As a group of residents watched in near horror as City of North Vancouver council gave Port Metro Vancouver $1 million to help pay for design work on the troubled Low Level Road project last month, the message from Mayor Darrell Mussatto to port staff was clear: engage with the community.
And last Friday, with a series of meetings held in the gallery space in Lower Lonsdale’s Café for Contemporary Art, that’s what the port attempted to do. Residents were invited to sit down, in hour-long sessions, and discuss how the design process for the recently-reborn, large-scale project is best handled. Tony Barber, the city’s manager of engineering, planning and design, and PMV representatives Laura Strand and Cindy McCarthy were present at the meetings.
The three major ideas discussed were the potential opening of a PMV-staffed Low Level Road office, the creation of an online forum devoted to project-related discussions and a committee comprised of residents as well as port and city staff. The office, if it gets the green light, would not be open throughout the week. McCarthy, the port’s communications advisor for project development, discussed a one-day-a-week scenario, likely Fridays, when such an office would be open to the public.
The possible committee, loosely dubbed a “community liaison group” at the meetings, would be comprised of 14-16 members from the aforementioned camps. Strand, the port’s manager of community and aboriginal affairs, said the difficulty with establishing such groups is the “high level of commitment” members must have because of the potentially large number of meetings scheduled in a “relatively short period of time.” PMV will return to council chambers with detailed designs of the Low Level Road in the spring, so resident input will be required soon.
The decision on which community members sit on the committee, added Strand, may also prove a difficult arrangement as not everyone interested will be able to join.
Amanda Nichol, a resident of the 400-block of East First Street and an attendee of one of last week’s sessions, told The Outlook she remains skeptical of the port’s interest in community engagement regardless of the recent sit-downs. Nichol said she received an email from PMV about the scheduled meetings on July 5 at 3:47 p.m., one week before the discussions were to take place.
Because of the time of year, and the long weekend that followed the email, Nichol said she doubts many residents may have seen the invitation because of holiday plans. For those who did, attendance may have been difficult because of work or family commitments. A series of afternoon meetings, even with the last hour-long appointment scheduled for 6 p.m., can be a challenge to make. At the meeting Nichol attended at 2 p.m., two other residents showed up. At 3 p.m., two other people arrived.
“I think they’re only doing this because they [PMV] have to. That’s why you send out an email with three days notice,” said Nichol.
“But regardless of intention, I don’t want to be the one to close the door on this. That’s why I attended.”
Julie Anderson, a resident of the 100-block of St. David’s Avenue, said she felt cautiously optimistic about the process because it no longer feels “like things are being thrown at us” but, like Nichol, questioned the port’s ability to reach out to the entire community in a truly effective way.
“The attendance at these meetings shows once again the lack of engagement,” said Anderson.
“No one’s here. I’m on vacation, that’s why I could come. But my neighbours work and have small children.”
Preliminary concepts for the Low Level Road project were to elevate the road, construct overpasses at St. Patrick’s Avenue and the Neptune/Cargill terminals, just north of the intersection at Third Street and Cotton Road. Due to a lack of information and community engagement, council approved only the Neptune/Cargill overpass in June.
In July, PMV returned to council and received $1 million from the city to help pay for a stability analysis on the South Slope, an area that would be affected by a raised road. In addition to the slope report, PMV will also provide council with detailed design work for the other elements of the potential Low Level Road redesign.