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Does Vancouver need to rezone when it already has lots of zoned capacity?

February 14th, 2012 · 77 Comments

New councillor Adriane Carr is bringing a motion to council on a topic much beloved by the various groups that have sprung up in opposition the last few years to various redevelopments, towers, rezonings and so on.

Those groups have made the point, or tried to, that there is lots of capacity in existing city land that’s already zoned for more density. They’ve been trying to get a number from the city to prove this.

Carr’s motion coming to council Tuesday is one more poke at this.

But I’d like to hear more from them about how useful they think this would be. The underlying assumption that I think I hear in their requests is that, if they can prove that there is already room for 100,000 more units in existing zoning that hasn’t been taken up yet, the city shouldn’t approve any more rezonings until that’s all gone.

I hope it’s not that simplistic, but I fear that it is. And if it is, getting that number will do nothing. Because, as anyone who knows anything about land development knows, just because someone’s land could be built at a higher density doesn’t mean that person is willing to tear down their existing building and rebuild something larger — even if it theoretically meant more money.

Sometimes they can’t be bothered. Sometimes they like what they have and don’t want to redevelop (hard to imagine in this city, but it exists). Sometimes they can’t get access to the capital needed to rebuilt. And hundreds of other reasons.

I live in an RT-5 zone, which theoretically allows everyone in the neighbourhood to tear down their house and build a duplex. In the 10 years I’ve lived there, that has only happened once in my particular quadrant of the city — last year. And it’s not going to result in more affordable housing. The builders have torn down some big old place that was rented out in suites to many people, most of whom seemed to have an unfortunate predilection for classic rock played loudly at 2 a.m. It will now be two million-dollar-or-more units.

The same is true in many other zones of the city.

I think (but could be wrong) that “we’re not anti-growth just better planning” groups might argue that, if rezonings were choked off everywhere else, then developers would be forced to go to the existing sites that have zoning capacity already.

However, I have my doubts that this would work. If existing owners don’t want to develop, the only way to entice them to is to offer more money. Developers could do that, but then they’d have to sell the units for more money. And the market may not be willing to pay the end price.

Those are my preliminary thoughts, but I’d very much appreciate it if someone could explain the thinking behind this drumbeat to know the number on Vancouver’s zoned capacity.


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