"Keep Calm and Carry On"

 By Alan Osborne

How will the “Housing Supply Act” affect North Saanich?  Is the Provincial government going to take over and zone land in North Saanich for high density housing?  Lots of questions are circulating. Some people are panicking.  There is really no need.

I advised ministers and Cabinet on planning and housing issues for many years, and the LAST thing they want to do is take over responsibility for local land use issues and rezone properties.

The Housing Supply Act is designed to put pressure on local governments, in the hope that they do what the Provincial government wants without Cabinet having to take drastic actions.  The first step is to identify which municipalities should be subject to the legislation.  The minister himself said that they listed 47 municipalities “for the sake of expediency”. 

Having worked on legislation for the BC government, I can tell you that it’s always better to “cast the net wider” because a minister is seen as incompetent if she/he has to go back to Cabinet repeatedly and ask for more names to be added to their legislation.  There’s enormous competition for time at Cabinet meetings, so it’s best to go once, hence the longer list than the initial 10 municipalities identified as dragging their feet on rezoning land for housing.

The legislation is designed with a series of steps, in the hope that Cabinet never has to use them all.  The first step is to set housing targets.  We don’t yet know what those even are, or what the timeline will be, so there are many details to be worked out. 

The second step is to monitor progress.  That will take some time, many months and probably a year or two. 

The third step is to appoint a “housing advisor” to help municipalities that are seen to be moving too slowly.  “Helping” will involve listening to why the municipality has not met its target and helping to overcome the barriers.  A good part of this discussion will focus on restrictions such as water, sewer, transit, etc.  so “helping” involves lining up Provincial and Federal funding assistance to help pay for the needed infrastructure. (Note: typically the senior governments pay up to 75% of the costs.). The provincial government has limited funds so they will want to prioritize their contributions to infrastructure projects where each million dollars spent will result in the largest number of new housing.  North Saanich infrastructure projects are highly unlikely to make that list. 

The final step in the legislation is for the Provincial government to actually dictate local zoning.  This is something that Cabinet has threatened before but not actually followed through on because it comes at significant cost, politically.  The last thing Cabinet wants is to be drawn into contentious local rezonings, receive truckloads of letters and even have protests on the grounds of the Legislature.  The option of taking over local zoning is referred to as the “nuclear option”, something to be avoided if at all possible.  The hope is that municipal Councils are afraid of losing control so they panic and rezone lots of new housing, with new infrastructure at local taxpayers’ expense, without even negotiating Provincial or Federal contributions.

What should North Saanich do? Exactly what the current Council is doing:

First, stay focussed on the Official Community Plan and make sure it addresses local housing in the context of our infrastructure, climate change and what’s reasonable for existing neighbourhoods. 

Second, meet with the minister responsible for the legislation to clarify the intention and reinforce the practical limits of adding housing to rural communities with limited infrastructure and transit service. 

Third, work with the CRD, the Union of BC Municipalities and other rural communities to provide a united position.

Alan Osborne is a North Saanich resident who has worked as a planner for municipalities, a regional district and the Islands Trust. As Director of Local Government Policy and Legislation for quite a few years, he oversaw the development of much of BC’s current planning legislation, from bonus density to regional growth strategies.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments and contributions are welcome, but must remain within the bounds of good taste. Vulgarity, abusive comments, and personal attacks will not be tolerated. The NSCV reserves the right to moderate inappropriate comments.