The Town of View Royal is asking B.C.’s Auditor General for an audit of new provincial housing legislation because of the lack of consultation with municipalities.
View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias said Thursday he felt he didn’t have any other option to get his message across.
“They’re creating legislation about restricting public engagement, without consulting the public,” said Tobias, noting that means residents will no longer be able to raise concerns or help guide development so it fits more smoothly into a neighbourhood.
“I don’t know what the rationale would be, although I would suspect they’re in a hurry.”
The legislation introduced last week requires municipalities to update zoning bylaws to permit multi-unit buildings on lots typically used for single-family detached homes. It would also do away with public hearings for rezoning applications for housing projects that align with official community plans.
“The provincial government isn’t talking to any municipality about all these housing changes – they’re informing us,” Tobias told the Times Colonist. “I’m curious as to why there’s been no provincial engagement and why no public engagement as well, because some of this legislation forbids municipalities conducting public hearings on some things that are in the [official community plan].”
In his letter to the Auditor General, also sent to the premier, leaders of the opposition parties, local MLAs and all mayors in the province, Tobias said the legislation’s implications, particularly concerning the absence of public and municipal engagement, “warrant a thorough investigation to ensure transparency, accountability, and alignment with governmental priorities.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she understands the concern and has ensured the letter will be on her council’s next agenda.
“I feel that really this is coming fast and furious and I don’t feel that there’s an understanding of some of the implications with it,” she said of the provincial housing regulations.
Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, who had not yet seen Tobias’ letter, said she is reluctant to comment on other people’s opinions, but did say she has been generally supportive of the province trying to streamline housing processes.
“I welcome the fact that the province appears to be following the lead of the city,” she said, noting Victoria council enacted its missing middle housing initiative in the spring, which provided blanket zoning and recommended phasing out public hearings.
“I appreciate the fact that they’re finally stepping into the arena and providing some provincewide standards,” she said, noting that can bring some consistency to an area like Greater Victoria where there are 13 municipalities and different rules and regulations in each.
Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock, who also had not yet seen Tobias’ letter, said the province is moving quickly and getting involved in housing in unprecedented ways.
“These are legislative and regulatory changes that we have not seen, well certainly in a generation,” he said. “It’s changing the way public consultation takes place, but it’s not eliminating or replacing public consultation.”
Murdock said there will always be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on projects through more frequent updates of official community plans and opportunities to address council.
“Even if there is no public hearing, our meetings are always open to the public,” he said.