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HomeBusinessExclusive: Capilano Suspension Bridge parking expansion bid crosses neighbours

Exclusive: Capilano Suspension Bridge parking expansion bid crosses neighbours

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Bob Mackin

Kevin Falcon, the former BC Liberal transportation minister, was among the 150 North Vancouver residents who attended a sometimes raucous public information meeting on Jan. 16. 

Most want the District of North Vancouver to reject a proposal from the Capilano Suspension Bridge’s owners to demolish vacant townhouses and put up a parking lot for visitors to the commercial park. 

Capilano Suspension Bridge is facing opposition to its proposed demolition of vacant townhouses to expand parking. (Capilano Group)

The popular tourist attraction is already the cause of summertime and Christmastime traffic jams in Capilano Highlands. Parent company, Capilano Group of Companies, contends that it needs the new pay parking lot for 100 vehicles because it will lose an overflow lot at Handsworth Secondary, which is scheduled to undergo a major seismic replacement. Capilano Group applied for a three-year temporary use permit, but envisions erecting a permanent parkade on the site someday. 

As the line-up of speakers grew, Falcon, a real estate development executive who has been out of politics for more than six years, coyly whispered to a reporter “I’ve got concerns.” When one of the area residents raised his voice at the two meeting facilitators in the Cleveland Elementary gymnasium, Falcon whispered, with a nod and a wry smile, “I love public meetings.” 

The Capilano Group executives and managers seated in the front rows were not enjoying the event, which ran beyond the scheduled two hours and featured a litany of neighbours who say they are the victims of the tourist attraction’s success.

“Maybe our sister city will be Anaheim, maybe this won’t be a park anymore, this will be ‘Capilano Suspension-Land’,” said Song Lee, a Canyon Manor resident who said he has experience in development. “Let’s not break people’s hearts for the money.”

Neighbour Howard Meakin, who was part of the development team that rejuvenated Gastown in the 1970s, called the bridge a “wonderful Canadian attraction,” but said pollution is taking away from its stature in the community. 

“The noise from the buses all the up and down Capilano Road is horrific,” Meakin said. “They don’t turn their engines off, they like to keep them idling.”

Another neighbour, Dann Konkin, CEO of Ampco Manufacturers and Ampco Grafix, said the Capilano Group is “basically choking the life out of us homeowners” and taking away green space.

Capilano Suspension Bridge managers (foreground) listened Jan. 16 at Cleveland Elementary to a stream of opposition to the proposed demolition of vacant townhouses to make way for a parking lot. (Mackin)

“Your value is going up, my value is going down,” Konkin said. “I do not support this.”

Laura Clarke, a real estate agent, said her family moved-in to a cul-de-sac behind the proposed parking lot 10 years ago because of the multi-generation makeup of the neighbourhood that is walking distance to schools and Edgemont Village. 

“What you’re asking us, as taxpayers, is to negatively affect the value of our property for the commercial gain of the suspension bridge,” Clarke said.

She said the existing 266-spot parking lot is a magnet for misbehaviour, including sex acts and drug abuse. “I hope that the district councillors see that this parking lot is not needed.”

Outside the meeting, Canyon Manor resident David Bannerman said bridge management is bent on expansion and needs to be contained. It started as a humble footbridge over the Capilano River in 1889, but now features a cliff-hugging walkway, a suspension bridge system built between trees in the forest, restaurants and a gift shop.

“We’re dealing with serious vehicle congestion,” Bannerman said. “Adding more cars is not a solution to the vehicle congestion problem, it’s that simple. I just don’t think building parking lots is fashionable these days.”

The public information meeting was the third of a six-step process. Next is a detailed staff report, statutory notice to adjacent residents and a council meeting.

Capilano Group, which claims 1.2 million visitors a year to the bridge, got such a rough ride from neighbours at the meeting, that its vice-president of sales marketing had little to say afterward to a reporter.

Photographs of the vacant townhouses earmarked for demolition under the Capilano Suspension Bridge’s parking expansion proposal. (Capilano Group)

“We’re very receptive to the information and we’ll take it back and we’ll discuss it further,” Sue Kaffka told theBreaker.news.

Kaffka refused to answer questions about the empty townhouses, which were built in the 1960s and previously eyed for replacement and redevelopment into 30 new condos by Townline Homes. The Richmond developer sold the three townhouse parcels, now assessed at $10.5 million, to Capilano Group when North Vancouver District suggested redevelopment was not feasible. 

Kaffka was asked whether the aging buildings could be rented as affordable housing to university students, senior citizens, refugees or even suspension bridge workers. “I don’t know, I can’t answer that,” Kaffka said. 

theBreaker.news also tried asking the same question to director of sales Doug McCandless, but he walked away.  

Capilano Group owner Nancy Stibbard did not respond to an email query from theBreaker.news, which sought her reaction to the Jan. 16 meeting and to know whether her company would pay the new provincial vacancy and speculation tax or apply for an exemption while the townhouses remain in limbo.

The suspension bridge is the flagship of Stibbard’s Capilano Group holdings which include the Stanley Park Pavilion and Prospect Point, Moraine Lake Lodge in Banff National Park and Cathedral Mountain Lodge near Lake Louise. The company website says Stibbard bought the bridge from her father, Rae Michtell, in 1983. The price, however, is not mentioned.

The meeting heard that no independent transportation study has been conducted. Both Kaffka and McCandless admitted the parking lot proposal, which also includes lane reconfiguration on Capilano Road, does not contemplate the eventual legalization of Uber and Lyft, which could further impact traffic flows and parking demand. 

The rift between Capilano Suspension Bridge and its neighbours is another case of the growing global “overtourism” trend. The “Coping With Success” 2017 McKinsey & Company report for the World Travel and Tourism Council cited China and India’s growing middle class and easier access to travel as reasons for stress on tourism sites across the planet. “More places will likely be threatened by their own popularity in environmental, social, or aesthetic terms,” the report said. 

The report called overcrowding “easier to prevent than to recover from” and recommended better communication with communities and adjusting hours and pricing to balance supply and demand. 

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