I know a few people showed up at Council today, hoping to talk about the Official Community Plan and Land Use Map. Unfortunately, it was a Public Hearing night, as the last meeting of every month usually is, and as such we generally don’t have Public Delegations on those nights, saving space in the Agenda and reserving the floor for people who would like to talk to Council about items on the Public Hearing.
Worry not, there will be lots of opportunity for you to talk to Council about the OCP, as the entire draft Plan will be going out to Public Open houses in February. That was the decision made by Council today during our mid-day Workshop, which you can watch here, if you want to get a sense of where Council is on this topic, the conversation was wide-reaching and at times challenging.
You might want to look at the Land Use Map (as that seems to be where most of the conversation has been up to now), but you may also want to delve into the entire OCP document. This is a 150-page document that draws a much more detailed map of where the citizens of New Westminster see the City going over the next 10 to 25 years.
(You can click here to open the Council document from today’s Workshop, skip ahead to page 128, unless you also care about Heritage Protection in Queens Park!)
Under an overarching Vision Statement, there are 7 major Themes. These Themes support 12 Goals, which are descriptions of how we will describe the City in 25 years. To reach those Goals, there are 61 proposed Policies and 175 Actions that the City will take. It is only after reviewing those intended Actions that the Land Use Map and Land Use Designations make sense. The map should, if the OCP is on the right track, support those Policies and Goals, and ultimately, the Vision. And I want to talk about that.
“New Westminster is a healthy, inclusive and thriving community where people feel connected with each other. This sustainable city showcases a spectacular natural environment, public spaces and unique neighbourhoods that are well-connected and accessible. Superior urban design integrates its distinctive character, heritage assets and cultural identity. Growth and development provide a variety of services and employment opportunities that contribute to a high quality of life for all.”
When we started this process, almost three years ago, there was a burgeoning housing crisis in the Lower Mainland. In the two years since, the situation has gotten measurably worse. Accessibility to housing and affordability of housing is at critical levels in New Westminster, with 30% increases in property values in the last 12 months alone – ground oriented housing increased at more than that rate.
Over the last decade (and notably, mostly before my time, so I get little credit here) New Westminster has made real progress in addressing homelessness, in creating incentives to address the critical rental shortage, and in supporting the development of more affordable apartments and sustainable densities around our SkyTrain hubs. However, the “Missing Middle” is still a challenge. This OCP, and drafted, will open up possibilities for a variety of housing forms in some areas, and I appreciate the increased flexibility offered in the “ground oriented Infill” designation.
Just two weeks ago, we had a Council Report on the City’s Business Survey, and one of the biggest concerns of our business community was the loss of affordable family housing: for their employees and for their customers. Affordable family housing and housing variety isn’t just the biggest issue in our housing file, it is the biggest issue in our business development file, our transportation file, and our sustainability file.
I hope that during this last round of public consultation, we can correct some of the misinformation that lead to some relatively concentrated but sincerely-felt push-back, and can continue the ongoing three-year-long conversation about the context of this OCP and the future vision for the City that it presents. As part of that, we need to ask ourselves – have we done all we can to assure our family neighbourhoods can remain family neighbourhoods, accessible to the young families that will make our City prosper in the future? Have we provided opportunities for people from all walks of life and from all stages of life, to live in New Westminster and contribute to the vibrancy of this great community? Have we addressed regional affordability challenges and shown the leadership our residents expect from us?
So we are taking this back out to Open Houses, and I hope our residents and businesses ask themselves if this plan it meets their vision for that “healthy, inclusive and thriving community”.
The schedule ahead: