City Council voted down a 21-unit rental townhome project for Shaughnessy by a 7-4 vote. The ostensible controversy was the adjacency of a hospice, which threatened to close if the project was built – a dubious outcome, given that many hospices exist in much less pleasant prospects. The reality: Shaughnessy was threatened with higher density, and with rentals – unpleasant prospects for a community that is synonymous with exclusivity. And they spoke up.
There was a lot of debate, a lot of angst, a lot of rationalizations. But the most important message coming out of council, whether deliberate or not, is this: ‘No matter what we as councillors say, no matter what policies we pass, no matter what support you get from staff, no matter how great the need we acknowledge, none of that really matters. If enough of the residents complain, we will protect the status quo.’
North Vancouver District sent a similar message to the development community and housing advocates with their rejection of the Delbrook affordable-rental project – a more egregious case to be sure, but similar in outcome. ‘Nothing is good enough if the neighbours object.’
The message is devastating for developers who believed council was sincere in wanting to encourage secure market-rental projects and more choice of housing in existing neighbourhoods. But the impact is more significant when considering the upcoming city-wide planning process. Council just clarified that they are shifting to the conservationist end of the Bushfield-Prest chart.
Regardless of their rhetoric, desires, intents or instructions with respect to the goals of the plan, in the face of opposition to the outcomes the majority will likely side with status quo. Those in threatened neighbourhoods can now breathe more easily, knowing that regardless of process, they need only prepare for battle when intent is translated into proposal.
When Jean Swanson votes against rental unless it is social housing, when Adriane Carr votes against new housing unless it is ‘affordable’, when Pete Fry, Michael Wiebe and Sarah Kirby-Yung say they’re for denser development but not today, when Colleen Hardwick wants to give communities a de facto veto, when Rebecca Bligh favours the comfort of the dying over the needs of the living, they’re sending the same message as the conservationists in North Vancouver: ‘We don’t believe the housing crisis is all that serious.’
Necssary acknowledgement, then, to Melissa De Genova, Christine Boyle, Lisa Dominato and Mayor Kennedy Stewart who struggled with the issue and in the end voted in favour.
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