Vancouver overhauls longstanding view protection policy to boost housing production!

Dan Fumano: Overhaul of view and shadow policies was a matter of weighing “tradeoffs,” Vancouver’s new chief planner, Josh White, told city council.

Vancouver city council overhauled the city’s longstanding view protection and shadowing policies Wednesday, in a move staff estimated could yield between 10 million and 20 million square feet of additional development space.

Vancouver’s public vistas are “considered a defining element of Vancouver’s brand,” the city staff report says, and the city adopted so-called “view cones” in 1989 to protect 26 of them. The number of view cones later increased to 38.

Meanwhile, the city’s “solar access guidelines” are designed to ensure that new buildings don’t block out too much sunlight in public outdoor spaces.

Some experts have argued that these policies serve an important purpose for the public.

But the city’s shadow and view policies have been targeted by ABC Vancouver’s councillors and especially Mayor Ken Sim, who campaigned on shaking up the old rules to get more housing built. In one of Sim’s first big speeches after his 2022 election win, he said: “Vancouver does not have a shadow crisis. Vancouver does not have a view-cone crisis. In Vancouver, we have a housing crisis.”

Since then, the mayor has said variations of the same thing several times.

For years before Sim’s election, some developers had called for reform of what they called overly restrictive policies. Others, including city planners, argued the policies are in place for good reason.

Access to sunlight is important in a city with extended periods of overcast skies, the staff report says, and access to sun encourages activity and improves happiness, energy and health.

The protected views are established based on public places, such as looking at the North Shore mountains from Queen Elizabeth Park or Granville Island.

The city isn’t scrapping its policies protecting public views and access to sunshine, staff and councillors emphasized Wednesday, but changing them. Two specific protected views, those from Choklit Park and the Laurel land bridge, which staff said are already obstructed by trees, will be removed altogether. But most of the protected public views will be retained, although some are being modified.

In preparing these policy amendments, the city didn’t assess the impact on existing residents’ private views, and views from privately owned property aren’t protected, said Jason Olinek, Vancouver’s director of development planning.

“The impact on views, whether public or private, is more influenced by zoning regulations and policies than view cones. Since most view cones overlay downtown, parts of Broadway, and the eastside, any impacts to views from homes will likely be in the distance rather than nearby,” Olinek said.

The changes could enable the development of tens of thousands of additional homes, council heard.

It was a decision about tradeoffs, said Vancouver’s new chief planner, Josh White.

Policies on matters such as public views and sunlight are “linked to the city’s identity and quality of life, and policies related to growth and housing are also linked to our values, White said.

“In most policies, we are trying achieve multiple objectives at the same time. So this requires us to thoughtfully evaluate and adjudicate tradeoffs.”

The reviews of view and shadow policies were prompted by motions introduced last year by Sim and ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner.

ABC Coun. Rebecca Bligh, who seconded Meiszner’s motion last year, asked to sever the votes so that instead of supporting the staff recommendations wholesale, she could vote for leaving certain view protections unchanged, including those from Cambie Bridge, Choklit Park and Granville Street.

Citing concerns about tourism and quality of life, Bligh said some of the recommended changes would “significantly impact our overall view protection policy and require more consideration and consultation.”

“I feel quite strongly that these view cones need to be considered in a different way,” Bligh said.

Meiszner disagreed with his ABC colleague.

“By excluding these particular view cones identified by Coun. Bligh, we’re talking about 4.5 million square metres of additional development capacity that would not be available,” Meiszner said. “In good conscience, I just can’t get on-board with that, particularly in our housing affordability crisis.”

Green Couns. Adriane Carr and Pete Fry supported Bligh’s amendment to exclude certain views, but they were out-voted by the rest of the ABC councillors.

These changes are part of the ABC-majority council’s efforts to boost housing development.

One of ABC’s key platform pledges in 2022 was what they called a “3-3-3-1 strategy” to dramatically shorten permit processing, guaranteeing approval waiting times of three days for home renovations and accessibility upgrades; three weeks for detached houses and townhomes; three months for professionally designed multi-family and midrise projects; and one year for highrise or large-scale projects.

There has been progress in some of these areas since the election, according to an update city staff presented to council one day earlier.

The median time for home renovation permits has dropped from 44 days last year to 23 days, a 50 per cent reduction, the staff report said. Median permitting times had been reduced by 25 per cent for detached and duplex homes since last year, and 60 per cent for laneway houses.

In a news release, Sim welcomed the news as a big win.

But progress has been slower for the highrise and large-scale projects — the ones that the city relies on to deliver the biggest number of homes, including more affordable ones.

While the staff report didn’t include current timelines for highrises, because only four have been issued so far this year, the city confirmed in a statement that the median processing time is two years, which is double the one-year target guaranteed by ABC.

“We recognize our permitting process is complicated and are working to improve the customer experience through policy and process improvements and new digital tools,” the city said in an emailed statement.

Source: Vancouver SUN

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