No Progress in Improving Ambleside Commercial Area
A recent letter to Council from an ADRA member, David Marley
During the almost 32 years in which I have resided in West Vancouver I have witnessed what appears to be a steady deterioration in each of our District’s three main commercial centres, most markedly in Ambleside and Horseshoe Bay. Generally, with rare and welcome exception, the structures and street-scapes have become increasingly dilapidated, while more and more storefronts have been vacated. This latter phenomenon would be all the more evident but for the proliferation in more recent times of less than desirable currency exchanges, nail salons and realtors’ ‘pitch-parlours’. In Ambleside, we now even have a massage parlour. I’m anticipating the arrival of a payday loan outfit soon.
Over the past three decades various Councils, each no doubt with good intentions and sincerity, have proclaimed a commitment to a revitalization of Ambleside and our other commercial centres. In my observation, very little, if any, such activity actually takes place. What does happen is the hiring of more District staff or more consultants, the conduct of more studies and the generation of more reports to Council. We’ve come to a point at which it is more appropriate to be talking about the resuscitation of our commercial centres, especially Ambleside and Horseshoe Bay.
As you will know, in January, 2018, District staff, evidently after two year’s effort, produced an ‘Economic Development Plan’ for West Vancouver (copy attached). It was filled with public relations bafflegab, such as building a “more vibrant, thriving and sustainable local economy over the long term”, flawed assumptions and little, if anything, of substance. Twenty-six months later, the COVID pandemic was acknowledged to have arrived in North America and our province’s chief health officer responded, in part, with the ordered lockdown of many, if not most, commercial enterprises.
Slightly over two months after many of our local businesses were put under lockdown order, on May 25, 2020, District staff produced an update to the earlier Economic Development Plan. This document was thin gruel at best. It contained a mere two recommendations: firstly, a blindingly obvious suggestion that local restaurants, where their location and other circumstances were appropriate, be permitted to open or expand patio seating, and, secondly, that an ‘Economic Recovery Task Force’ be established by Council. The mandate and responsibilities of this task force were specified in some detail in Appendix “A” to the updated Plan, as was the suggested ten person membership. According to this document, the task force was expected to complete its work within 18 months.
At a Council meeting, held on June 8, 2020, this task force was evidently established, with Mayor Booth to be in the chair. A quote in the June 11th NS News was attributed to our mayor, saying “I take this matter very seriously. I want to hear from businesses and we will do whatever we can to support them.” Since then, the only concrete action that I’ve seen DWV Council take in ‘support’ of our local businesses has been to raise their property taxes three times.
According to the DWV web-site, as part of the District’s Strategic Plan for 2021-22, Council wants to encourage a local economy which features “vital and vibrant commercial centres”. Working “in conjunction with the Mayor’s task force”, the District intends to “support existing businesses and incentivize redevelopment” and will “take measures to support vibrancy (that word again), diversity, locality (whatever this is) and charm in commercial centres.” Quite an impressive agenda! Again, it’s mere bureaucratic bafflegab.
Given the prominent reference to the economic recovery task force in the District’s strategic objectives for 2021/22, it seems strange to me that neither the composition nor, more importantly, the recommendations of the task force are to be found on the District’s web-site.
In a recent e-mail, Mayor Booth advised me that an informal advisory committee was established, which had been “productive and constructive” and which has resulted in certain unspecified “suggestions” that “have or are being implemented”. That’s good I suppose, depending on the suggestions. What is the content of these suggestions? Which ones have to date been implemented? Which ones are being implemented? For that matter, which ones have been put on the back-burner or ignored entirely? Do you know? If not, why not?
There’s an old Japanese proverb, one to which I subscribe wholeheartedly: “Fix the problem, not the blame.” During the watch of numerous DWV Councils over many years our three commercial centres have been steadily deteriorating. Their current state is truly appalling. In slightly over six months, as I’m sure you are more than well aware, our next municipal election will be held. As a central part of the debate and deliberations throughout the campaign leading to this election, ought to be the condition of our District’s commercial centres, about as far from vital and vibrant as one can imagine, and what various candidates for election or re-election to our local Council propose can and should to be done by our local government to assist with significant improvement to this situation in a timely fashion. As a starting point, the residents and business owner-operators of West Vancouver deserve to know what to date has been done by this Council to address this situation, particularly with regard to the recommendations, whatever these may be, of the economic recovery task force established by Council almost two years ago.
If you aren’t yet aware of the recommendations or, for that matter, the composition of the Economic Recovery Task Force, will you inform yourself and thereafter advise me? Or, even better, instruct staff to put this information in a prominent position on the District’s web-site and do so promptly in order that all local residents and business owner-operators might see what is, and is not, being done on their behalf or, at least, at their expense?
Apparently, the District has recently hired a “senior community planner-economic development”. I have twice requested a copy of this individual’s job description but have yet to be provided with it. Will you instruct staff to e-mail a copy to me?
My apologies for banging on at such length about this matter. I have a sincere concern about what is happening to my community respecting its commercial centres and a great desire to see a concrete plan articulated for remedial action of a timely nature.
West Vancouver, BC