Analysis of Richmond’s house bylaw public hearing

Preface note: If you just wish to go to the letters to the public hearing, click on this synopsis chart (with links to the 112 individual letters). You could also read the minutes; for the speakers, use the search box to find “Rosa,” the first speaker. You’ll notice that the speakers provided another six written submissions, five of them from the neighbourhood standpoint.

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Let’s celebrate! At the new-house bylaw public hearing, the people’s win was only partial, but their spirit was magnificent. It’s timely to celebrate now because it affects the current issue of land use contracts (LUCs), which apply to thousands of house lots.

LUCs, a featured topic at Richmond.ca, have spawned monster houses beyond the City of Richmond’s zoning reach. Staff brought their approach for ending LUCs to council committee this week, and it’s slated to proceed to the council meeting of October 13, with a public hearing on November 24.

Back to the celebration. For my part, I’ve read all 112 letters to the last public hearing and created a synopsis chart, with links to the individual letters. Many of the writers may inspire you.

In the tension between neighbourhood concerns and a lax bylaw, all but two of the letters take the neighbourhood side. Some simply state support for a consistent new-house height limit of 9 metres and/or double-counting of floor area for rooms more than 3.7 metres high, as in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. Most add insights—from a few lines of them to 49 pages.

Only two of the letters take a developer stance. One of those seeks common ground, as some of us did at the public hearing meeting.

Although I spent six attentive hours at the public hearing, I’ve listened to the audio recording to be sure of details before writing this. If you’d like to listen too, just arrange with the Richmond Archives at the Cultural Centre. Like me, you may rejoice in the exchange of ideas and the many informed defenders of a livable city.

Along with citizen action, with two hundred people at the meeting and so many speakers (32, including 22 neighbourhood defenders), there’ve been other reasons for hope. For instance, the city’s Advisory Design Panel was in tune with neighbourhood concerns, and staff often were.

After so many people asked council to follow the official community plan to conserve neighbourhoods, Councillors Carol Day and Harold Steves delivered. Crucially, Coun. Steves challenged the mayor’s attempt to block his motion on the 3.7- metres matter, which has a big effect on house bulk.

Fortunately for democracy, the city clerk ruled to allow the motion. Unfortunately, council voted it down 7–2. Seven ignored the Advisory Design Panel, staff and the pleas of so many participants to respect their homes and stop killing their neighbourhoods.

It shouldn’t take courage to heed the community, but I sensed from councillors’ tone it did. Chak Au boldly moved to close a house-height loophole, and Carol Day seconded. Then Ken Johnston, Harold Steves and Derek Dang expressed support (in that order), ensuring it would pass. A toast to those five councillors.

The remaining councillors then went along with it, but the mayor refused. I see no purpose except to signal his priorities to developers and citizens.

Although we celebrate a little hope for neighbourhoods, the people of Richmond deserve better.

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