It should come as no surprise that it’s the most talked about issue in Delta in this year’s municipal election campaign, but are residents really prepared to accept changes in their neighbourhoods when it comes to adding more housing?
Delta council late last year endorsed the city’s new Housing Action Plan, following a housing needs assessment and public consultations, which sets out a series of strategies, each with recommended short-to-long-term actions.
Among the key messages conveyed during the final round of public consultation was the need to ensure that developments be sensitive to the existing community.
The plan, if fully implemented, would eventually result in more density, including in what has been historically single-family neighbourhoods that only have detached houses on larger lots.
How that will go over with current homeowners remains to be seen, but the correspondence section of city council’s agendas regularly has letters from homeowners opposed to subdivision applications, arguing they are too dense and out of character with their neighbourhoods.
One of the recommended strategies in the action plan is the creation of opportunities for so-called gentle density to allow small houses on small lots, duplexes, coach homes above garages and detached suites.
Communities would be engaged in design concepts and forms that could be applied to single-family neighbourhoods.
According to the city’s Housing Needs Assessment report, even though more apartments and townhouses are being built, Delta's housing stock is still mostly single-detached houses.
A Delta staff report last year on a draft of the action plan notes that gentle density had the highest favourable response from the public.
That report, however, notes that while most respondents were accepting of small increases in density, higher increases, which would include such housing forms as triplexes and fourplexes, were not seen favourably. Triplexes and fourplexes were identified as potential new forms of housing in single-family neighbourhoods as well.
“Street parking and existing neighbourhood character were common concerns among those surveyed, but the potential to create more affordable options for those interested in staying in the community or aging in place was also identified. The stakeholder group noted that gentle density options do not necessarily increase the affordability, and that community opposition may be present for infill development,” the housing needs report notes.
“Early economic input undertaken by the project team indicates that due to the high cost of land and construction, this strategy is unlikely to achieve significant housing affordability gains. However, it can provide options for existing homeowners to age in place or for additional units to be accommodated in single-detached neighbourhoods adding to the rental stock, along with contributing to the variety of housing options available in Delta,” the report adds.
Among the other of the action plan’s proposed strategies is the creation of pre-zoning, but those would be limited to areas around town centres. Those areas would be collectively zoned to align with their land use designation under the Official Community Plan (OCP).
One of the goals already set out in the OCP is for the city to investigate the potential of redesigning older residential areas close to town centres for higher-density housing.
The pre-zoning process could speed up the delivery of priority housing in those areas, such as new multi-unit and seniors’ rental units, according to the action plan.
Once sites are pre-zoned, developers can build to the new zoning without being required to go through a rezoning process.
Among the considerations when it comes to pre-zoning, however, is that “it is possible that pre-zoning of lands could impact land values and the associated ability to redevelop lands. Given this important economic consideration, a pilot project is recommended as a means to test and study pre-zoning as a tool.”
The B.C. government required municipalities and regional districts to complete housing needs reports by April 2022, and every five years thereafter.