Density not the answer to transit funding
By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, October 11, 2016
The B.C. Liberals seem to think that using development to fund transit and making increased density a requirement of transit funding are vote-getters, writes Elizabeth Murphy. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG
Province’s planned cash grab based on false premise,
The housing supply issue is a Trojan Horse being used to deliver a scheme that would make city land use authority irrelevant, while stripping cities of their tax base.
DARLENE MAR Z AR I, former city councillor and B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs
The province of B.C. is poised to fund transit by undermining the civic tax base, civic land use authority, and civic democracy. The province is looking at using development fees to fund transit and at making increased density zoning a requirement of transit funding. It is a ploy that has been underway for decades as the province creeps into city jurisdiction.
Although municipalities only get seven per cent of the tax base, while provincial and federal levels of government get 93 per cent, the province still wants more.
The municipal tax base is mainly dependent on property taxes. They also use development fees such as Development Cost Levies and Community Amenity Charges toward amenities to service growth such as infrastructure, parks, community centres, libraries, daycare, etc. The province is contemplating a tax grab of both property taxes and development fees to pay for provincial responsibilities such as transit
To make the move on development more profitable for the province, they are looking at making transit funding dependent on increased density rezoning throughout neighbourhoods where transit stations land. This is what TransLink refers to as the “Hong Kong model”.
This has been underway for over a decade as the Regional Growth Strategy replaced the Liveable Region Strategic Plan in 2011. Effectively, the new plan has made it easier to sprawl into the green zones at the same time encourage high-density, transit-oriented development into what are designated frequent transit development areas. So, building up and out.
The current housing affordability crisis is being blamed on a lack of housing supply, even though the facts do no support this myth. Conveniently, this is being used to justify more market housing supply, which will not likely be affordable.
In the City of Vancouver, there is already ample zoned capacity. The city consultant’s report of June 2014 confirmed that, “the City has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential development.”
This study only considered multi-family capacity. The report also notes that the city anticipates additional capacity beyond the year 2041 in these zones. Plus the city has done more rezoning since the report was written in 2014, to create even more supply.
The new head planner for the City of Vancouver, Gil Kelly, recently spoke at a public meeting and confirmed that the city has enough existing zoned capacity to meet regional growth to 2041.
The city is also approving a record number of new development permits. According to a recent city information bulletin, they are building way more than outlined in the Regional Growth Strategy and are leading the region on permit approvals. The city says, “this data demonstrates that new housing supply is at record levels and exemplifies the fact that we are approving significant new housing stock”.
Clearly, we do not have to create more zoning supply in Vancouver to meet regional growth. Although there may be other reasons to adjust zoning, there is no rush, and the city can achieve this through local area planning without provincial interference.
Darlene Marzari was on city council in the 1970s and was the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs from 1993 to 1996. She established the Liveable Region Strategic Plan during her mandate. When asked to comment on this potential provincial move on transit funding, she said that “this would be a travesty. It would clearly be a cash grab of the civic tax base. I am livid about any potential incursion of provincial authority into civic jurisdiction.”
Further, Marzari explained, “the housing supply issue is a Trojan Horse being used to deliver a scheme that would make city land use authority irrelevant, while stripping cities of their tax base. This undermines the civic public hearing process and therefore effectively amounts to selling zoning. It amounts to the slow death of civic democracy.”
So let’s look at this Trojan Horse of housing supply. Clearly, there are better ways of managing supply.
Larry Beasley was the former co-director of planning for the City of Vancouver. Although he acknowledges the relationship between supply and demand in affordability, he has written about the importance of what kind of supply is created.
In a Sun opinion column about a year ago, Beasley laid out how the areas outside of the downtown core can be sustainable communities, including for transit-oriented development, without the need for downtown-scale development.
He wrote that “a density of no more than 40 units-per-acre starts to work for most of the issues of sustainability and viable urban functionality and financing.” The inner neighbourhoods of Vancouver that were designed pre-war generally meet or exceed this density, even though they are mostly below four storeys. For example, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Grandview and Strathcona were all 40 to 60 units per acre prior to recent upzonings.
So a lot of increased density can be added while still staying within scales that blend into established communities. However, if the province requires upzoning to make it viable to fund transit through development charges, it will ensure that the scale of development will be very dense towers and override community based planning.
Ironically, the B.C. Liberals seem to think that using development to fund transit and making increased density a requirement of transit funding are vote-getters. The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, representing about 3o neighbourhood groups, recently sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark telling her otherwise. The province may want to reconsider their policy direction and listen to the people who would be affected rather than self-interested advisors.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private-sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing and Properties Department and for B.C. Housing.
Print edition Vancouver Sun, Tuesday October 11, 2016 – page A12