Growing up in North Vancouver — way up

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Seylynn development. - Submitted image
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Seylynn development.
— image credit: Submitted image

As the City of North Vancouver remains in a deadlock with developer Onni over the skyward build out of the Lonsdale Avenue Safeway site, the District of North Vancouver is poised to snatch away its claim to the tallest building on the North Shore.

District council approved third reading Monday of four bylaws that lay the groundwork for the 790-unit Seylynn Village condo development on 5.5 acres of land between Fern Street, Mountain Highway and Highway 1.

At the prior meeting of Dec. 3, council had sent the Seylynn proposal for three towers numbering 24, 28 and 32 storeys back to staff because of concerns that, at 98.2 metres, 32 storeys was an unprecedented height for the North Shore.

At council’s direction, staff reported back with an amended proposal that knocked the 32 storey tower down to 28, bringing it in line with the North Shore’s tallest building, The Observatory in North Van city. But the change would mean relocating 36 units on the site, requiring the widening at least two of the three towers in order to mitigate the financal hit to the developer, according to staff.

The height decrease would have also jeopardized many of the development’s community amenity contributions, such as childcare facilities and an estimated 70 units of affordable housing.

Council decided those threats of bulkier buildings with fewer community kickbacks ultimately weren’t worth trading for the little-off-the-top they had sought the week prior.

During discussions before the 4-3 vote for a 32-storey Seylynn, there were other concerns about the project, too.

Coun. Lisa Muri voted against giving assent to third reading, saying she’d rather see the high-density development moved south to the more industrialized area of Mountain Highway and Crown Street, instead of into a neighbourhood of single-family homes.

“Our first big development — our first high-rise — and it’s probably going to be the largest that we ever consider in the district,” Muri said, suggesting council hold another public hearing on the project. “I think it’s a lot to ask the community to change the way we’re asking them to change. And I think we should have taken baby steps and we didn’t.”

Coun. Mike Little agreed, even calling for an official district height cap of 28 storeys. But along with Muri and Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn, Little found his vote defeated by the council majority.

“We cannot remain frozen in time when we live so close to a major international city,” Coun. Robin Hicks said, siding with a 32-storey Seylynn development. “Density means height in our economy and I don’t think there’s any avoidance of that.”

Hicks cited the district’s recently implemented Official Community Plan and its call for new housing for young families and improved access to transit. This development, he said, offers both.

“It’s a pick-your-devil choice here,” Coun. Roger Bassam said, downplaying the difference that removing four storeys from a 32-storey building would make to area residents. “After much thought, I’m comfortable with this package going forward — as comfortable as I can be knowing that we’re changing the skyline.”

Echoing Hicks, Bassam said the North Shore’s skyward tendency is all part of “growing up” and “becoming the neighbour to a big city.”

Mayor Walton, having spoken at length about the project the week before, was brief in his remarks, saying only that he supports the project on the basis of the density and walkability it affords the neighbourhood around Capilano University, Park and Tilford mall and the Phibbs Exchange transit hub.

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