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New legislation is moving in the same direction as Kelowna's OCP, council says

Kelowna City Council has advanced a handful of bylaw amendments to complete the recently introduced provincial housing mandates.

Although the amendments were moved forward on Monday, it was not done without a high level of frustration from several council members.

The new bills introduced in December relate to land use regarding small-scale multi-unit housing and transit oriented areas.

Some of those changes include allowing a minimum of one secondary suite or detached accessory dwelling in all single-family zones, a minimum of three to four units in select zones used exclusively for single-family homes if the lot is intended to be 280 square metres and a minimum of six units on larger lots that are close to transit corridors.

Council was introduced to the amendments earlier this month and were already feeling challenged by the changes.

During the Monday meeting, coun. Charlie Hodge said he felt the provincial government was pushing municipalities and the amount of changes they’ve introduced are frustrating him.

“I’m really uptight and really angry at what we’ve been forced to do here,” he said.

The changes are expected to impact around 26,000 lots, something coun. Ron Cannan called “one size fits all.”

“I don't think it's going to really address our affordability (or) housing crisis in our community,” he said.

“I’ve heard this legislation coined as ‘planning with a sledgehammer,’ basically rendering years of community planning, especially at the public consultation, OCP and civic level that was just done a couple years ago.”

Coun. Cannan has issues with the removal of public hearings for rezonings for housing projects that are consistent and aligned with a city’s Official Community Plan (OCP), adding that he would like to see a “Kelowna made” solution to the legislation, especially for the heritage conservation areas (HCA).

<who> Photo Credit: City of Kelowna file picture

Under the mandates, city staff have proposed allowing up to four units on properties in the HCA area, which is the minimum required by the province for properties within suburban areas.

Coun. Rick Webber acknowledged the frustration but applauded city staff for their work.

‘It’s basically the province taking back a certain amount of control over community planning,” Webber said, adding that he also had issues with the impacts to the HCAs.

“In many ways, it's not that different from the council’s priorities, I have to admit. I mean we’ve been all about infill housing, creating housing. So, most of it isn’t that different than what council would call for.”

Coun. Loyal Wooldridge had a similar perspective on the updates, pointing to the recent BC Housing Summit.

He said he has heard feedback from other municipalities in the province who applaud how Kelowna is already ahead when it comes to these policy shifts.

“When you look at our 2040 OCP, the direction the province is moving isn’t that much different than what we’ve been planning for so that’s really allowed us to be an early adopter of this direction,” Wooldridge said.

“Now, I fully appreciate and understand that there’s certain areas of town, the heritage conservation areas, etc that have unique concerns. But I really want to acknowledge staff for coming up with creative solutions to manage that.”

He acknowledged that some people might feel the city has not pushed back on the changes enough, but said keeping an open mind will benefit the city in the future.

“When we foster relationships and have an open door to policies that the province is bringing forward allows us to have more space to negotiate into the future and to have a ‘Kelowna made’ solution,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, when we’re an easy door to push on, that means that we'll be a community that's selected in the future for investment as well as a place that will be a test pilot for new housing projects.”

<who> Photo Credit: City of Kelowna file picture

Coun. Luke Stack agreed, pointing to the direction the city’s OCP was moving and how OCP, planning and policy changes made in recent years have allowed Kelowna to be one of the first municipalities to adopt the provincial mandates.

“This is something that has already been brought into law, it’s been legislated. And we’re faced with probably, at least in my time, the most comprehensive changes to zoning that I’ve ever seen,” Stack said.

“It is a dramatic change but the other side of the coin is we’ve been having a dramatic housing problem, a lack of housing and a lack of affordability for the last many years. So, something has to be done and the province is obviously stepping up and saying ‘we’re going to take charge and get some of these things moving forward.’”

Mayor Tom Dyas said he had conversations with the Ministry of Housing about concerns raised by the community and by council.

“Through those discussions, we have said that we need to basically continue to walk through this in the future and see what other changes need to be made to these bylaws and how they’re adapted,” Dyas said, adding that the Ministry will continue to discuss changes with the city.

Ryan Smith, divisional director of planning, climate sustainability and development services, told council there were still many steps to take in the process of implementing these amendments into things as simple as stormwater and solid waste requirements all the way up to policy updates and traffic bylaw updates.

“At each step along the way, we hope to build council's confidence in the steps that are coming and the current step and that we’ve got a handle on these things,” Smith said.

“This is not going to be perfect, this is a base implementation and we hope that we can set that base prior to this year’s construction season so we can begin helping our construction community get used to new rules and find out where those rules work and where they don’t work.”

He also said that the changes are not going to bring immediate changes to the city’s neighbourhood and the zoning changes would be done in phases but that actual development of residential units will still take some time.

Smith said city staff hope they can bring a review back to council in the winter to see what worked and what needs improvement.

Once city council gives first readings to the changes, the OCP amendments will be sent to a public hearing later this spring.

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