The RNA posed four questions to the candidates in 12 December by election. The answers we received from three of the candidates are posted below (thank you candidates).
- Recently, there has been discussion of a blanket rezoning of all the City of Victoria to enable building of rental accommodations anywhere, city-wide, regardless of current zoning. While this is supportable along transportation corridors, it will be disruptive to single family neighbourhoods. Do you support blanket rezoning, or do you support continuing the current zoning, which is reflective of neighbourhood considerations?
- Parks tells us that the single greatest threat to our urban tree canopy is the incremental loss of trees and green space due to densification. The City’s own graphs show that the missing middle housing strategy will result in the significant loss of trees and green space. How are you going to address this contradiction in values?
- The ongoing demolition of existing housing reduces the affordable stock and results in gentrification. It is also in direct contradiction to the City’s efforts to address the climate emergency because the most environmental house is the one that already exists and we have no policies to require the recycling of materials resulting from the demolition of buildings. How do you plan to address this problem?
- Currently, under the Official Community Plan, rezoning and development permits in Victoria are managed, in part, under the antiquated Advisory Design Guidelines for Buildings, Signs and Awning – (1981). Would you pursue promptly amending the Official Community Plan to incorporate the much more current Design Guidelines for: Multi-Unit Residential, Commercial and Industrial – (11/2012. Updated December 2019)?
From Andrew Schmid
- Even recognizing that a city inevitably evolves, I am against any changes in rezoning which disrupt single family neighbourhoods. Single family neighbourhoods have always been an integral part of Victoria’s character, and are indispensable for a healthy social balance.
- I would work with Development Services staff to prioritize the retention of mature trees in reference to development. Mature trees take up CO2 much more efficiently then young trees. I would visit sites to see if there is any possible way to keep the trees and still have increased rental housing. The City is always talking about climate change and it should protect the urban forest which contains a significant number of mature trees. It is also necessary to make sure that trees stay healthy by doing the proper maintenance. To offset climate change, the trees must be protected for future generations who will be inheriting the environment we create today.
- The answer to this point is partly covered in Point 1. Beyond that, I have always intended to support scientifically creative solutions to the recycling and rubbish disposal problems, along the lines adopted by other advanced nations, like those of Scandinavia.
- I did not study the Design Guidelines you mention, but I will look into it. I would be in any case guided by the need to maintain the special feel and look we have always associated with Victoria, particularly with respect to harmonizing any new development with the existing aesthetics of a neighbourhood, as well as encouraging energy efficiency in all new construction.
From Sean Leitenberg
- I do not agree with blanket rezoning. I believe there are locations on busier streets where zoning is already available to build more density and in time they will be built up. Major streets with transportation initiatives should continue to be densified. As for smaller streets in our neighbourhoods they have to be looked at individually to make sure that new developments work both physically and visually in the neighbourhood.
- I believe that trees and development can co exists trees take years to grow and minutes to cut down. We need our trees and housing. We can save trees if we do not look to push density to a point that trees need to be removed on a site. Developers know what they are up against when they purchase a property, and if there are significant trees on the lot they know that going in. They should plan accordingly when purchasing the property and not look to increase their profits by expecting the OK to tree removal.
- In more and more cases homes are being moved saving the cost to the environment and to the project. Some homes are in a condition that warrants removal as the home requires remediation and by building a new home we increase energy efficiency for the long run.
From Stefanie Hardman
- Our city is facing an affordability crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. We’ve had an extremely low rental vacancy rate (typically hovering near 1%) for years, and renters are facing skyrocketing rents and increasing instability. Much of our existing rental stock was built in the 1960s and 1970s, and there was a drastic reduction in the creation of new purpose-built rental housing since then. In recent years, we are starting to see the creation of new rental housing given shifting market conditions.
However, in addition to protecting our existing rental stock, we still do need to create more housing options to ensure we have safe, suitable, and affordable places for people to live. I am in support of both protecting our existing rental stock and encouraging the creation of more rental housing through application of rental tenure zoning powers granted to municipalities by the province in 2018. However, this zoning should be applied thoughtfully to particular areas where it is most appropriate and effective — not applied in a ‘blanket’ rezoning across the entire city.
I believe we can add the much-needed housing stock to our city without compromising the character of our neighbourhoods. There are many opportunities to gently increase density and address the “missing middle” of our housing stock — forms that fit well into residential neighbourhoods — including subdividing larger character homes into suites and allowing for carriage homes.
We need to come together and collaborate across the city to come up with creative solutions to address this housing crisis. In addition, there is evidence that supports a distribution of all types of housing though a community can help strengthen a community’s resilience. I would be supportive of finding ways to increase housing options, including rental, in Rockland that complement the neighbourhood’s distinct character.
- Rather than seeing this as a contradiction in values, I see opportunities to increase both our housing supply alongside increasing our greenspace and tree canopy. Densification is a strategy that can be used to preserve and grow green space, rather than losing it. We must preserve our undeveloped greenpace by looking to increase housing stock on sites already developed — like housing conversions and carriage houses — and through the infill of grey spaces. Densification, rather than being at odds with parks and green spaces, can be an important part of smart growth and sustainable development.
Furthermore, when it comes to both greenspace & trees as well as affordable housing, they both benefit from prioritizing preservation. The most affordable private-market rental housing we will have is that which is already built — so my approach to rental housing is to ensure that we prioritize protecting and retaining our existing rental stock. We absolutely need to do the same with trees. Mature trees, once lost, take decades to be replaced by growing young trees. And as we are in the midst of a climate emergency, we do not have time to wait. Trees and greenspaces should be seen as priorities in our approach to development, and designs that prioritize these elements should be encouraged.
I would look to uphold, implement, and work to improve the Urban Forest Master Plan and the Urban Tree Protection bylaw.
- As we are facing a climate emergency, I would ensure the City of Victoria continues to uphold its leadership on climate action. My approach to planning and development is an evidence-based and strategic one — I received my Masters in Planning from the Faculty of Environmental Studies (York University). As mentioned above, I believe that preservation is a key strategy of both our affordable housing and environmental goals. I support retrofitting existing buildings to optimize energy-efficiency. I would certainly be interested to explore opportunities to divert building materials from the waste stream.
One of my top priorities to ensure that all of the city’s policies are created and reviewed not only with consultation with the community but also with evidence-based research in mind. I would review any proposal with this lens in mind including any proposed solutions to this presented problem.
- Consultation and community engagement are important pieces to any policy redesign. I would commit to reviewing any policy or community plan both with the community input, but also with evidence-based decision making in mind.