How “the developers” got their way in spite of Day

Ever wonder how “the developers”* get their way with Richmond? Is it that council members are developers at heart or beholden to developer money that gets them elected?

Maybe not. Maybe we simply have clever developers.

Let’s look at an example, the recent public hearing about a house-building bylaw update. A key intent was to ensure sufficient backyard space.

That could let living things thrive—even sturdy trees and birds that are happy with them. Also, it might let neighbours see more sky, not a towering wall that blocks the sunlight and feels like prison with no parole.

The good news is that city staff who deal with house building are adept at consultation. Staff had met with builders about the bylaw revision and also analyzed input from almost 800 citizens.

Despite the usual pressure from developers, staff had kept their balance and brought promising changes to council’s planning committee.

However, that committee has been stacked in the developers’ favour for months, ever since Mayor Malcolm Brodie deleted Coun. Carol Day from it and inserted Coun. Alexa Loo.

When the developers presented the committee with their preferred regulations to replace the staff advice, everyone except Councillors Harold Steves and Chak Au voted for the developer wish list.

But the decision had to face the full council in the next stage. After a hard-fought battle, the consultation-based staff proposals got restored. They were then brought to the public hearing, the final stage.

It slipped out at the hearing that the developers’ shrewd young leader had met with a core group of allies to plan how to get what they wanted.

They’d settled on phrases to keep repeating while aiming to reduce the depth for backyards on most lots to 20 percent of lot depth (from 25 percent, which is one-quarter more). The trick was to make the intrusion into the backyard just a single storey and to show it at low height at the public hearing.

They introduced it after most citizens had spoken, so the developers dominated near the end. Their key phrases, along with visuals, framed the change as a small design preference, enabling a modest “rental unit.”

But past performance is the best predictor of future performance. In that reality, the single storey would likely be 5 metres high (plus roof), as tall as older two-storey houses.

It’s a trophy-house design preference, not oriented to affordable housing or neighbours’ sunshine.

The astute Niti Sharma exposed some of that, but other citizens who could have debunked the developers had already spoken.

At the end, people were allowed to speak again—supposedly for three minutes with strictly new content. The developers’ leader got away with speaking last for ten minutes, hammering home the previous key phrases.

Final result: Only Councillor Day held her ground. Despite her vote, the developers largely got their way.
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*A footnote: “The developers” is the usual label, but some in the industry are admirably different.

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