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View Royal council rejects mayor's motion for development pause

Councillors say they didn’t want a target on their backs as the province considers mandating construction of new housing
Multi-unit housing under construction on Erskine Lane in View Royal. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

View Royal councillors narrowly rejected a motion from their mayor for a six-month moratorium on new developments, saying they didn’t want a target on their backs for the province to impose new housing initiatives.

“I want responsible developments and that’s our duty as councillors,” said Coun. Geri Lemon. “But I don’t want to tickle the elephant, either.”

Mayor Sid Tobias suggested the building pause to give the town of 11,500 time to refine its official community plan, but the motion didn’t secure enough support from his council — and it did elicit a response from Premier David Eby and the provincial housing ministry.

Council were tied 3-3 on the motion, which meant it failed. Councillors Lemon, Allison MacKenzie and John Rogers voted against it, while Tobias, Don Brown and Ron Mattson supported the motion. Coun. Damian Kowalewich was at the Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth Study Conference in Banff, Alta.

The mayor’s motion was tabled a day before the province released a list of 47 municipalities that must do more to approve all housing types. The list, which included the 13 municipalities in the Capital Regional District, targets those with the greatest projected population growth, the highest need, and the land and means to provide needed affordable housing.

“The timing I think was very unfortunate because we don’t want to draw the attention of the government — and I think a lot of people thought that,” said Lemon.

Eby chimed in Tuesday, saying it was “not a time in British Columbia to stop building housing … this is the time for us to accelerate housing construction.”

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon released a list of the top-10 municipalities — including Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay — that will need to meet certain targets for approving a mix of housing or the province will step in and speed the process for them. The housing targets will be set this summer and ­municipalities will have six months to show progress.

In a letter to View Royal council, the ministry said the town isn’t part of the first cohort of municipalities under watch with the new Housing Supply Act, but may be selected in the future for a target assessment.

Tobias said he wasn’t disappointed in the vote.

“I think a lot of council thought we might be putting a target on our backs, but the target is already there,” Tobias said Wednesday. “I’m actually very happy with it because it was a good discussion with council and residents and showed a good reflection of our community.”

Tobias said a pause would have given the town more time to consider its housing stock and what should come next. He said the town is light on affordable and accessible units — none are on the immediate horizon — and there are questions about how to improve co-operative housing on existing footprints.

He is also concerned about how high-density housing will affect infrastructure and services that are already under pressure.

There are currently seven major developments in View Royal under construction or with development permits that include 293 strata units and 588 rental apartments, which will represent an 18% increase in View Royal’s population over the next two years. The town’s population has already surpassed projections for 2035 laid out in its 2011 official community plan.

View Royal residents Susan and David Brown wrote to council that they were concerned a moratorium on new building will put View Royal “squarely in the sights of the province” and the Housing Supply Act.

View Royal is already on the regulation list under the act and a moratorium would likely guarantee View Royal’s inclusion in the next cohort, said the Browns.

“This would effectively mean that the town will lose control of the development process and be given supply targets that may drastically exceed what the town would want to see,” they said.

Holly Pridie wrote that council can still decide not to approve certain applications, but should commit to considering them. “We are in a housing and climate crisis and need to be doing everything possible to increase housing supply and encourage the development of housing, childcare and other services,” she said. “There is no time for delay or inaction.”

Resident Colin Campbell wrote that it’s important to continue to build housing and commercial properties. “Not only is it good for maintaining employment for those working in those construction fields, but it’s also building a stronger economy within our community,” he said.

Lemon said it’s the responsibility of council to consider each building application on its merit. She said six months is a short period “where it’s possible we wouldn’t see any applications, but still the timing of this [motion] is awful.”

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