YEAR IN REVIEW: The top 10 news stories of 2012

A proposed Onni development for the Safeway site on 13th and Lonsdale.  - Submitted
A proposed Onni development for the Safeway site on 13th and Lonsdale.
— image credit: Submitted

1. Onni development on Lonsdale

After two years and one of the most divisive development applications in North Vancouver history, Onni Group announced in December it was pulling out of its central Lonsdale condo plan.

And while that application to build two multi-storey condo towers and one office building at the 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue Safeway site has yet to be officially withdrawn, it remains to be seen whether the developer will go through with another round of public hearings on the project slated to begin in January.

A November public hearing on the project lasted six hours and brought accusations of bullying and impropriety against Onni staff, city councillors and the public alike.

Many in the community oppose the development’s higher-than-currently-allowed density plan while others see it as an important step in revitalizing the central Lonsdale neighbourhood.

2. Tsleil-Waututh First Nation protests

In 2012, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation staged protests and signed declarations opposing oil company Kinder Morgan’s plans to twin its pipeline carrying Alberta oil products to the Burrard Inlet.

In July, the North Vancouver band joined more than 130 other nations in signing the Save the Fraser Declaration, an aboriginal law banning Alberta oilsands pipelines on signatories’ lands and restricting tankers from the migratory waters of Fraser River salmon.

Then in September, the Tseil-Waututh and Squamish nations each signed an agreement opposing both the increased industrialization of Burrard Inlet and the increased tanker traffic that an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline would bring.

In June, Kinder Morgan applied to the National Energy Board for preliminary approval of contracts to expand the pipeline.

3. Ramsay verdict

Jordan Ramsay of North Vancouver was found not criminally responsible in a B.C. Supreme Court this July for the 2011 bludgeoning attack that killed his 53-year-old father, Donald, and critically injured his mother, Wendy.

The court ruled the schizophrenic Ramsay did not know his actions were wrong when the 27-year-old attacked his sleeping parents in the family’s North Vancouver home.

In her ruling, Judge Deborah Kloegman blamed the Ramsay family’s decision to replace Jordan’s psychiatric drugs with what claimed to be mentally therapeutic multivitamins, for contributing to the fatal attack.

In August, Ramsay, now 28, was sentenced by a B.C. Review Board to spend no less than 12 months in psychiatric custody at Colony Farm Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Port Coquitlam.

4. IHIT deployed to North Vancouver

Homicide investigators are still piecing together the identity of a young woman whose body was found Aug. 18 behind the Travelodge motel on Marine Drive in North Vancouver.

In September, the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team appealed for help from the public to identify the woman whose remains appeared to have been intentionally hidden in a wooded area near a popular walking path.

Police have been probing a possible European connection in the suspected slaying as the clothing and shoes worn by the woman are sold almost exclusively overseas.

The investigation is ongoing and, if foul play is proven, it would be North Vancouver’s only murder of 2012.

5. Seaspan expansion

Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid a visit to North Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine Corp. in January, congratulating the company on its successful bid for an estimated $8 billion in federal shipbuilding and infrastructure contracts.

While the successful bid was announced in Oct. 2011, the North Van shipbuilder officially broke ground in Oct. 2012 to expand its shipyard in preparation for the new work.

Four new fabrication buildings, a new pier and a massive shipbuilding crane — one of the largest in the country — are now under construction at the foot of Pemberton Avenue.

The $200-million overhaul will take an estimated two years, creating about 150 temporary construction jobs at the North Van site and boosting business for local manufacturers and construction suppliers around the Lower Mainland.

6. Balmoral closure

In February, the North Vancouver School District voted to close the last remaining junior high school in North Van, repurposing Carson Graham secondary’s Balmoral campus as a home for adult education and alternative learning programs in September.

The plans were formally announced in January and met with substantial resistance from Balmoral area residents concerned about increased traffic and changing demographics of the neighbourhood.

The announcement came as the school district initiated plans to sell or lease 11 surplus former school sites worth an estimated $137 million.

Most of the former school sites either closed their doors to students in the last eight years or, like Cloverley elementary school and Keith Lynn Alternative, were slated to close in the next year or so.

7. Appeal denied

Convicted West Vancouver killers Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay were denied an appeal to overturn their triple murder convictions in the 1994 slayings of Rafay’s parents and sister inside the family’s suburban Seattle home.

The pair, both 28 at the time of their conviction, received three consecutive 99-year life sentences without the possibility of parole for the brutal bludgeoning deaths of Tariq, Sultana and Basma Rafay.

But the two men maintained their innocence throughout the high-profile trial in Washington State court, claiming among other things that the RCMP used unfair undercover tactics to ensnare them.

But the three-judge appeal court upheld the life convictions on June 18, affirming the decision of one of the longest trials in King County history.

8. Stranded snowboarder

It was another busy year for the volunteers of North Shore Rescue, but no 48 hours were more harrowing than their exhaustive search for a 33-year-old snowboarder missing from Cypress Mountain.

The man had apparently ducked a rope to ride out of bounds in the Cypress backcountry but by nightfall hadn’t returned.

Dozens of searchers were called out, as were at least three military, police and civilian helicopters over the span of the stranded boarder’s 60-hour ordeal.

Sebastien Boucher spent two nights lost on the mountain in the midst of the season’s heaviest snowfall to date before he was eventually found and extracted by a helicopter from the basin of a waterfall.

The man may yet face a hefty bill for his rescue as Cypress Mountain resort mulls charging Boucher $10,000, though NSR opposes the idea.

9. Plans for 1300-block Marine Drive

The year saw a lot of movement on plans for the police station relocation and 1300-block Marine Drive redevelopment, including the hiring of an architect for the new public safety building near district hall and the unveiling of plans for a pair of seven- and eight-storey buildings on the waterfront police station site.

Dialog Architects were chosen to design West Van’s new $36-million post-disaster police and fire building on 17th Street, expected to be ready by 2016.

Meanwhile, 1300-block developer Grosvenor put its plans to the public to construct two mixed commercial-residential buildings sharing a central atrium on the site.

The plan received mixed reactions with many in support and many opposed to densifying the site with 88 new residential units above street-level retail, as the plan specifies.

10. Oil spill in West Van

Hundreds of litres of toxic PCB-laden oil spilled into a West Vancouver storm sewer on Oct. 15, polluting a salmon creek and the Ambleside duck pond, after a BC Hydro utility pole toppled in high winds.

Approximately 320 litres of oil leaked from a large transformer on the downed pole at the intersection of Keith Road and Taylor Way, eventually pooling more than a kilometre and a half away at Ambleside Park.

Oil booms and containment pads were deployed around the park, closing the soccer fields to the public for days, while District of West Vancouver staff monitored the health of area fish and wildlife.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic to fish, birds and mammals, especially around wetlands, according to Environment Canada.

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