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Cohousing development approved as a 'creative solution'

Driftwood Village in North Vancouver praised by City councillors, as project is approved by one-vote margin

With one vote, City of North Vancouver council doubled the number of cohousing developments in the municipality, bringing the total to two.

Following in the co-operative spirit of Quayside Village, the 19 families that constitute Driftwood Village won the right to build a 27-unit, five-storey complex on three lots at 2121, 2129 and 2137 Chesterfield Ave. last Monday.

Driftwood Village founders formed in 2014 and first appeared before council more than two years ago to explain their ambition to form a community that would be collectively shared and individually owned.

“You have... that connection and support network built right in,” explained Driftwood Village founder Mackenzie Stonehocker in 2016.

The complex is being shoehorned into the site, according to Coun. Pam Bookham.

The complex is slated to be 16 metres tall with a floor space ratio – which measures a building’s total floor space against its lot size – of 2.28.

“I believe that this is a particularly challenging site and it ought not to have been considered for density bonusing,” she said.

Instead of paying for the project’s extra density with a cash contribution of $1.657 million, Driftwood Village is offering eight units to be sold at 25 per cent below market prices in perpetuity.

The approach is “ingenious,” according to Mayor Darrell Mussatto.

Rather than allowing owners to enjoy a windfall, the discount will be passed on to the next generation of Driftwood Village residents, he said.

Coun. Rod Clark differed, explaining that he was “choking” on the concept of subsidizing homeowners making more than $120,000 a year.

“I have a problem subsidizing – with taxpayer’s money – people who are making that kind of dough,” he said.

Clark’s position was echoed by city resident Peter Thrift, who expressed concern about taxpayers taking a hit.

“This project should proceed or not – based on its own merits, not funded by CNV taxpayers,” Thrift wrote in a letter to council.

The proposal also received a mixed reaction from Community Housing Action Committee chairman Don Peters. The city is passing up $1.657 million to “ease the purchase of the eight units” is contrary to CHAC’s mission to help lower-income renters, he wrote.

But Coun. Linda Buchanan defended the city’s decision to forgo a cash contribution.

“I do believe that is a community amenity contribution,” she said of the eight discounted units. “It’s a way in which we will continue to help people be able to stay within the community or come into the community.”

Buchanan also praised Driftwood Village for doing the “heavy lifting” of finding a property and devising a creative housing solution.

Coun. Don Bell echoed Buchanan’s praise for co-housing as a concept, noting there are: “too many people who don’t know their neighbours.”

With 2,800 square feet of shared space, Driftwood Village’s concept is reminiscent of the days when lawn mowers were communal property and neighbours doubled as short-term child care, according to Bell.

Ultimately, cohousing is an “experiment,” according to Bell.

“We’ll see how it works.”

While she supported the project, Coun. Holly Back said allowing that much density on the site was likely a mistake.

“They’ve been working on it for three-and-a-half years and I don’t think at this point in time that I’m quite willing to stand up and say: ‘I’m going to stop the project,’” Back said.

Back previously praised Driftwood’s project for helping new buyers get into the market.

“You’re hopefully not going to stay there for 20 years, you’re going to use that as a stepping stone,” she said to Driftwood’s prospective owners in council chambers. “Every three to four years you should be buying up.”

Cohousing offers social and financial benefits, according to UBC teaching fellow and post-doctoral researcher Allison Earl.

“The strength of the community bond results in higher contentedness, overall happiness, and lower levels of transience, as people tend to remain in their homes longer than average,” she wrote in a letter to council. “These factors are a necessity for community resilience, enabling people to cope not only with the minor struggles of daily modern life, but equally in potential future natural disasters.”

Council was slated to vote on the project July 9 but voted to defer after neighbours complained about the city’s plan to drag the three-metre wide lane behind Chesterfield eastward and erect a fence between the lane and Wagg Creek.

The narrow lane would exclusively benefit auto body shops, said neighbour Rodger Sabey, who said the new alley would make one of his parking spots inaccessible.

Sandwiched between Wagg Creek and the co-housing complex, the lane needs to be wide enough to accommodate garbage trucks without jutting toward the creek and necessitating a review from Fisheries and Oceans and Canada.

Staff submitted their final plan for the lane Monday, which is designed to protect the riparian area with a fence while maintaining access for neighbours.