Sim eyes Burnaby as model to improve housing density in Vancouver

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim outlined a new housing plan Wednesday, giving a nod to a neighbouring city as a role model for improving density. Monika Gul reports.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim outlined a new housing plan Wednesday, giving a nod to a neighbouring city as a role model for improving density.

In a news conference, the mayor detailed a seven-point plan which he will bring to council next week, which includes building high-density housing near SkyTrain stations.

“SkyTrain stations are the envy of many. Yet, there’s a lack of homes surrounding not one, not two, but multiple stations in our city,” the mayor explained.

Sim pointed to neighbouring Burnaby as an example of a city that has succeeded in densifying areas around transit stations.

“They’re doing a lot of great things and they’ve been able to successfully marry densification and homes, around their SkyTrain stations. And so when we think about it, it makes a lot of sense — more homes attached and surrounding a sky train station means a smaller carbon footprint for people that live in the area. And it also means a more interconnected city,” Sim said.

“That’s why we’re calling in our team at the city to review how we can densify around our SkyTrain stations without losing our industrial and commercial land base.”

Construction cranes tower above condos under construction near southeast False Creek in Vancouver on February 9, 2020.
Construction cranes tower above condos under construction near southeast False Creek in Vancouver on February 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Coun. Mike Klassen says that when the Expo Line was built in the 1980s, many surrounding neighbourhoods did not prioritize population density around stations at the time.

“VCC Clark station, and the Rupert and Renfrew stations all are areas that have really great opportunities to build more housing, some of those abo industrial lands, which of course we’re going to preserve, but there are a lot of those areas that really are ready to go,” he explained.

Another step the mayor outlined in his plan is the implementation of over two dozen “villages” in the city as part of the Vancouver Plan. The plan identifies 26 lower-density areas of the city that will see more retail and residential buildings added. All of the areas identified are outside of the downtown core.

“This will help us create more interconnected communities where retail and residential blend together for more livable, walkable neighbourhoods,” Sim said.

“This will allow residents who want to downsize to stay in their neighbourhoods all while also ensuring that young families can build a future in the city of Vancouver.”

A map of the “villages” identified in the Vancouver Plan that Mayor Ken Sim plans to densify as part of his new housing plan. (City of Vancouver)

Another part of Sim’s plan would see the city’s and province’s bylaws around construction, building, and repairs better aligned for “a more rapid delivery of housing.”

The mayor also revealed plans to review the city’s Shadow Impact Criteria and Guidelines, which analyze the shadows cast by a proposed building development.

“Let me be very clear, reviewing the city’s building bylaws is about cutting unnecessary red tape.”

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim

Sim also highlighted the intent to work with senior levels of government to express the city’s support for further short-term rental enforcement at the provincial level. He also announced plans to expand the city’s Certified Professional program — which facilitates the issuing of building permits on behalf of the city.

“This action and appulse policy items I’ve outlined in our motion or just one part of ABC majority Council’s housing agenda. And the steps addressed here today are the right steps forward in building more homes faster,” Sim said.

“While these ideas aren’t necessarily new. They’ve needed bold action and that’s what we’re bringing. We’re answering this call not for short-term gain or flashy headlines, but for long-term results that will substantially change the way that we deliver housing in the city of Vancouver.”

While the mayor’s announcement had plenty of plans to build more housing, not much was said in the way of addressing affordability.

Mayor’s plan doesn’t address affordability, infrastructure concerns, councillor says

Coun. Adriane Carr, one of three non-ABC Vancouver councillors, says the mayor’s plan falls short when it comes to addressing some bigger concerns in the city, including housing affordability.

She told reporters after Sim’s announcement that before the ABC majority, the city prioritized affordable housing. However, she says the new leadership is expanding its priorities.

“If you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing. I’m very worried about the fact that our plan has been to date to prioritize the housing that is most desperately needed, which is for people who earn lower incomes, and I’m not hearing that, not seeing that in the information that I have received today,” she said.

Green Party Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr.
Green Party Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr. (City of Vancouver)

When asked about the lack of affordability following his announcement, Sim said the priority right now is building more homes for the future.

“There’s an affordability crisis going on in the City of Vancouver. And there’s a lot of reasons why. We can talk about external macroeconomic factors, and we have a supply and demand imbalance in the City of Vancouver. And how we address that over the longer term is we build more housing. If we do not build more housing, this will get worse,” he said.

Another issue Carr identified is the infrastructure needed to support the additional housing that Sim is proposing.

“Our staff from engineering have been very clear with us. You have to have the systems in place, the pipes underground, the sewage, the water, the electrical supply … we’ve had problems with BC Hydro being able to supply enough electricity to even people who want to do upgrades to their houses to be fully climate smart,” she said.

Carr also took issue with Sim’s plan to change municipal building bylaws, fearing it would hurt Vancouver’s global reputation as a green city.

“We’ve used our building bylaw to enable us to incorporate climate measures for the past decade. I’m very much worried that if you strip our ability to be that innovative leader because we have that tool, we’re not going to be the leader, we’re not going to be that world-class city,” she said.

Sim will bring forward his housing plan as a motion at council’s Oct. 18 meeting.

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