Rezoning undermines affordability and character

Vancouver city hall is slamming through destructive new zoning without giving citizens a say

The City of Vancouver is on a mad rush job to rezone 68,000 properties across the city, including Kitsilano and Cedar Cottage, in a move that will only benefit developers.

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, Sept. 14, 2018

Broadway will soon experience development similar to what is happening along the Cambie Corridor, which is mostly unaffordable, argues project manager and former city property development officer Elizabeth Murphy.


Recent information on the costs of transit and utility upgrades for growth raise concerns and questions. What is becoming clearer is how much the public is being asked to subsidize the transit providers and development industries that benefit from these plans while making life less affordable, livable and sustainable for people.

Neighbourhoods are being rezoned in an incompetent, mad rush to accommodate this growth agenda — most of which is unaffordable and unnecessary to meet population growth — without community involvement or adequate consideration of the impacts on finances, society or the environment. This is not in the public interest.

It is the result of big money controlling governments, especially at the civic level, where developer funding of elections has resulted in their overbearing influence on housing and development policies. Although there have been recent changes to campaign financing rules, this influence still exists.

The costs of the Broadway subway, from VCC-Clark Drive station to Arbutus, have ballooned to almost $500 million per kilometre for the 5.7 kilometres — to $2.83 billion. The current funding split is 31 per cent federal, 41 per cent provincial and 28 per cent regional, a long way from the original 40-40-20 split previously confirmed by governments.

Now the region, mostly Vancouver, will have to come up with much more funding to cover its portion, partly as property tax revenue. Transit is primarily a federal and provincial funding responsibility so the increased burden on municipalities takes away from their ability to finance municipal services. It is a form of downloading.

And talk continues about extending the subway further to the University of B.C. for an additional $4 billion. These numbers are staggering, yet more affordable transit options like trolleys and trams are not being considered.

Additionally, the B.C. property surtax proposed to take effect in 2019 would be a precedent-setting provincial encroachment on the municipal tax base. All of these accumulated burdens make the financing of civic services to meet growth that much more difficult.

The shift from the Livable Region Strategic Plan in 1996 to the 2011 Regional Growth Strategy has directed the emphasis to growth objectives. As land values have increased due to speculative inflation from rezoning for more density, demolitions of older, more affordable buildings have increased, with more people displaced, causing skyrocketing homelessness and unaffordability. Most of the new supply is unaffordable for both owners and renters and often left empty.

Now the enormous costs of servicing this growth agenda are emerging with the need for billions of dollars to upgrade utility services.

The city’s consultants confirmed as far back as 2014 that there is more than enough existing zoned capacity to meet population growth beyond 2041. Yet the city continues a manic rush to rezone.

The most recent example is the rushed rezoning of Kitsilano RT7/RT8, Cedar Cottage RT10 and all the RS zones citywide of 68,000 properties, all without public consultation. The public hearing for all of this is coming Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. In the city council meeting earlier that day, there were changes proposed to the procedure bylaws for public hearings, but they have since been pulled because they aren’t ready.

There is only one open house for each massive rezoning in Kitsilano and Cedar Cottage, both held last week.

The city proposes replacing Kitsilano’s excellent RT7/RT8 zoning that was custom made for the neighbourhood by former senior planner Trish French. Over five years, she worked closely with the community to create the zonings.

RT8 was designed for the area north of 4th Avenue, with its larger houses on small lots. RT7 was designed for the area between 4th Avenue and Broadway, as well as an area west of Arbutus, that had smaller houses on larger lots.

The objective of the zones was to retain character houses and the many rental suites while allowing appropriate new development that fits within the character of the neighbourhood. It has proven over decades to accomplish this very well. They have avoided the plague of demolitions, new monster houses, speculative empty units, assemblies and spot rezonings that has claimed the rest of the city.

Former city senior urban designer and architect, Scot Hein, remembers well the excellent process to create RT7/RT8.

He commented that these are the best zones in the city. If anything, they should be tweaked, not replaced.

However, replacement is what is proposed.

This is an incompetent, rush job executed by unsympathetic planners, who seem willing to sacrifice good planning principles and processes for more new unaffordable units at any cost and to deal with the mistakes later.

They didn’t even get the notice to the neighbourhood right. The notice for Cedar Cottage was sent to Kitsilano. Then the city sent out another notice for Kitsilano once they realized the mistake, but some people didn’t get it until the day of the open house.

And then the meeting was just an information session without allowing much opportunity for input, that would not likely be incorporated anyways because the public hearing is already set. They ran out of feedback forms within the first hour and didn’t get more until the open house was almost finished. The form only asked about the process for the open house and a blank line for further comments. The entire backside was data mining for information about the participant: owner/renter, where they live, age, sex, etc. Nothing about what they thought of the proposal.

People chained themselves to bulldozers to get the existing zoning in place. Although the zoning has worked well, with the stroke of a pen it will be replaced by much inferior zoning that will lead to many problems — more demolitions, loss of character houses with rentals and strata units, gutted design guidelines, much more speculative development and loss of affordability.

The open houses for the 68,000 properties in RS zones were up next. This is an even worse process, with no consultation while affecting most of the city. There is no disincentive for demolitions so these proposals for outright development will be only a further incentive for more loss of character houses and undermines retention options. Even the flawed RT5 would be a better option here.

This all needs reconsideration.

There needs to be a transparent inventory of existing zoned capacity, how much is likely to be built out and what more, if any, is needed in each neighbourhood to meet actual projected population growth. There should also be a full audited review of city finances and a requirement of line-by-line budgets to transparently disclose where all the funding is going and the full cost of growth.

Each neighbourhood has unique character that should be enhanced by ensuring that growth is done at a scale that works within that character. And the growth should be truly affordable or what are we gaining?

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.

Vancouver Sun print edition September 15, 2018 page B2

Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2018 all rights reserved. 

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