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  • Lance Berelowitz

An Anti-Development tide rolls in

With the municipal elections that were held late last year in BC, an anti-development tide has rolled in to several communities across the Lower Mainland. Several local Councils saw major changes in make-up, with many incumbents either not running again or going down to defeat. Just look at the City of Vancouver, for example. Just two out of 11 members of Council were reelected. The (selectively) pro-development Vision Vancouver party was all but wiped out. In its place is a much more politically diverse Council and it remains to be seen how they will tackle issues of development, growth and housing densification across the city.

Meanwhile out in White Rock an anti-development majority was elected, after local community pushback on new developments. Several projects and new proposals are at risk of being rejected or scaled back. We shall see what happens.

But the most significant new anti-growth Council was elected in the District of North Vancouver. The previous Council had already been divided on new development, with many votes splitting 4-3 either for or (less often) against projects. Now, a strong majority on the new Council has been elected on a platform to slow growth in the community. Council's first meeting in November produced not one but two major reversals for projects that were well in progress. The first of these projects was for an innovative mix of housing that included a substantial proportion of below-market 'affordable' housing, on District-owned land. Council nixed it outright. This was shocking to many observers. What happens now to this project is anyone's guess.

The second project to go down was at the very final stage of approval, so-called 4th Reading & Adoption, which in the past has always been a formality, as the Council would have already voted to support approval of the project following a Public Hearing and 2nd & 3rd Reading, and all necessary legal agreements would have been signed off. Not this time.

Boffo Properties (full disclosure: they are a client of ours) had proposed a townhouse project that was 100% consistent with the Council-approved Plan for the neighbourhood, and had gone through all the approvals hoops over a two-year period, including a Public Hearing at which a strong majority of speakers had supported the project. Concerns were raised around the timing of the project (relating to other projects under construction in the area) and the developer had voluntarily offered to delay the start of construction, as suggested by District staff (who supported the project). To no avail. The new Council took just a few minutes to vote 5-2 against Adoption of a project that the previous Council had voted to approve, after extensive debate and due consideration. Most members of Council did not even bother to speak to the item. Any observer would reasonably conclude that the majority had made up their minds in advance and that nothing was going to change their minds.

This outcome too has sent shockwaves through the municipal planning, housing advocate and development communities. Many land owners and developers read this as a clear signal that the District of North Vancouver is no longer open for business, and will no doubt make investment decisions accordingly. Council may claim to be fine with this, but the consequences could be serious for this community, in terms of property values, community amenity contributions, the municipality's residential tax base, local jobs, social sustainability, seniors being able to age in place, and so on. And stopping new development is certainly not going to solve the traffic congestion to and from the North Shore that is the ostensible reason for slowing growth. And as for creating more affordable housing, it is difficult to see how any community can achieve this alone, without the involvement of the private sector.

These are, to use the Chinese saying, interesting times, and it remains to be seen how this wave of anti-development rhetoric plays out across our region. There will be winners and losers. One thing is for sure though: there will be no let up in the number of new people moving into British Columbia for the foreseeable future, and they all need to live somewhere. So do your and my kids. Watch this space.

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