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Mayor Ken Sim could learn a thing or two about swagger from West Vancouver

The North Shore municipality stood up for its residents in refusing to conform with Bill 44, which hikes density provincewide


by Carol Volkart


Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim touts the importance of swagger, but when it comes to damning the torpedoes and letting fly with the unthinkable – you really have to look at West Vancouver.


Yes, the land of Range Rovers, impeccable hair and waterfront show homes is now staging what amounts to a revolt. It seems that West Vancouverites are a bit touchy about the NDP’s ground-shaking new housing legislation ramrodded through the legislature last November. You know, the bill that upped density in urban areas provincewide, snatched zoning away from city councils, and gagged local residents with a ban on public hearings.


While Sim greeted the legislation with applause, applying a little of his own trademark swagger by boasting that Vancouver was already ahead of the province in the densification stakes, some other mayors weren’t as enthusiastic. They worried about boring things like whether the toilets would still flush in their newly densified cities, and the capacity of their parks and schools and community centres.


Under Bill 44, municipalities have until June 30 to bring their bylaws into line with its requirements to allow up to six units of housing on lots in single family and duplex areas. Public hearings are banned for the kind of housing the bill promotes

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Most councils and mayors – aware that the province holds the upper hand – are reluctantly complying, while still offering a few choice words about the rushed timeline, the lack of consultation and the one-size-fits-all nature of the changes.


Richmond and Coquitlam have requested extensions to the deadline, with Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie saying “we have a major aversion to Bill 44 and what it is going to do to our single-family neighbourhoods.” Campbell River grumpily changed its bylaws, with councillors outraged at the ban on public hearings and Mayor Kermit Dahl saying: “Tyrants and dictators don’t want your feedback.”


West Vancouver, however, dares to rebel outright.


On May 27, council unanimously rejected a rezoning bylaw that would have met the province’s requirements by allowing additional density on about 200 residential properties.

Since originally ordering up the bylaw, councillors had, it seems, an attack of democratic remorse.


Several said they don’t intend to have local zoning changes dictated by Victoria. Coun. Linda Watt said she doesn’t represent Victoria, but was elected by the citizens of West Vancouver, and “will continue to represent their best interests and vigorously oppose any entity that seeks to destroy the nature and character of our community.” Watt also attacked the province’s “reckless pace” of blanket rezoning that she said ignores decades of careful local government planning.


Coun. Christine Cassidy, who’d described the provincial rules as “an extreme form of socialism, bordering on communism” in the previous discussion, said she’d never vote for such a bylaw. Coun. Sharon Thompson said the district has been making progress on “gentle infill,” and a number of residential apartments already built in West Vancouver aren’t occupied. “We’re not stopping people from coming to our community.”


The outcome of this little rebellion is quite predictable. The province has warned that it can override zoning bylaws that do not comply with its June 30 deadline “until such a time as the local government undertakes updates to come into compliance with the legislation.”


But what if Ken Sim, who applauded Bill 44, and all the other mayors who reluctantly accepted it, had been revolutionary enough to follow West Vancouver’s example?


Since the legislation covers all urban areas of more than 5,000 people, the province would have had a lot of overriding to do. And councillors could have been proud of themselves for putting local voters and proper community planning ahead of pleasing their provincial masters.


Now that would be something to swagger about.


Carol Volkart is a retired Vancouver Sun editor and city hall reporter who retains an interest in civic affairs.

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