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New Delta OCP passes third reading despite strong opposition at hearing

More than 60 spoke at public hearing April 22, many against high-rise developments in town centres
It was standing room only as council heard from residents both for and opposed to Delta’s proposed new Official Community Plan during a public hearing on Monday, April 22. (James Smith/North Delta Reporter photo)

Delta council unanimously gave the go-ahead to the city’s new Official Community Plan Monday evening, despite opposition from the majority of those who spoke at that day’s public hearing.

The new OCP, spurred by provincial legislation adopted late last year and a ministerial order mandating Delta add 3,607 net new housing units over the next five years, opens the door to greater density in most residential areas of the city.

Three “urban centres” have been earmarked to potentially have buildings up to 24 storeys, while some locations in the Scott Road Corridor may have up to 32 storeys, all provided developers work a “significant community contribution” into their proposals.

Fifty-eight residents signed up to speak in-person at Monday’s packed public hearing, with another nine participating virtually. Council chambers were at capacity, with several people standing at the back of the room and dozens more watching the proceedings on screens in the lobby of city hall.

The majority of speakers brought forward concerns the new OCP would have wide-ranging negative impacts, from overcrowding and increased traffic congestion – with many highlighting transportation choke points and lack of transit in various areas of the city, especially Tsawwassen – to the overloading city infrastructure and harm to the environment.

While many agreed on the general need for more housing, they took specific issue with the idea of adding high-rise towers in the area of Tsawwassen Town Centre, the North Delta Social Heart and Scott Road, saying it would ruin Delta’s unique character as a fishing and farming community.

Others criticized the OCP for not including co-ops, social housing and other initiatives, questioning whether mid- and high-rise developments would actually bring affordable homes for young families and others looking to purchase or rent in the city.

Another common theme among speakers was the rushed timeline to adopt the OCP, from soliciting public feedback via four open houses and three online info sessions in March to presenting council with the final draft for first and second reading April 8. Many argued there had not been sufficient time or efforts made to properly engage residents in the process, leading some to wonder aloud whether the OCP was already a “done deal” and the hearing merely a piece of theatre.

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The city’s general manager of development, Doreann Mayhew, said the timeline was driven by factors such as the provincial housing targets and the age of the OCP (it was originally adopted in 1985.

Mayhew noted that as it stands, the OCP would not allow Delta to meet those targets), as well as a provincial mandate to change zoning bylaws to allow multi-unit housing forms in single-detached and duplex lots by June 30 of this year.

Mayhew also noted the OCP does not change the underlying zoning of properties, meaning projects would still need council approval if they involve a change in zoning, and that the general height limit in the newly-designated urban centre and along Scott Road would be six storeys, with taller projects subject to approval on a case-by-case basis.

As for the definition of what would constitute a “significant community contribution” allowing for heights greater than six storeys, Mayhew said a policy guide is being developed and will be brought to council at a future date.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, only Coun. Dylan Kruger and Mayor Harvie spoke to the proposed OCP.

Kruger, in a nearly 10-minute pre-written speech, said he would be voting in favour of the OCP, fulfilling his commitment to doing what he felt “was the right thing, even if it wasn’t always the popular thing.”

Kruger noted the city’s population sits at around 112,000 and is projected to grow to 160,00 by 2051, with the region’s population set to rise by a million in that time – “that’s 55,000 residents (…) almost the entire population of North Delta moving to our region every single year” – and the role of city planning is figuring out how to accommodate that growth.

“As a reminder, these are not targets, they’re projections. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not ‘build it and they will come.’ They’re coming already.”

Kruger noted that Delta’s share of the projected growth is modest, but that the city still needs to do its part.

“We can’t build a wall around Delta and let the rest of the region pay for it. That kind of exclusionary rhetoric has no place in a welcoming, inclusive community.”

Kruger said Delta was one of 10 cities put on the “provincial naughty list” and handed mandatory housing targets because “by objective standards we have not done enough” to keep pace with growth, resulting in housing needs “far outweighing” current supply.

He pointed to the age of Delta’s housing stock, noting 54 per cent of homes were built before 1980, and that only one per cent of purpose-built rentals in the city were built “in this century.”

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As to concerns about traffic, parking, infrastructure and transit, Kruger said they can all be planned for, adding these issues today are “nowhere close” to the challenges faced when the city grew by over 200 per cent in the 1970s.

“You know what we did [then]? We figured it out. We built new schools, we added new infrastructure, we were resilient, we were adaptable. We were leaders. Are we going to look at the challenges ahead of us and pack it up and say, ‘Oh well, we tried, but it’s just too hard’? That’s not what Delta is about.”

Kruger said bold action is needed to fix the housing crisis, noting over half of the land in Delta in protected agricultural land, while another 3,000 acres is protected as part of Burns Bog, meaning growth can’t be accommodated by sprawl.

“We have to accommodate our growth by allowing for the densification of our existing areas,” he said.

“We can’t keep putting neighbourhoods into time capsules and say whatever land use pattern was approved in 1985 is the only form that neighbourhood can take from now until the end of time. We have to be allowed to evolve as circumstances change.”

Mayor Harvie kept his remarks brief, saying the OCP isn’t Delta’s or council’s or staff’s, as its framework was determined by the province.

“As mayor, I take great exception to being micro-managed, [and] we are being micro-managed by the provincial government and ignored by the federal government,” Harvie said, noting Ottawa hasn’t given Delta “a nickel or a cent” for housing.

“They provided $1.5 million for Bowen Island, [and] Bowen Island doesn’t even want people to come over any more. It’s all political.”

Harvie said the city needs to move on and look at co-op and other housing forms that can replace “what’s happening now.”

“Those things which we relied on when I was getting into the market, they’re not available for anybody anymore.”

Harvie said he looks forward to the forthcoming related updates to Delta’s Zoning Bylaw, adding “that is when it is extremely important that we do what is right for our community.”

Following third reading, the new OCP will be forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission and Metro Vancouver for review and comments before coming back to council for final adoption.

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James Smith

About the Author: James Smith

James Smith is the founding editor of the North Delta Reporter.
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