West Vancouver council looking to curb monster mansions

West Van residents Heather Sneddon, Lois Grant and Ken Bryden say a house being built near to them on Lawson Avenue is out of character with their West Vancouver neighbourhood | Photo: Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

West Vancouver council is gearing up for another tilt at the community’s monsters.

Council voted Monday night to establish a new citizens’ working group that will help guide council into shrinking down the size of new so-called “monster homes.” It’s been on the district’s priority to-do list since 2013 when the community started to push back against developers and investors building massive homes to the maximum allowable setback and square footage.

Previously, the district tightened the rules around fence sizes and placed limits on the maximum size of homes that could be built on properties made up of two consolidated lots. But council shunted dealing with the matters of housing bulk and character to a later date.

Under the draft terms of reference, the new working group will study the matter in detail and report back to council with some recommended policy changes after 12 months.

Although they had reservations about the size and complexity of the task soon to be handed to a group of citizen volunteers, council members seemed equally concerned with how long the process would take.

“I think there is criticism and it’s somewhat well founded that we’re going to close the barn door just as soon as the cows all leave,” said Coun. Craig Cameron.

Coun. Mary-Ann Booth agreed but reminded her colleagues why they were striking the group in the first place

“I think the community has clearly, through many of us, voiced their concerns around this issue with the rapidly changing landscape really of West Vancouver,” said. “We’ve been talking about this since 2013. That’s five years ago.”

Coun. Christine Cassidy said too she was glad to see the issue “finally” come forward.

“I think preservation of neighbourhood character is probably amongst the top three if not, potentially the top one, issue in the emotional intelligence of West Vancouverites,” she said.

Coleeen Sunderland, a resident on the 2800 block of Lawson Avenue, wrote to council urging them to address their “archaic” zoning bylaw after her neighbours began construction of a “monstrosity” she described as an “invasive, gigantic, great wall.”

“There has been no consideration taken by the planning department to ensure that this and many other residences comply with the character of the community or have any sensitivity to the quality of life of the neighbours,” she said. “A change in our zoning bylaw is long overdue. Let’s get moving in a more positive direction.”

Coun. Bill Soprovich defended the district’s staff however, saying they were only following the bylaws they have on the books.

“I know that house. It’s unfortunate. How did it get there? I suggest to you that it met the bylaws. With your help in the future, maybe you can make suggestions to the working group on how we can change the bylaws to prevent that type action in the future.”

Once the terms of reference for the group have been approved by council, the district will seek volunteers from the community.

Council recently accepted the final report of a working group set up to advise how the district should regulate the cutting down of trees on private property, though the suggested rule changes, which include requiring minimum numbers of trees on lots undergoing redevelopment and a loosening of laws for removing mature trees on lots with existing homes have not yet come up for a vote.

North Shore News