Housing · New Westminster · Yes In New West

My response to Susan Dextras

Today the New West Record printed a response to the Yes In New West story that ran a couple of weeks ago. It was written by Susan Dextras, a New Westminster resident, who has been outspoken about the proposal in the draft Official Community Plan to change the land use designation (note: not zoning) of the block that she lives on from single family houses to rowhouses and townhouses.

Her letter was fairly NIMBY and since she addressed my family directly, I’m responding to her points.

My husband and I are long time residents of New Westminster since 1984. When we first arrived in the Lower Mainland, there was no affordable housing in Metro Vancouver, so we looked in New Westminster and found the property where we have resided and raised our family for the last 32 years. We plan to continue living in our home for many years to come and we have no intention of selling to a developer or anyone else in the next 25 years.

In 1984 the average price for a single family home in Greater Vancouver was $116,444, and the average total family income was $30,070, which is a ratio of just under 4. In 2014 the average price for a single family home in Metro Vancouver was about $1,400,000 and the median family income was $76,040, which is a ratio of over 18. Since 2014 the housing prices have grown even more, yet incomes have not kept up.

There was affordable housing available in Metro Vancouver. House prices were not huge multipliers of income like they are today.

I would note that Mrs. Dextras’ husband holds a BEng in Civil Engineering, which he obtained in 1976. Civil Engineering is a fairly advanced field of work and pays well, so the odds are quite good that the Dextras family had an above average income in 1984. For Mrs. Dextras to say that “there was no affordable housing” is a stretch.

I would also note that the Dextrases (is that how you pluralize it?) managed to have enough money to tear down the 1903 house they purchased and build a new one in 1990. People who complain about housing not being affordable don’t generally build their own house six years into a mortgage.

Oh, and she says that she has no intention of selling to a developer. Great! Then don’t! Nobody’s forcing you to. Just like how you shouldn’t be forcing your views on your neighbours, over half of which didn’t sign your petition, by the way.

So my advice to Mr. and Mrs. Cavanagh and young couples like them would be to search for affordable housing in the outlying municipalities of the Lower Mainland where land is cheaper and more available, much like we did when we first arrived here. And yes, there will be a commute to and from work but it is what most people have to deal with to be able to afford housing of any kind in our expensive city. Such is life.

Basically what Mrs. Dextras is saying here is “we don’t want anybody young or poor to move into our city”. It reeks of classism. She also seems to be in favour of people not spending time with their families. Mrs. Dextras, I like my family. I like spending time with them. For you to say “just suck it up an commute” is offensive. You might not like spending time with your family, but I like mine and I would rather spend my time with them instead of commuting.

Mrs. Dextras also seems to be proposing that our traffic get worse. Instead of being able to live close to where you work, you should have to live out Langley, Abbotsford, Mission, or Chilliwack and drive through New Westminster to get to your job, right? One of the best solutions for traffic is reducing the need to drive to and from work, and Mrs. Dextras seems to think that maybe more traffic on our streets is a good thing. More pollution is a good thing. Greater dependence on oil is a good thing. Right, Mrs. Dextras?

When we became aware in September of this year of the City’s Draft Future Land Use Map which was sent by Canada Post to the households in our neighborhood, we were astounded to see that the City Planners had arbitrarily colored our 5th – 6th Street Corridor (from 10th Av. To 6th Ave.) “orange” to designate that our streets had been changed from RS1- Single Family Detached zoning to Residential Townhouse zoning – without our consent.

I’ve been told that you’ve been told numerous times that you’re wrong about this. Well, here’s one more time:

YOU ARE WRONG.

The zoning isn’t changing. After the OCP is implemented your property will still be zoned RS-1. The land use designation may change to townhouses, but that is not rezoning! What that means is that if someone wants to rezone their property, the densest it could go is to townhouses. They wouldn’t be able to rezone it to a condo tower (at least, not without a huge fight).

Let me give you an example of the difference between land use and zoning. Queen’s Park is a lovely park in the middle of the city. It has an arena, a baseball diamond, some tennis courts, a nice rose garden, a really good playground, a petting zoo, and wonderful trails. It’s a park. It’s also zoned RS-1. Now do you see the difference between land use and zoning?

If Mayor Cote and the City Councillors take the time to walk down 5th Street, they will see a lovely eclectic collection of old and new homes, all well maintained, some with manicured gardens where neighbors meet for special events and family gatherings.

If Mayor Cote and the City Councillors take the time to walk down my street, they will see a lovely eclectic collection of old and new homes, townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings, all well maintained, some with manicured gardens. We had a street party right in front of my house this year, and another one right around the corner. There are Christmas lights everywhere, and people are always out walking on the sidewalks. Kids play in their front yards, whether they be in front of single family homes or apartment buildings. It’s a vibrant and diverse community, and it should be held up as a model community for the rest of New Westminster.

This is NOT a neighborhood which should be rezoned by the City and then offered to a developer who would then systematically over the next 20 years, demolish each house and begin construction on 450 townhouse units in our 15 acre Corridor.

