British Columbia

Public packs city hall for divided debate on allowing duplexes across Vancouver

The event would have been Gregor Robertson's final council meeting as mayor — but with 73 speakers signed up to speak, the meeting was scheduled to carry over to Wednesday.

Meeting continues Wednesday after 73 speakers signed up for heated debate on rezoning most of city

A slide presented to Vancouver city councillors on June 19, demonstrating the type of housing that soon could become legal throughout Vancouver's single-family neighbourhoods. (City of Vancouver)

A packed public hearing to determine whether Vancouver should enable duplex use in the city's single family home neighbourhoods got underway Tuesday night.

The event, which was so crowded that security was required to chaperone 20 people in at a time, would have been the final council meeting of Gregor Robertson's decade-long tenure as mayor of Vancouver.

But with a whopping 73 speakers signed up to speak, the meeting was scheduled to carry over to Wednesday, with a vote to take place Wednesday evening.

City council first asked staff in June to explore how amendments could be made to enable duplex use in most Vancouver neighbourhoods. In July, Robertson amended a motion so that staff could also look at "[allowing] triplexes, quadplexes and other multi-unit forms" in neighbourhoods across the city, though any vote on that issue would not take place until 2019. 

If approved, the rezoning measure would be Robertson's most far-reaching housing policy, coming in the waning days of his time as mayor.

A divided room

Speakers who patiently lined up to make their case were divided into two camps — those who felt that rezoning areas to allow for more density would provide housing options that Vancouver desperately needs, and those who expressed concern that rushing such vast changes through would come with undue risks.

Among those who did support the rezoning, most did not feel it went far enough.

"It's an extremely, extremely small step but it's also a step in the right direction," said Stuart Smith, a member of volunteer advocacy group Abundant Housing.

"If it is not time for Point Grey, Shaughnessy and Dunbar to 'make room,' when will it be?" 

"I would like to have seen something that was more robust and more progressive," said Jake Fry, who nonetheless voiced his support.

Single family homes in the Fraserview neighbourhood of Vancouver. Most of the city could be rezoned to allow duplexes if the proposal is accepted. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Hilary Reid, who said she has two adult sons who are unable to afford houses in Vancouver, said she was against the proposal due to concerns around the loss of character homes and green space.

"There is a huge risk that most of the character homes in Vancouver will still be torn down to make way for new builds, as developers deem new construction more profitable," she said.

"This could destroy the charm and uniqueness of many single family home neighbourhoods of the city."

Reid also said she worried about a lack of accountability and follow through on any decision, given that Vancouverites will be going to the polls in just over a month.

'Are you even listening to me, Gregor?'

As the meeting progressed late into Tuesday night, many speakers expressed frustration with the process, saying they were not properly consulted, or that the meeting, held at 3 p.m. on a weekday, was not accessible to most working people.

"You've lost touch. Are you even listening to me, Gregor?" said Breton Crellin, as he argued that townhouses would not necessarily lead to affordability.

"This will just lead to an increased supply of unaffordable homes."

But speaker Reilly Wood said the argument that duplexes won't be affordable enough doesn't add up.

"That's like a starving person saying 'one spoonful won't fill me up, so I may as well not eat.'"

Of 73 speakers, 33 did not get the chance to have their say as of 10 p.m. PT.

The meeting will reconvene on Wednesday at 1 p.m. PT.

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