Department into a new building within five years.
“The police station has really passed its functional life,” she says.
In fact, last year, police were almost forced to abandon the building when a major leak burst through the roof and flooded the department’s communications and dispatch rooms, West Van police chief Peter Lepine says.
“We had to relocate our communications to the North Vancouver RCMP,” he says, noting it took six weeks before the department could reoccupy some of the offices.
Beside the structural difficulties and mold from water damage, the police department’s detention facilities don’t meet provincial standards, Lepine adds.
The AmblesideNow plan proposes to place the cop shop and West Vancouver Fire and Rescue in a new public safety building beside municipal hall, on what is currently the parkade.
The facility would become the first district-owned building constructed to post-disaster standards, making it able to withstand an earthquake. That’s critical, Lepine says.
“We would be in big trouble if we ended up with a moderate size earthquake,” he says of the current 57-year-old building.
The new facility also marks the first Canadian station to place fire and police under the same roof, a strategy which may save money and time, Lepine says. Besides the obvious savings in constructing one larger structure rather than two separate buildings, on an executive level some of the units’ services cross over, he says, using community events and emergency operations as examples. Being in the same building could make planning easier, he continues.
Like the police station, West Van fire chief Jim Cook can’t guarantee Fire Hall No. 1 would remain standing after an earthquake. His fear is that a shake up would not only damage the hall, but would also ruin important equipment within the post.
“Our community expects that these emergency services will be available whenever they are most needed,” Cook warns.
Both parties are anxious to see this project move forward, the sooner the better, Lepine says.
“I have my fingers crossed,” he says.
Waterfront cultural zone
To pay for the new public safety building, West Van proposes to use cash from the sale or lease of the current police and fire lots, as well as additional property in the 1500-block of Fulton Avenue and the Gertrude Lawson site — the current home of the West Vancouver Museum.
“Ideally we can pay for the [new building] outright and put surplus money in the Endowment Fund,” Goldsmith-Jones says, noting how much money the district receives for the land depends on what the public decides should be placed on the property.
Public input will also decide the fate of the Gertrude Lawson house, says Bob Sokol, West Van’s director of planning, lands and permits. Originally built in 1939 for Gertrude Lawson, daughter of pioneer John Lawson, the district-owned building was restored by the West Vancouver Historical Society and opened as a museum in 1994.
While the stone house’s future is in question, the museum’s collection and services are not. Since 1975, the municipality has purchased waterfront lots in Ambleside, meaning the project could theoretically consolidate arts services within the area to create a one-stop arts bonanza. A consolidation of arts services would increase its presence, access and opportunities for partnerships, says Jennifer Marshall, owner of Urban Arts Architecture, the company West Van hired to lead the arts and cultural component of AmblesideNow.
“New arts facilities will be located in Ambleside as the focal point of the Ambleside waterfront cultural zone,” Marshall adds.
With the demolition of the police station, West Van has the opportunity to enhance Ambleside’s gateway, Goldsmith-Jones says. AmblesideNow hones in on the 1300-block of Marine Drive as a significant component in creating vibrancy in the area.
With international development company Grosvenor at the helm, the project suggests the police lot be redeveloped with commercial stores and restaurants at the ground level and residential units on upper floors. But as with all elements of AmblesideNow, what gets built depends on what citizens want, Goldsmith-Jones adds.
“Everybody who lives here now has a big responsibility to [aid] the planning,” she says.
Grosvenor, who developed The RISE in Downtown Vancouver, is drafting ideas for the entire block. The company owns the former Imperial Oil site, on the southern corner of Marine Drive and 14th Street, and two other lots along the strip, says James Patillo, senior vice president of Grosvenor Americas.
The company has hired world-renowned architect James Cheng to aid in design. One of the ideas Cheng’s exploring is a mid-block atrium, where people could gather on an outdoor patio or wander through to the beach.
“Our firm [James K.M. Cheng Architects Inc.] is very much interested in the spaces between buildings,” says Cheng, who designed the waterfront along Coal Harbour and the Concord Pacific False Creek development.
“To us it is more important to have the public realm and the human spaces done well rather than the buildings themselves.”
Down the road
While plans for Ambleside’s gateway heat up, farther down Marine Drive, the 1600-block is booked for an overhaul.
H.Y. Louie Group, which owns the property currently occupied by Safeway, has drafted two site options, both of which include 57,800-square feet for a grocery store, retail space, restaurants, offices plus 150 residential condominium units. One concept concentrates the dwellings in a 15-storey building above a stepped podium, while the other proposes a 10-storey building on a larger podium, the company states in a press release.
As part of the project’s community amenity contribution, the development could include up to 208 underground parking spaces. More than $1.5 million would be paid to the district through its development charges and the municipality can anticipate the development’s annual general property taxes to exceed $336,000.
The district expects H.Y. Louie will apply for the needed re-zoning in early February. The project will require public consultation and a public hearing.
“If approved later this year, the development could be completed by 2015,” the press release notes.
AmblesideNow is really about creating community. A place where people go to meet friends, neighbours and family. A place that doesn’t shut down after 7 p.m., Goldsmith-Jones says. It’s a project backed by at least 10 municipal studies and for the remaining 10 months of this council’s term, it will be top priority, she says.
“In a way it is how we plan to celebrate our 100 birthday,” she adds.
Councils members may change, but Goldsmith-Jones says she’s confident the project will continue. There’s simply too many years’ worth of policies highlighting the need for change in Ambleside to be ignored, she says.
“We want to begin and of course it becomes work of future councils.”
The district holds its first AmblesideNow town hall meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m., with a presentation at 7:30 p.m. To learn about the meeting and AmblesideNow visit www.AmblesideNow.ca.