British Columbia

Vancouver mayor's final council meeting could include his most far-reaching housing proposal

A vote on prezoning most of the city for duplexes may happen just weeks before most councillors step down.

Vote on prezoning most of the city for duplexes may happen weeks before most councillors step down

Rows and rows of single-family homes are seen in this aerial shot of Vancouver.
Single-family homes, like these in the Fraserview neighbourhood, are the only type of home allowed to be built across most of Vancouver. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The final council meeting of Gregor Robertson's decade-long tenure as mayor of Vancouver is scheduled for Sept. 18 — and it could be anything but a ceremonial affair.

City staff are currently drafting policies that would allow duplexes in neighbourhoods across the city that are currently reserved for single-family homes, as Vancouver moves forward on its 10-year housing plan.   

In addition, Gregor Robertson amended a motion so that staff will also look at "allow triplexes, quadplexes and other multi-unit forms" in neighbourhoods across the city, with a report back next year. 

"I'm dismayed by the vastness of change that has been proposed," said Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr. "Completely rezoning the whole city, not through a local area planning process, or a city-wide planning process, which I would support, but instead by a last-minute amendment to policies — it's not the way it should be done."

A vote on the duplex change will likely come in the only meeting between the summer break and the Oct. 20 civic election. Any vote on triplexes or multiplexes would not take place until 2019. 

Carr, who is one of only two councillors to formally declare they will run again, doesn't think the current council should be having votes with such possible wide ramifications at the end of their term. 

"There are very few on this council who are seeking re-election, so they're truly lame duck," Carr said. 

More homes = cheaper prices? 

Robertson's amendment was supported by the five Vision Vancouver councillors but also former NPA Coun. Hector Bremner, who has pushed for increasing density in the city's older neighbourhoods.

"When I saw this, I thought it was great, I was happy to support it, and I commend the mayor and his team for bringing it forward," said Bremner, who plans to run for mayor with his newly established Yes Vancouver party. 

"We're not making any more land, last time I checked. What we put on that land has to be subidivided in such a way so it makes the individual unit cost lower. If you're only putting one dwelling on a $4-million lot of dirt, then that's what you're going to get in terms of a home."

But not every councillor agrees that creating more housing units would drive down their cost. 

"My biggest concern with mass rezoning and upzoning of our city … you see speculation go crazy," said George Affleck.

"People will now assume if they buy a single-family home they will be able to turn it into a fourplex or sixplex or whatever it might be, and do the math, and say this $2-million home is potentially $20 million and so then you have this rampant speculation on assumptions of what this real estate might be worth in the end."

In 2017 the city proposed regulations that would have made it harder to demolish homes built before 1940, but opted against it after negative public feedback. (CBC)

City vs. neighbourhood plans

The controversy over Robertson's expansive proposal highlighted Vancouver's lack of a city-wide plan.

Currently, each neighbourhood in the city has its zoning rules dictated by a unique community plan, which are redone after extensive consultation approximately once a generation. 

Bremner and Patrick Condon, who is seeking the mayoral nomination for the Coalition of Progressive Electors, are campaigning for one plan for the entire city. 

Affleck disagrees, saying a city plan could cost upwards of $30 million.

"We do these community plans [and] I think it works. I think a city-wide plan is potentially overly ambitious and very expensive. What we should be focusing on is encouraging other cities, like Burnaby, to start developing homes that are affordable that take the heat off Vancouver, especially rental."

Read more from CBC British Columbia

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story implied that council would vote on allowing triplexes and multiplexes in single-family neighbourhoods before October's election. They are only likely to vote on allowing duplexes.
    Jul 04, 2018 3:32 PM PT

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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