The fate of the City of Victoria’s missing middle housing initiative will not be decided before Sept. 1 after council adjourned the public hearing on the measure due to the sheer number of people wanting to have their say.
Thursday night’s public hearing lasted nearly 4½ hours and about 50 speakers made impassioned pleas for council to either enact the program, drop it entirely, or set it aside for the next council to tackle after the Oct. 15 election.
The next public hearing will be on Sept. 1.
Thursday night’s session saw a relatively even split of support and concern over the initiative, which has been designed to increase the number of housing options in the hope more families will be able to stay in the city, while ensuring new development suits the character of neighbourhoods.
The program requires amending bylaws, land-use procedures and official community plans to permit infill, houseplexes and corner townhouses in some neighbourhoods – basically, where zoning currently only allows for single-family homes it would allow duplexes, tri-plexes and four-plexes as well as townhouse projects on assembled land.
The initiative also recommends allowing city staff to approve permits for projects that comply with all design guidelines and zoning, in hopes the time saved by not requiring council approval would reduce costs for consumers.
It’s an initiative that has split council, and many of the reservations raised by councillors over the last few months — that consultation with the public on the issue has not been adequate, that missing middle does little for affordability and could be exploited by developers — were reflected by about half of the speakers Thursday night.
One Rockland resident pointed out no one can dispute the need for more diverse housing options, but said missing middle misses the mark as it could mean increased displacement of renters by developers demolishing existing housing to make way for multi-plexes or townhomes.
“This council has missed the opportunity to encourage increased density in ways that would not necessarily depend on developers,” said Chantal Meagher, of the Rockland Neighbourhood Association.
She suggested making the processes for building garden homes and dividing existing single-family houses into multi-unit houses more simple; that would increase densification at a lower environmental and financial cost, she said.
Former Victoria-Hillside NDP MLA Steve Orcherton used the public hearing to blast city council over an initiative that he called a profound change in community planning that will lead to heavy densification. “I am disheartened, disgusted and profoundly disappointed by this initiative and other collective actions you have taken. I find myself no longer having faith or trust in this council.”
Orcherton said such a massive change requires a slow and thoughtful process.
“This council has a record of flavour-of-the-day policies,” he said, adding if the proposal is adopted it will “negate any input from citizens as individuals and negates the work of community associations regarding community planning and zoning in neighbourhoods.”
But as impassioned as those against the program were, they were matched by those pushing for council to make missing-middle housing a reality.
Many argued it would increase the housing options for young families, encourage young professionals to stay or to relocate to Victoria and will help to open up the rental market as people move from rental accommodation into new houseplexes or townhomes.
David Berry, a 28-year-old Fairfield resident, who grew up in Oak Bay, said he can only imagine what options his young family would have if the city had started this kind of program 20 years ago.
“Most of my generation has either been pushed out of Victoria or forced to live in extremely insecure housing,” he said. “I’m up here today, fighting for the many like me who want to stay in Victoria to raise a family, but our zoning has greatly limited the housing options that would have made it possible to do so.”
He said the kind of development that is going on in his neighbourhood requires demolition of older single-family homes to make way for multi-million dollar ones. “The current zoning is causing silent and rampant gentrification that will be upheld and encouraged if this council does not pass the missing-middle initiative,” he said. “We need more building types, we need more types of housing and we need to rezone for them in order to get them built.”
Julian West, of development company Urban Thrive, said the redevelopment being seen in Fairfield is exclusive, luxury housing that few can afford. He noted that missing-middle developers, on the other hand, would have to go through lengthy rezoning processes, make community amenity contributions, pay development cost charges, and follow strict design guidelines.
In a similar vein, Leo Spalteholz, who is part of a group pushing for all kinds of housing and the zoning reform to make it happen, told council that “addressing the housing shortage is impossible if every new home is put on trial.”
If the city doesn’t act, added speaker Luni Li, a part-time student and health care worker, there will be more desperate pleas from renters and Victoria will continue to lose out on a younger work force.
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