Duplex ploy a devious development decision from departing Vision

So, the lame duck has flipped the bird.

Last week’s last-gasp Vision Vancouver rezoning of the city to permit duplexes and eventually more in our single-family housing neighbourhoods was a death-bed curse.

Without a proper process to consult and gain support, the outgoing government overwrote generations of planning and even its own decade of ad hoc district developing. It has left behind a mess – the economic equivalent of that bullying card game you are tricked into as a kid, 52 Pickup.

It was an admission of Vision’s failure to earn basic trust in the community; it effectively burned the bridge as it left the occupied territory. Only one of its council will seek re-election next month and thus bear accountability, so the move was a thank-you to developers and a screw-you to us.

The mayor had the audacity to claim: “We’re going to take a lot more action in the years to come.”

To which I ask: Who is we?

He?

Ha!

He’s out of here, but not before out of nowhere weeks ago came his motion, timed to tie the hands of the council that will replace him in retirement. The city claimed it was acting upon two years of community consultation, which was a laugher to those many still awaiting a meeting.

Public hearings last week drew hours of angry, indignant, informed response. Opponents of the carpet bombing of our city wrote personal letters; most supporters filled out a form.

It is a conceit to conclude this will address the pernicious issue of housing unaffordability. I give the plan’s proponents the benefit of the doubt they know that a fire hose of supply does not automate cheaper housing; I merely detest their duplicity in foisting the idea on the unsuspecting who know no such thing. Our city is its own worst enemy: a gloriously nestled, temperate, finite land mass susceptible because of its size – and seemingly its naïveté – to swift distortion when it was smothered in global capital out of its control. We advertised ourselves as a wonderful place to live and a lot of people believed. Now we are paying the price of popularity and its invasion of privacy.

But our housing affordability issues have been with us since the rise of the internet, and there was no particular urgency guiding this move except the sands of time running down on the incumbent council.

It unleashes cookie-cutter development to blandize the distinctive qualities of our neighbourhoods. The duplex becomes the 21st-century Vancouver Special.

An unintended consequence will be renovictions of basement suite holders and rent increases once the units are reoccupied.

Fair enough, it will increase supply. But it is not necessarily the right supply and not at all the right way to do it. There are easier ways forward: a citywide plan built with neighbourhood representatives at the table, assisted by senior levels of government and the private and non-profit housing sectors to bring a coherence as we bring on greater density.

But no.

It again gave us the poor process we have come to expect and cannot wait to put behind us. Meantime, rezoning is not a word; it is a sentence.

This is not, as one councillor put it, a polemic between those who fear change and those seeking a place to live. The real fear has been the council’s dread to spend the right time with the right people to get the right outcome to build a better city.

It is a little surprising that many of the most prominent mayoralty and council candidates seem willing to let last week’s move stand and watch over what ensues. The next administration will have an opportunity to reset so many dysfunctional attributes of our government: the opaque operation, the compromised esthetic of the streets, the cyclist-motorist conflicts and most definitely the madness of development.  It would be a signal shame if it does not revoke what happened in this council’s twilight moments. It will simply set itself up as the fall guy for the fallen guy. No one should want to be hated the way this council is as it leaves, but when this plan surely falls short, that is what will happen. •

Kirk LaPointe is the editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.