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Les Leyne: 'Last public hearing' on housing push

It’s a cheeky reference to the B.C. government’s legislation that will eliminate public hearings by next year on most site-specific residential rezonings and abolish the single-family dwelling zone.

The town of View Royal is billing a meeting later this month as “The Last Public Hearing.”

It’s a cheeky reference to the B.C. government’s legislation that will eliminate public hearings by next year on most site-specific residential rezonings and abolish the single-family dwelling zone.

New developments that fit the broad-brush official community plans will no longer require neighbourhood input for approval in most of urban B.C.

Mayor Sid Tobias said the meeting is called “because the province has elected to not engage the public or municipalities on significant changes … use and zoning that will proceed in the future without their input.”

So the town has set a meeting Nov. 23 at the Victoria Scottish Community Centre to hear from residents.

Mayors across B.C. are still grappling with the ramifications of all the changes introduced in the past month. There is strong support in some quarters. Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto (an NDP member) has been quoted in government news releases five times in the past year supporting aspects of the housing plan, and five more times welcoming specific projects in the city.

Tobias is one of a handful of mayors so far who have cited major concerns.

The most recent housing bill this week overrides local zoning to reset the requirements near rapid-transit stations and bus exchanges to allow for more housing. In Greater Victoria, it provides for six- to 10-storey buildings within 400 metres of all bus exchanges.

It also voids any local requirements for on-site resident parking.

The bill continues the theme of overriding local governments’ authority. New measures to curb short-term rentals, fund amenities through charges and allow up to six residences on formerly single-family zoned lots all involve quashing municipal powers.

The transit-oriented development bill states: “A local government must not exercise powers … to prohibit or restrict a density of use …”

Local councils must pass a bylaw designating transit-oriented areas. If the province finds it not suitable, it will impose one.

Victoria General Hospital, in View Royal, has a bus exchange and Tobias said the bill will create challenges. It already has a major development under construction near the hospital, and Tobias said the town has a healthy growth rate.

Most of the riders using the exchange are passing through View Royal, not living there, he said. There are places where it will work, he said, but he objects to how it is being dictated.

In letter to the auditor general, reported Friday in the Times Colonist, he requested a thorough investigation of all aspects of the housing bills.

Elsewhere, Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock posted Friday that the municipality has to triple the volume of permits (to 4,610) in the next five years to meet “the ambitious housing targets mandated by the provincial government.”

“But the actual need is even greater. While this presents a big challenge, Saanich is up for it.”

He said centre, corridor and village planning for complete communities is underway, and improvements to development processes are being explored, “with the goal of making it faster.”

Saanich is also “working on removing the requirement for non-market (social housing) providers to go through the rezoning process and helping our affordable housing partners to invest in Saanich.”

Prezoning Uptown and other identified growth areas is also under study. Murdock said a neighbourhood homes study is underway to integrate infill housing in single-family zones.

That could make way for even more units on top of the ones envisioned by the province. Murdock said it would include duplexes, townhouses, houseplexes and small apartments that could be well integrated into existing neighbourhoods.

Just So You Know: With multiple major housing bills introduced in the past month, Opposition critics are now talking about overload.

BC United MLAs said this week they are hearing from municipalities complaining they don’t have the capacity. Hundreds of local bylaws have to be re-written by next summer, and work that usually takes years has to be compressed into eight months.

Opposition critic Karin Kirkpatrick said: “I’m hearing from people who just paid $200,000 to finish an official community plan project and now they’re back to the drawing board having to do something new and different …”

They also note the NDP caucus doesn’t have much to say about them, as only a few MLAs have spoken during debate.

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