Residents sound alarm

By Jennifer Maloney
Staff Reporter


Residents in the Riverside Terrace area hope last week's fatal mudslide which killed one woman and destroyed two houses will stop a development plan for 36 houses located just down from the slide area.

"If you put people here somewhere down the road you're going to have another tragedy like the one on Chapman," said Riverside Drive resident Blair Wilson, while looking over a fresh fall some 100 feet above a wetland where a heavily contested development is in its preliminary stages. "If we do nothing here 25 years down the road we could have another event like last week and have people saying 'what happened here?' "

Wilson, who's lived in the geo-sensitive area for nearly 40 years, noticed excavation work being done on the site behind his house about three weeks ago.

Further investigation revealed trees had been cut and a roadway roughly 16 feet wide had been blasted in to the entrance off Browning Place. About a week before the recent mudslide Wilson alerted North Vancouver District staff, asking them to inspect the area fearing the heavy rainfall. As far as he knows, no one came. A week later, he stands over a six-foot wide gully, which formed just south of the newly cut roadway.

"That's what happens when you mess with this kind of land," he notes, pointing to the eroded soil that undercuts the adjacent land exposing its trees' roots. "What happened on Riverside is here on a smaller scale. If you bulldoze trees this is what will happen on a larger scale."

The property, which was previously used as a gravel pit, was sold to Riverside Terrace Realty Incorporated in 1989 and has sat unoccupied for years, being utilized only by hikers and dog walkers.

Last May the District received a preliminary application from Riverside developers to subdivide a portion of the site for 29 strata lots and seven fee simple lots.

According to the developer's land consultant, several geotechnical and environmental investigations of the area showed no significant impediments to developing the site as proposed.

"The soils are stable and generally well drained with little danger of slippage ..." stated Brian Dagneault, lead consultant for the owners. "Similarly, the site does not contain any unique or significant habitat features."

But residents in the area disagree, saying not only is the soil unstable, but development of the site would disrupt a salmon stream in nearby Maplewood Creek.

Following last Wednesday's lethal reminder of the escarpment's sensitivity, neighbours of the proposed development sent letters to the District pleading that plans to develop the site be stopped.

"Residents on Berkley, Riverside and Browning Place have all raised their objections to this development and nobody seems to be listening," wrote Moira Teevan, who's lived on Browning Place for 18 years. "Aside from the fact that the area is unstable, it is also a valuable wildlife corridor and sits directly above a park area which would be impacted by the development."

One Riverside Drive couple pointed out homes and properties in the area have been affected by land flow problems for 20 years, while they've been "masked by a loose band aid."

"I do not feel the District can afford to allow any more property developments to happen where lives and homes are in danger," wrote Diana Campbell, another Browning Place resident. "This property is unstable as many reports have shown over the years."

David L. Cook, a geological engineer did a study of the Riverside gravel pit area in 2002.

In his report, Cook stated it was unsuitable for any form of development due to the "unstable nature and risk potential of the terrain renders."

Cook noted the known history of slide events on the escarpment, which originated in unstable fill used to extend lot size.

He also pointed out the area was a necessary part of Hogan's Pools and Maplewood Creek ecosystems and lies on the Seymour Wildlife Corridor.

"It should be purchased from the present owner and made part of the Hogan's Pools Conservation Park," he recommended.

However, the developers argue problems in other areas of the escarpment are not present at the gravel pit site.

"We share the concern of everybody up there obviously," said Dagneault. "To date all scientific investigations indicate the slope is stable and the problems inherent in other areas are not present at this site."

District environmental staff visited the site Monday to investigate neighbourhood complaints that the excavation work was affecting the creek. Dagneault said the inspection showed sand deposits in the creek were actually a result of the heavy rain.

"Water coming off our site doesn't even go into that stream," he said. "If we get approval there, we have some of the best environmental professionals and geo tech engineers that will be working with us."

Meanwhile, residents have said even considering the proposal after last week's events is unwise.

The District has recommended additional information be provided from the developer before a formal application is put forth.