I have always liked to commemorate important events, both happy and sad. This coming weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the last municipal elections in British Columbia. While that was not a particularly happy day for me, I think it is worthwhile to take a look at Vancouver city council’s first year, particularly in the areas of housing, planning and development.
The first challenge facing the new council was the financial mess at the Olympic village. While I do not want to further debate who to blame, I think city hall is to be complimented for the manner in which it arranged financing and took steps to resolve the situation.
I hope council can reach a sensible solution for the expensive social housing. The choice is not just between social housing and market housing. Instead, city hall should consider a more innovative solution to cover its costs, while not competing with the sale of the market units. I recommend that the housing be sold as shared equity ‘workforce housing’ to firefighters, police officers, emergency workers, teachers and others who would like to live close to work. Vancity’s SFU Verdant project is a model for this form of affordable housing
Council is also to be congratulated for the manner in which it conducted the Burrard Bridge bicycle lane trial. The ultimate solution was much better than the campaign proposal for an alternating middle lane, and the experiment has given some motorists a new pastime — counting cyclists as they cross the bridge.
Speaking of cars, council also approved some significant changes to the city’s parking bylaws. While these changes had been under discussion for years, the revised standards will help reduce housing costs and facilitate new developments on under-utilized parking lots. Now council should consider whether to continue subsidizing neighbourhood residents who purchase cheap on-street parking permits, especially in areas where vacant underground parking spaces are available.
In early summer, council approved zoning changes around the city’s central business district, eliminating the right to build housing in favour of larger office complexes. While this had been considered by the previous council, I was surprised to witness a ‘leftleaning’ council favour larger office building over more economically viable and vibrant mixed-use developments.
In July, I was pleased to see council approve the previous council’s laneway housing initiative and a new proposal for suites within suites, similar to those at SFU’s UniverCity.
Little has been said about the Short Term Incentive Rental housing program. It offers incentives to developers to build market rental housing. Had the program been initiated by an NPAdominated council, I suspect there would have been howls of outrage about unnecessary benefits to developer friends. However, given the economics of rental housing, council was correct in recognizing incentives are needed to encourage new guaranteed rental units.
As council’s first year draws to an end there are other initiatives that could affect the look and economy of our city. The view/capacity study is asking residents whether they want to give up view corridors in order to allow for taller developments. Not surprisingly, residents are generally saying no. In reality, there are some older view corridors that should be reconsidered, especially if council wants to encourage larger office and mixed-use complexes.
Council has also directed staff to examine potential zoning changes for lands around the Canada Line stations, and along Cambie Street between the stations. While the city was previously criticized for being slow off the mark, I agree with the director of planning that it may have been a fortuitous mistake to wait for the line to open.
One should not ignore the Greenest City Task Force and its Vancouver 2020 ‘green capital’ plan. While this initiative seems more like a wish list at the moment, I agree with the general desire to build a stronger economy around sustainability. However, I encourage council in its second year to look at how land use planning and zoning changes can help achieve the desired results.