British Columbia·Analysis

New council unlikely to overturn Vancouver's decision to allow duplexes

With Mayor Gregor Robertson and 70 per cent of councillors not seeking re-election and most parties not fielding a full slate of candidates, it's hard to make concrete pledges.

However, a smaller political party is threatening legal action over the public hearing that approved it

Newly passed rezoning by the City of Vancouver now allows for duplexes in the vast majority of neighbourhoods.

It's one thing to oppose a proposed law. It's another to reverse it. 

That much was clear in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Plenty of candidates hoping to be elected to city council next month criticized the decision by the current council to pass new rezoning laws, allowing duplexes in 99 per cent of Vancouver's single-family zoned properties.

"I think that the 11th hour, at the last council meeting while Vision has a mandate, that it was not the right decision," said Sarah Kirby-Yung, who is running for the NPA.

"It's a lame-duck city government, pushing through this as their last act in power," said Derrick O'Keefe, who is running for COPE. 

"It was the right approach, but the wrong application. We owed a little bit more diligence to ensure we were doing this right," said Green Party candidate Pete Fry.

But there's a mix of reasons why cancelling the rezoning is unlikely to happen — starting with the fact those three councillors, representing the three biggest parties against the change, all demurred when asked if they would make reversing the decision a priority. 

"We're not about to reverse this," said Fry.

"Looking at downzoning or rescinding would be something down the road as a possibility, but the important thing is to stop the speculation effect," said O'Keefe. 

"The NPA is pushing for a comprehensive city-wide plan," said Kirby-Yung.

The other parties that have elected officials in Vancouver — Vision, OneCity, and Yes Vancouver — support the change. 

While Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr voted against the motion, Green candidate Pete Fry said he wouldn't support reversing the decision, if elected. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

Why the cold feet?

Part of the reason candidates with the more established parties aren't promising to reverse the decision is a simple matter of math: with Mayor Gregor Robertson and 70 per cent of councillors not seeking re-election, and most parties not fielding a full slate of candidates, it's hard to make concrete pledges.

"It's not a straightforward matter, because the next council will not be one party," said O'Keefe, who said COPE would work with anyone that wanted to put in new bylaws that would protect renters. 

But the other reason is politicians are keeping in mind property owners, who will begin to move forward on plans now that this duplex motion — which has been in the works for several months — has passed.

At least, that's what one of the leading contenders for mayor believes. 

"We'll look at minor adjustments," said independent candidate Kennedy Stewart.

"But I think all those folks that own single-family homes that now have this new bylaw that applies to their properties, I wouldn't want to create uncertainty for them now, so I'll abide with the decision." 

The other person who has been consistently high in mayoral polls, NPA candidate Ken Sim, also declined to promise wholesale changes. 

"We won't change it just because it is a Vision-led initiative," he said. 

"We are going to press pause when we are in office so we can have real consultation neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood, as part of our citywide plan."

It bears noting that on a remote control, "pause" is a much different button than "rewind."

Possible lawsuit?

But one of the smaller parties running for office is not only promising to put forward a motion to reverse the decision — it's threatening legal action. 

"I would reverse it, until we can get a community plan in place," said ProVancouver mayoral candidate David Chen.

One of his ProVancouver's council candidates, Rohana Rezel, said he had consulted lawyers with Acumen Law Corporation and would be demanding the city cancel the motion, because a person who signed up for the public hearing allegedly was not called on to speak (76 people were, many of whom were opposed). 

But Paul Doroshenko, a partner at Acumen Law, said they were still investigating. 

"The issue is whether or not the vote is invalid. We're investigating that, to determine what can happen" he said. 

If they find a case, "we're going to alert the city to what's gone on and ask them to reconsider it, to reopen it, and if they don't do that, then we'll continue our next steps."

It sounds like a long shot. But given the comments from other political parties, it may be the only shot opponents of the decision have. 

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About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.