That’s not how rezoning works, and that’s not how this process works. Again, just to make this clear, the OCP process is not rezoning. Nobody is offering developers anything. There are no bulldozers coming for you. Stop with the paranoia.

What the OCP process means that should one of your neighbours decide to sell their house, someone can buy it. And then maybe their neighbour sells their house, and that same someone buys that one too. Now they own two neighbouring properties. At that point, the landowner can apply for a rezoning. Only after that gets approved would there be any hint of demolition.

In fact, this is exactly the case of the block of houses up for sale along Eighth Avenue at Cumberland Street. One man bought one of those houses decades ago. Then the neighbouring house came up for sale, and he bought that. Let one of his kids live in it. He did that for four or five of the houses there, and members of his family were living in each house. And now the families have grown up, started moving away, and the gentleman has decided to try to sell all of the properties at once so that the adjoining lots can be rezoned to townhouses, making more affordable housing for young families to move into. His view is that young families should be able to enjoy New Westminster and afford to live here, and he’s trying to help that by trying to increase the number of family-friendly townhouses in New Westminster.

It’s a shame that you can’t see that, Mrs. Dextras. It’s a shame that you got lucky on the land lottery and are now so selfish that you can’t bear to see a few younger families move into your neighbourhood.

And all of this done to meet the City of New Westminster’s OCP agenda, which ultimately was initiated by Mayor Cote and council … to satisfy Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy and its need for more densification. However, Metro Vancouver’s strategy is “only guidelines and not the rule of law,” as Chief Justice Sharma of the Supreme Court of B.C. has outlined in her decision of the (Metro Vancouver vs. the City of Langley) court case in 2014.

Here’s a tip for readers at home: if someone who isn’t a lawyer starts talking about court decisions, they’ve usually misinterpreted that decision. In this case, she not only gets the defendant wrong (it was actually the Township of Langley, not the City of Langley) but the entire jist of the case. Metro Vancouver was trying to get the Township of Langley to not develop a “University District” because it didn’t fit into Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy. The Township of Langley argued that they were operating under the old plan. And yes, the judge did say that the regional growth strategy is “guidelines expressing policy” and that Metro Vancouver “does not have superiority over land use management within the boundaries of a municipality.” But Metro Vancouver isn’t telling New Westminster how to manage its land use within New Westminster. The whole point of the OCP is that New Westminster is telling New Westminster how to manage its land use within New Westminster. Is New Westminster supposed to take New Westminster to court to try to get New Westminster to not manage its land use?

(Astute readers will note that I’m someone who isn’t a lawyer and I’m talking about a court decision, but my information comes from this news story and you can go read it and determine for yourself if my synopsis makes sense instead of Mrs. Dextras’ throwaway line with no backstory.)

Therefore, the city is not legally bound to follow Metro’s strategy and should not be using it as an excuse to rezone, devalue and eventually dismantle our existing private property neighbourhoods in the name of creating more affordable housing in the future for someone else’s benefit.

New Westminster is not rezoning your property. Pay attention.

But I guess we just have different views about the future of our city. I see a city that embraces newcomers of all kinds. I see a city that’s welcoming to young people, to immigrants, to people who aren’t as well off as others. I see a dynamic and evolving city. And I think Mrs. Dextras wants to wrap the city in Saran Wrap and keep it the way it is forever, to the detriment of future generations.

And that’s a shame.

2 thoughts on “My response to Susan Dextras

  1. Hi,

    I still think Mrs. Dextras has a fair point.

    New Westminster already ranks second in the Lower Mainland with a density of over 4000 people per square kilometre, first being Vancouver.
    Therefore, Mayor Cote wants only to get more revenue from the same footprint.
    To have affordable housing, first off he would have to keep the taxes low. In the last five years the property taxes, and utilities were increased above the rate of inflation, and without improving services, but instead apparently for increasing the wages of the city employees. Because of high taxes many businesses left the city, and making the young people to commute to other municipalities where actual the jobs are. This is about the traffic who gets worse (as you mentioned).

    Also, talking about the living wage for the city contractors employees, I don’t think is a good idea in managing taxpayer money. And by the way, what about the businesses who cannot afford to operate in our city.
    So, again, I think densification is not the answer to affordable housing. Just look how much the price of a new condo looks like nowadays.

    I think the city staff can do a better job in managing taxpayers’ money, and not asking for more and more.

    Thank you Mrs.Dextras for raising this issue into the public discussion.

    1. Regarding your comment about “Mayor Cote wants only to get more revenue from the same footprint”, that’s not how property taxes work. The city sets a budget for the year, and then that budget is divided amongst the properties in the city depending on their property value. If you double the number of residences in a city, that city doesn’t get twice the property revenue.

      I think you should send your comment to Patrick Johnstone, a New Westminster city councilor. He can answer all of your questions from the city’s point of view with more background and information that I can. All I can say here is that almost all of your points are wrong or misguided.

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