Appeared in the North Shore News – September 25, 2015
Yes, at some point the present Hollyburn Sailing Club will be evicted. Yes, relocated elsewhere. And favoured use of the site? A restaurant. Not likely a fast-food joint.
Mayor Michael Smith made this clear in a statement that dispels – or confirms – rumours swirling around the sailing club, smack in front of the uber-high-end Grosvenor building that the mayor sees as the centrepiece of his vision of Ambleside’s Marine Drive rejuvenation.
Let me be equally clear: In 20 years, or fewer, when present disputes have dissipated along with memories of Ambleside/Dundarave when it was a friendly, human-scale “village” – and, some will say, never was, certainly not in their lifetime – Smith may be celebrated as the visionary catalyst of West Vancouver’s business prosperity and a livelier streetscape.
For now, the popularity of the twice-acclaimed mayor, with a three-year mandate remaining as the town’s chief executive officer, has fallen sharply among some oldcomers and others who see West Van as being exploitatively sold, especially to international buyers, for its seaside charm and spectacular views that are in fact disappearing – certainly out of the price range of ordinary mortals.
And Smith seems perfectly OK with that. What price charm?
With no shortage of speculation afoot, including my own – my perfect logic in my last column foundered in the tangles of the sailing club’s lease – I asked Smith:
“What is your personal wish regarding whether the sailing club stays where it is or is moved? As CEO your personal wish – informed of course by your take on community or any particular or special interests of the district – is the most important, if not the only one that ultimately counts.”
The mayor’s response, in full:
“I support a sailing club on our waterfront. Sailing, boating, kayaking, and other water sports are key to our community. We proudly refer to West Vancouver as the waterfront community.
“I also support sensible use of municipal assets and this is why all district land assets are being looked at for opportunities that would benefit residents.
“The current site is large and extremely valuable and is a key part of Ambleside. Maintaining a sailing club has always been part of any discussions. The current building is old and does not serve the community well and councils for decades have considered what should happen there. A new sailing club building offering more rentals and lessons and other services could allow for many more residents to enjoy and use this beautiful site.
“A restaurant as part of the redevelopment of this very prime location could provide funding for the project instead of relying on taxes to build it. A facility like this would be enjoyed by all residents and visitors, sailors or not.
“District staff will continue to develop plans for this and other waterfront sites which have been purchased over the years at great cost by our taxpayers. All proposals will, as is always the case, go out to the public for full feedback and input before any decisions are made by council.”
That’s it. Read carefully. The club premises are, he believes, old – and it seems the mayor is not a fan of old. And he’s long favoured a restaurant right on the beach.
When he speaks of renewal of Marine Drive businesses, plainly he hasn’t present businesses, mostly small ones, in mind: restaurants, tiny cafes, chain coffee shops, vegetable markets, florists, beauty salons, clothing. He likes new, and bigger, and generating more money including tax money. His record as CEO and in council votes shows he’s indifferent to the (quite toothless) official community plan restricting height and bulk.
And monster houses? Give him credit, seriously: No politically stroked, mealy-mouthed phony bow to preserving neighbourhoods and so forth. He’s truly honest. When asked about the huge edifice taking hotel-sized shape beyond Lighthouse Park and easily visible on Marine Drive from a kilometre away, Smith shrugged. It’s a free market. End of story.
Maybe it’s a salutary reminder that West Van really has very little history, little beyond nature’s gifts worth preserving: The father of the town, if there is one, is John Lawson – who sold real estate, whose eyes lit up when he looked across the water and saw the possibilities. Nor did the Guinness family build a bridge to the North Shore in the 1930s to serve a population but to create one, possibly the most fabulous $75,000-real-estate investment in Canada’s records.
It may seem a puzzling paradox given the aforementioned, but I like and admire the mayor as a person.
I’m less sure I like him as a mayor.
But then I may be classifiable as transitioning into oldtimer-hood.
Oh, fresh rumour: That restaurant that could appear on the sailing club site in the next few years – a Cactus Club. Just talk.
© Trevor Lautens, 2015