Submitted by Riley Donovan
The passing of the B.C. NDP Bill 44 on November 29 marked the largest transfer of power from municipalities to Victoria since British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871.
For those who have mercifully spared themselves from provincial politics these past weeks, Bill 44 mandates that municipalities allow up to four units of housing on single-family residential lots, and prohibits municipalities from requiring off-street parking for secondary suites.
How, you might ask, could the NDP unilaterally open the fourplex floodgate across the province?
Under this bill, municipal control over residential zoning – previously one of the key spheres of local governance – is a thing of the past.
The varied and unique towns of British Columbia will now have to update their official community plans to reflect an as yet unpublished, one-size-fits-all “policy manual” written by the province.
Under the new bill, public rezoning hearings are banned, with municipalities instead being required to automatically approve developments which adhere to their community plan (which, remember, will merely be a local reflection of the provincial policy manual).
With the stroke of a pen, single-family zoning and public rezoning hearings are a thing of the past.
Bill 44 applies to all municipalities with more than 5,000 residents, but will apply to smaller towns as soon as they reach the cutoff.
This might be some relief to villages like Radium Hot Springs (pop: 1,339 as of 2021), but will be a cause for concern in Invermere, with a population quickly approaching 5,000.
From 2011 to 2016, Invermere’s population grew by a striking 15 per cent, from a little more than 2,900 to a little less than 3,400. From 2016 to 2021, the town’s population grew again to 3,917 souls.
At this rate of growth, it could take as little as two or three more five-year census cycles for the population to reach the 5,000 mark – at which point Bill 44 will start to apply.
At which point, the Invermere mayor and council will be stripped of their control over zoning, reduced to an essentially ceremonial role on the issue that matters most: the level and shape of future local development.
Why have I, a journalist from the Land of the Lotus Eaters (sometimes referred to as Salt Spring Island), embarked on a crusade against this bill, firing off op-eds to papers ranging from the Vancouver Sun to the Merritt Herald?
Because eliminating local control over zoning will be an unmitigated disaster across the board, especially for small towns.
Stripping towns of zoning control will not solve the housing crisis, it will merely result in chaotic, random increases in density with no discernible pattern.
Instead of being able to carefully plan which areas of town have the right infrastructure to allow for multiplexes or townhomes, and which areas wish to remain single-family neighbourhoods, town councils will have to run around providing infrastructure to totally unplanned developments.
This is not purely hypothetical. After spending 10 years carefully crafting three neighbourhood development plans, Langley recently decided to shelve all of them upon the realization that Bill 44 will allow for a massively higher population in those areas than envisioned by the council.
As explained to me by View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias, the prohibition on requiring off-street parking for secondary suites will disperse parked cars throughout his town, which in the case of single-lane roads could block snow-clearing and the passage of emergency vehicles.
The fundamental problem is that communities will no longer have the autonomy to create towns that reflect their unique infrastructure capabilities, character, economy, culture, environment, architecture, and history.
Mayors and councils should speak up for their towns and demand that the NDP back down on this unprecedented transfer of power from local communities to Victoria bureaucrats.
(Riley Donovan is a journalist and columnist living on Salt Spring Island. You can find more of his work at dominionreview.ca, and follow him on Twitter @valdombre.)