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North Vancouver delays decision on massive new 'innovation district'

Largest development project for decades stuck in limbo for now, with not enough council votes to proceed

It may be the largest single development project to come before District of North Vancouver council in decades but for now, it’s stuck in procedural purgatory.

Council was set to vote on first reading for massive proposal by Darwin Properties and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation to develop the eastern side of the Maplewood area into an “innovation district.”

But with Coun. Mathew Bond absent from council Monday and the rest of council split evenly into factions, there were not enough votes for the project to proceed.

The plan encompasses 18 hectares of land stretching from the site of a former international school off Dollarton Highway to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation lands to the east. If approved, it would see lands developed into a tech-focused, mixed-use campus including 130,000 square metres of light industrial and commercial space (enough to support about 4,500 jobs), 230 new market rental homes, 450 rental units that would be offered at 10 per cent below-market rates only to employees who work on the North Shore, as well as 220 market condos, which would be offered exclusively to employees of the innovation district and at a 10 per cent discount for the first 30 days of pre-sales. The goal is to have employees living within walking distance of their work and transit.

The project would also include a 100-unit hotel and 12,000-square-foot convention space, 220 rooms reserved for Capilano University students and staff, as well as greenspace and trails. The developer would also contribute $7.5 million in community amenity contributions to the district, build a new Berkley Road to connect Mount Seymour Parkway with Dollarton Highway and create Spirit Trail connections and a network of trails along with open recreation spaces and parks.

The land is currently zoned for industrial use, having been a gravel quarry in the 1960s, although today, it is largely grown over.

Several attendees at the meeting took issue with unusually short turn-around time between the first public information meeting, which took place last week, and council considering the project. Others were unhappy that the public hearing would happen in July while many families are away on vacation. Others expressed angst over traffic impacts, the lack of parks and greenspace included, the implausibility of drawing in high-tech business tenants or that that none of the rental units would be truly affordable.

Darwin president Oliver Webbe countered that the plan was tailor-made to fit within the official community plan’s guidelines for Maplewood, which council adopted in February, and that it would add job-generating industrial space at a time when industrial land is being lost to redevelopment.

The debate at council however had little to do with the merits or drawbacks of project. Instead, the focus was on whether residents had been adequately consulted.

A motion from Coun. Lisa Muri to defer first reading of the project to September and the public hearing to some point after that failed in split 3-3 vote. Under municipal rules, motions must get a majority to vote to pass.

Coun. Roger Bassam posed an alternate motion, one that would have seen first reading deferred to the next council meeting with all seven members present, either July 9 or 16, automatically pushing the public hearing to September.

That vote too failed to pass, 3-3.

With both sides dug in, council had no choice but to abandon the motion for the night and move on with the rest of the meeting

Under provincial legislation, the mayor may bring back any item for reconsideration, which Mayor Richard Walton said he is likely to do in July.

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