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B.C. aims to increase housing density around rapid transit, bus exchanges

New legislation promises to create 100,000 new housing units within a decade

New housing legislation tabled Wednesday (Nov. 8) promises to create up to 100,000 new net housing units during the next decade in areas near transit hubs — be they bus exchanges or rapid transit stations.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in the legislature that the legislation will require municipalities to designate so-called Transit Oriented Development areas.

“Within those areas, local governments cannot reject residential zoning applications that meet minimum density levels and must follow the rules and standards to support transit-friendly and complete communities being built in the right locations,” Kahlon said.

The legislation defines TOD areas as lands within 800 metres of a rapid transit station and within 400 metres of bus exchanges where passengers transfer from one route to another.

Allowable heights and densities within TOD areas follow a tier system with the highest developments in the centre of TOD areas and will differ based on the type of transit hub as well as the size of municipalities, their population and location.

Wednesday’s legislation is the third in as many days dealing with housing and continues the recent run of legislation that sees the province take a more active role in municipal land use planning.

While some municipalities have already created special development zones around transit, others without such zones must now follow by June 30, 2024 — the same deadline for municipalities to update their bylaws under new legislation up-zoning lots zoned for single-residential and duplex housing. Municipalities with existing zones for growth near transit must also up their levels to the provincial minimum standard for TOD areas.

They call for up to 20 storeys within 200 metres of Skytrain stations in Metro Vancouver; up 12 storeys within 200 of bus exchanges in Metro Vancouver; up 10 storeys within 200 metres of bus exchanges in mid-sized cities such as Victoria and Kelowna among others; and up to six storeys within 200 metres of bus exchanges elsewhere.

This legislation, in other words, has the potential to upzone entire communities with height limits falling below the provincial minimums.

Municipalities can also approve density exceeding the provincial standards at their discretion.

RELATED: New housing legislation promises to create 130,000 homes in B.C. in 10 years

Kahlon, who later discussed the legislation with transportation minister Rob Fleming, said this new legislation works with all of the other tabled legislation.

“All of it is coordinated and it works well together,” Kahlon said.

He added that some communities are already contemplating projects that exceed the provincial standards. “Of course, they have the ability to go higher if they believe they need to,” he said. “What we have done here is set a floor, we have created certainty and predictability, so that people can make the investments to build the housing they need.”

Kahlon said not-for-profit organizations have already told him that this legislation (along other legislation) makes their projects viable.

When media asked Kahlon whether “overriding local government autonomy” is the new “standard operating procedure,” he said B.C. is in a housing crisis.

“Premier Eby, myself, Minister Fleming, my (cabinet) colleagues, hear from people who are struggling to find housing,” he said, adding that people with full-time jobs are living in RVs.

“So we have to meet the moment,” he said “(We) have to do some things differently, we have to reform our processes, how we make decisions, how we capture dollars for infrastructure and how we make decisions about housing in our communities.”

That difference also appears in other aspects of the legislation. it removes restrictive parking minimums, allowing for parking to be determined by need and demand on a project-by-project basis.

Kahlon said this aspect will help make housing more affordable, pointing to a development in Burnaby that would have included 14 storeys of parking below a 20-storey project.

“We know parking is going to be needed,” Kahlon said. “We know parking is going to get built. What we are saying is ‘let’s build the right amount of parking for each project according to who they are trying to serve.”

Fleming added that the provincial government is spending a record amount of money on transporation across the province — $14 billion over the next three years — with most of that spending transit-related, when asked how the province will actually get people to use transit.

“What this means, is that we have a tool that is in the interest of local government and ourselves to build more affordable housing choices near those infrastructure investments that we are making, in some cases in partnership with local government.”


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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