Beach volleyball back on for the North Van waterfront, though some question costs
Oh, the beach is back.
After first floating the idea last summer, North Vancouver city council spiked plans in October to build five temporary beach volleyball courts on the waterfront over concerns about the project’s $140,000 price tag.
But a Dec. 3 vote on the city’s 10-year project plan has put the courts squarely back in play for the Lot 5 Shipyards site, east of Lonsdale Quay.
While council is now awaiting a staff report on the long-term feasibility of making at least one of the courts permanent once the Lot 5 revitalization plan is finalized over the next couple years, construction on the five temporary courts at the derelict site will begin over the winter months.
If all goes according to plan, the city’s newest beach — and the only venue for outdoor volleyball on the North Shore — could see action as early as April 2013, according to staff.
But the plan didn’t win the immediate assent of all on council, with Coun. Rod Clark rejecting the idea outright, while councillors Don Bell, Pam Bookham and Guy Heywood approved the $140,000 spending but asked that staff suggest other possible sites for permanent beach volleyball in their report.
“I have not been supportive of spending money for temporary facilities at the waterfront,” Bookham said. “Why not be a little more forward-looking and utilize that money to get a permanent home?”
But avid beach-volleyballer and North Van resident Ashley Ardagh said many in the sport community believe the city should use the Lot 5 site as a test case first, before committing to any facilities long term.
“Use it in the meantime while they’re not really doing anything else with it,” Ardagh told The Outlook in a phone interview.
“Use it to see if beach volleyball belongs on the North Shore and, hopefully, that can get us the information we need to see if it would be good to find a permanent spot.”
North Vancouver city engineer Douglas Pope told council staff would assess other possible sites for the seasonal sand courts — likely open from April to October — but said finding a more suitable location on city property would be “a challenge.”
Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he too believes Lot 5 the most appropriate location for permanent courts, even as the city begins to seriously entertain plans at the site for a new Capilano University campus, North Van museum, Spirit Trail extension and retail space.
“I think there’s an opportunity to maybe have a couple courts down there — I think that would be exciting,” Mussatto told council. “I actually think that site is appropriate for it; bring some activity down there while we’re waiting and then as we go forward.”
Urban Rec is the Vancouver sporting body that oversees about 6,000 beach volleyball players across more than 60 city courts. On any given fair-weather evening, about 1,000 people — many from the North Shore — play beach volleyball in Vancouver, according to Urban Rec co-founder Chris McNally.
“It’s not uncommon for us to be a placeholder on these kinds of real estate development sites,” McNally said, lending his support for Lot 5 volleyball. “In fact, that’s where we got our origin: Our very first volleyball urban beach facility was in partnership with Concord Pacific on the old Expo  lands.”
McNally said $140,000 for just five courts is a gross overspend, but added the type of sand used and whether the site requires structural or environmental remediation can significantly drive up costs.
In Vancouver they use a non-professional grade sand dredged from the Fraser River, and McNally, a trained engineer, does a lot of the expensive design and drainage work himself.
“You can do it cheaper than that — certainly for five courts,” he said.
Regardless of North Van’s start-up cost, McNally said, beach volleyball is still a low-barrier, gateway activity that will go a long way towards attracting people and businesses to the Lot 5 site.
“A case can be made for bringing people down in the early stages of the development of a site,” McNally said. “It helps them envision living there long term and helps them envision it being a part of the community, because it becomes a part of their recreational life and a part of their community thereafter.”