Letter: Partial win for neighbourhoods

Let’s celebrate! At last month’s public hearing into the size of new homes, the people’s win was only partial, but their spirit was magnificent.

Most residents at the meeting wanted greater restrictions on home sizes. There was success in getting a consistent house height limit but not so much in keeping house bulk under control. 

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The outcomes have additional importance because they affect the current issue of land use contracts (LUCs), which apply to thousands of house lots.

LUCs supersede local zoning bylaws, meaning homes built on those lots don’t have to comply with city height and size restrictions.

Earlier this week, city staff presented a proposal to council’s planning committee that would end LUCs. The proposal will be presented to city council Oct. 13, and a public hearing will be held on Nov. 24.

Back to the celebration. For my part, I’ve read all 112 letters to the last public hearing and created a synopsis chart on my blog, with links to the letters. (Google “natural legacies versus waste.”) Many of the letters will inspire you.

All but two of the letters support the need to prioritize neighbourhood over building megahomes. Some support a consistent new-house height limit of nine metres and/or double-counting of floor area for rooms more than 3.7 metres high, as in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby.

Only two of the letters take a developer stance and advocate for fewer restrictions. One of those seeks common ground, as some of us did at the public hearing meeting.

Although I spent six attentive hours at the public hearing, I also listened to the audio recording to be sure of details before writing this.

If you would like to listen also, just arrange with the Richmond Archives at the Cultural Centre. Like me, you may rejoice in the exchange of ideas and the many informed defenders of a livable city.

Along with the impressive citizen action which saw 200 people at the meeting and many speakers, the city’s advisory design panel was also in agreement with the majority of residents, as was staff.

Councillors Carol Day and Harold Steves heeded the appeal of so many. Coun. Steves challenged the mayor’s attempt to block his motion on the 3.7-metres matter, which has a big effect on house bulk.

The city clerk ruled to allow the motion. However, council eventually voted it down 7–2. In other words, seven councillors ignored their own advisory design panel, staff and the pleas of so many participants to stop killing their neighbourhoods.

 It shouldn’t take courage to heed the community, but I sensed from councillors’ tones it did. Chak Au boldly moved to close a house-height loophole, which was done.

But council could and should have gone further.

Jim Wight is president of the Garden City Conservation Society

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