West Van’s “shantytown”?

A building on the north side of the 1300-block of Marine Drive in Ambleside has remained vacant since a fire last year.
A building on the north side of the 1300-block of Marine Drive in Ambleside has remained vacant since a fire last year.

West Vancouver is one of Canada’s wealthiest communities but boarded-up stores and empty lots have the mayor and others calling a certain section of the Ambleside-area a “shantytown.”

While this characterization is a stretch, the point they’re trying to make is that Ambleside desperately needs improvement.

And the nicknames don’t stop there.

“Our real estate agents refer to the 1300-block… as the Gaza Strip. A great comment on Canada’s most desirable residential community,” Mayor Michael Smith noted during a March council meeting. “It’s a disgrace. We’ve sat here as citizens and allowed it to go on.”

In the heart of Ambleside on the 1300-block, a building with boarded-up doors that has sat vacant since a fire in October is an example of how these unflattering nicknames began. Beside it an empty lot is fenced off until a gas station moves in.

“It would help the businesses if we had a streetscape that looks good and adequate parking. If you have a reason to be in Ambleside instead of Park Royal,” said John Cave, a member of the Ambleside Business Association and owner of Take Off Travel in Ambleside.

To help solve this problem, a commercial market study is being conducted by the District of West Vancouver and the West Van Chamber of Commerce.

Following public recommendations for a broader mix of businesses, the report will look into the optimal mix for Ambleside and be presented to council in May or June.

During public consultations in January, it was suggested there be less beauty and nail salons, banks and real estate offices along Marine Drive. Non-chain restaurants, boutique shops, cafés and bakeries, however, were on the top of the list.

Some businesses lack the drive to be active in the Ambleside Business Association, said Cave, which makes it difficult to get initiatives started.

However, he added, a new development, with two buildings at seven and eight storeys, that is proposed for the 1300-block could help businesses throughout the area.

“It will be spectacular for the businesses, particularly for businesses in the block because it will be like the hub of West Vancouver.”

But this development isn’t without controversy. Last month, a passionate group of West Van residents wearing tags saying “No more than 4” came to a council meeting to say the proposed buildings shouldn’t be more than four storeys to preserve the community feel of the area.

The Ambleside and Dundarave Ratepayers Association says it has more than 1,400 signatures opposing the project the way it is now.

But others, like Cave, want the development, which would include 88 residential units and 23 storefronts, to be built because they believe it is an integral part of revitalizing Ambleside.


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