British Columbia·Metro Matters

Millennial on anti-development platform takes on Port Moody's mayor in upcoming election

Mike Clay seeks re-election for a third term, but 28-year-old Rob Vagramov argues the city is putting growth over the needs of residents.

A proposed large waterfront development is set to be a major issue in the upcoming campaign

The future of a sawmill in Port Moody on waterfront slated for redevelopment is a major issue in this year's election. (Flavelle Ocean Development )

In Port Moody, a modestly-sized sawmill sits next to a rapid transit system, a beautiful waterfront park and a row of popular craft breweries. 

On Oct. 20, the future of the mill just might decide who becomes mayor of Port Moody.

The Flavelle mill site encapsulates many of the debates in the municipality of 33,000 these days. For several years, the developer and city have inched forward on plans that would turn the site into a multi-use, multi-tower neighbourhood for up to 7,000 people. 

But the exact mix of towers to houses and green spaces to buildings has divided council. 

"We're getting a development that allows the city to show what it is, much like False Creek or Coal Harbour in Vancouver, where they really celebrate their waterfront and come up with great places to live," said Mayor Mike Clay, who is running for a third term this October. 

Coun. Robert Vagramov, who announced in June he was challenging Clay, sees it differently. 

"As far as I'm concerned, that project needs to be rethought from a quality of life perspective," said the 26-year-old.

"It's a little out balance. Getting involved in government as a young person, I'd never thought I'd be touting the horn of moderation, and yet here I am."

An artist's rendition of what the Flavelle development on Port Moody's waterfront could look like when complete. (City of Port Moody )

Pace of development

Vagramov, who won the final seat on Port Moody council by 63 votes four years ago, says there's more to his platform than "anti-towers," but he makes clear his biggest issue is slowing what he sees as a pace of development that's too fast for a relatively small city. 

"Last election, I talked about preventing the Metrotownification of Port Moody. A lot of areas seem to follow the exact same trajectory: It's highrise construction. It's focus on building as big as possible, as quickly as possible, and a lot of quality-of-life considerations … are afterthoughts," he said. 

"I have not been supportive of development and growth at any cost, and that seems to be where we're heading."

But Clay, who averaged 56 per cent of the vote in his two election wins, said the Flavelle project wouldn't end up attaining its maximum population, because the city would work to ensure the population fit the project, building by building.

And he said Port Moody is doing what every municipality in the region is trying to accomplish — trying to keep the city affordable while being open to people who want to move in. 

"You need to find that sweet spot where you have enough supply that the market is affordable for young people to stay here, and not ship out to the valley or even further," he said. 

"Bringing that all together is a very complicated puzzle, and that's what excites me about it."

The City of Port Moody is currently debating a number of options to build another road connecting the city with the Ioco Lands and popular parks to the north. (City of Port Moody )

Where does the road go?

Another issue both Clay and Vagramov could face before the election is what transportation route will be chosen to connect the IOCO lands (slated for future development) with the town centre. There are several options on the table for council, but one of them is constructing a $50 million road through Bert Flinn park.

Clay said no decision has been made and emphasized the positives of solving congestion issues on Ioco Road  which is packed with cars headed to Buntzen and Sasamat lakes in the summertime.

Vagramov has made opposition to any solution involving the park one of his major campaign planks. 

"We absolutely cannot be considering clearcutting a strip through a park just so a builder can maximize their profits," he said. 

Call it a metaphor for the entire election: Port Moody is still figuring out where to chart its path.  

CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

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

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