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Opinion: Victoria is pressing for affordable housing. West Van had best be ready.

Our provincial politicians deem it time to build, build, build, even when commmunities say no, no, no.
Progress Report WV 04 MW web
No one wants to lose the West Van vibe, writes columnist Kirk LaPointe, but change is coming, and the municipality should be ready for it.

Eight years ago, I was running for mayor of Vancouver. I finished second and, flush from a masterclass in the city’s neighbourhoods, vowed to never leave.

But then here I was eight months ago in West Vancouver, selecting nature and quiet, space and grace for this age and stage. Quite the love at first sight. The commute to Vancouver is so far, so good, knock on wood.

Upon arrival I contemplated the both-feet-in commitment to public life of again seeking office. I talked to mayoralty candidates and current and would-be councillors. I met many whose encouragement was imbued with a concern I summarize as: Great, but why would you ever want to do this?

There is admittedly hubris in thinking you merit votes when you still need your GPS. So many people introduced themselves with West Van pride as “I’m Helen, I’ve lived here 43 years.” All I can claim is that I am Kirk, and I’ve lived here for 16 ... garbage cycles.

I decided, as I had in Vancouver, that my best foot forward involves fingers tapping the keyboard. This column will be about the intersection of our local politics and economy, bridging what I learn here with what I have about the world apart from it: 19 years in Vancouver, 14 in Ottawa, several in Hamilton and my native Toronto in a dozen-plus reporting and managerial roles. My current perch as publisher and editor-in-chief of the region’s business publication, BIV, fortunately grants a great education daily.

My first column’s first assertion is hardly seismic: municipal elections Oct. 15 will be an inflection point for a campaign in years ahead by the province to accommodate unprecedented housing construction. West Vancouver had best be ready to shoulder its share.

It is hardly news the community is perceived in Victoria as an antediluvian, anti-development ATM-in-waiting, a resort posing as a district. This is, of course, a convenient falsehood advanced by outsiders. But no matter. We wear it.

The class conflict stoked to date by the NDP government is tepid compared to what’s ahead, given the worsening strain on public finances as the economy sputters owing to higher interest rates and inflation, a recession or contraction, and a laundry list of social programming.

Whoever is mayor, whoever are councillors, better expect to get elbows up to argue and defend. Premier David Eby (get used to it) has the bit in his teeth on housing. He senses legacy.

A tranche of federal housing money is available but not indefinitely, too, to assist the province in sanctioning below-market production. And the BC Liberals under Kevin Falcon are in rare agreement about supply as an answer to the demanding market: they deem it time to build, build, build, even when communities say no, no, no.

The quintessential development question of how much, how little and how soon or late has exhausted the patience from Victoria. It requires a plan aligned with the province, particularly to add more diverse, more affordable housing stock as it obliges growth. My reading of the official community plan is that it falls short in the tenor of the times.

It behooves the Not In My Backyard contingent to acknowledge, as King Canute did to followers, that they cannot hold back the tide but must ride it. NIMBYs now need to be nimble.

And it necessitates leadership so the district won’t further fracture over this imperative.

The province has constitutional authority to override municipal zoning powers. The NDP is prepared to refine and fortify that. We are a single-family-housing community about which it licks its chops.

As a concerned citizen, I’ll be listening to how candidates plan to contend with this challenge. Having watched several council sessions of unmistakably testy personal dynamics, I’ll also cast my vote on how they commit to play well together if their slates aren’t with them.

It was redeeming to see Brimming Development’s modest three-storey Dundarave Village project approved July 25 by all but Coun. Bill Soprovich. This is the gentle densification that most every moderate housing developer advocates. If you can’t nurse these sorts of proposals through the system in 2022 and beyond, you’re asking for intervention.

Understand: no one, particularly this newcomer, wants to lose the West Vancouver vibe. No one thinks that 44,000 should be 54,000 or that a Marine Drive facsimile of Vancouver’s highrise-ridden Broadway Plan is how to go. But go, somewhere, West Vancouver is bound to. Or we might be taken there by the scruff of our necks.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV as well as vice-president, editorial, Glacier Media Group, the North Shore News' parent company.

klapointe@biv.com
twitter.com/kirklapointe