Respect the OCP Process!

There’s a petition going around New Westminster asking people to “oppose the proposed multi-story development for Sixth Street as it does not conform to either the existing zoning Single Family Detached (RS2) or the recent OCP’s designation of RT Residential in-fill townhouse ‘small scale, side-by-side townhouses and rowhouses which are compatible within areas of single detached housing and other lower density ground-oriented housing’.”

That’s a mouthful.

First, the backstory.

The Aboriginal Land Trust non-profit society wants to purchase six (or seven) single family homes and build 96 homes for Indigenous and Swahili families. These homes would be located along Sixth Street in New Westminster, a couple of blocks away from shops and services in both New West and Burnaby. It’s close to schools, parks, and with the proposed new building, it’ll be connected to a safe cycling route that leads across New Westminster.

It will provide affordable housing for 96 families, which means that rents will be below market rates.

When people are presented with these facts, they’re generally overwhelmingly in support of the project. Simply put, it’s the right project at the right location at the right time, and it will present homes for people who not only need it, but will help enrich our neighbourhoods and our city.

The properties that they want to build this on is zoned for single family homes, which is why they’re applying for a rezoning. The land use designation does not allow six-storey buildings, which is why they’re applying for an OCP amendment.

Those two points are the only reasons why people have been asked to sign the petition in opposition. “We oppose this amendment application because the amendment is needed.” That’s it, that’s the argument.

There are signs up around town that read “Mayor and Council, honour the process! Stick to the Official Community Plan.

These signs are borne out of ignorance on the part of the people putting the signs on their front lawns, and they’re borne out of the wilful misdirection and disinformation campaign run by a very small group of people.

Next, the ignorance…

New Westminster’s Official Community Plan can be amended. It has been amended 10 times since it was adopted in 2017, three times alone to address heritage conservation in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Twice for increasing the number of allowed childcare spaces, and once to allow for temporary modular housing to shelter women and children in need. If Council were to “stick to the OCP” then that means fewer childcare spaces, less heritage conservation, and more women and children in desperate need of housing.

Further, the OCP is not just a land use map. It is an aspirational document that guides how development will occur in New Westminster for the next twenty years. It has at least eighteen policy goals and actions that directly relate to this proposal, including the following:

Policy 8.2: Facilitate access to affordable and non-market housing for low- to moderate-income households.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98

Action 8.2c: The City should continue to partner with senior governments, charitable foundations, faith groups and non-profit organizations in the development of affordable and non-market housing.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98

Policy 8.3: Foster a rental housing stock in which tenants have adequate opportunities to live in healthy, safe and secure housing.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.99

Policy 8.5: Design housing to be livable and to foster social cohesion and connectivity.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.103

There are additional values to highlight:

Target Groups for Affordable Housing – While housing affordability is important for all New Westminster residents, six population groups have been identified as priority groups who are particularly affected by housing issues in the city: hidden homeless (people staying with family or friends); lower-income renters; seniors and persons with disabilities; aboriginal households; immigrants and refugees; and moderate-income households.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98, Policy 8.2

Three-bedroom units are attractive to families with children but multiple unit housing with three or more bedrooms is in short supply.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.102, Policy 8.4

The City should continue to… [e]xplore opportunities through development projects along designated Great Streets to implement walking, cycling, transit and place-making elements in accordance with the Great Street policies contained in the Master Transportation Plan.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.125, Policy 11.2

This proposal clearly does “stick to the Official Community Plan”, as it targets a large number of the visions and policies contained in the OCP, and the land use designation can be amended to allow proposals that target visions and policies contained in the OCP.

…and then the disinformation campaign.

The “background information” that went along with the petition I quoted above makes absolutely no mention that this project will provide affordable housing. Or that it’s for Indigenous and Swahili families. Or that it’s being proposed by a non-profit Indigenous society.

Instead they try to scare people with this quote:

…the City is opening up for developers to propose similar projects in other residential areas of New Westminster.

This makes it sound like a for-profit developer is putting in a strata luxury condo building, and your neighbourhood could be next! It’s fear-mongering, plain and simple. By leaving out crucial information, they make people afraid that Bosa’s going to buy up their neighbour’s house and build a 50-storey tower.

Simply put: that’s not going to happen.

The only reason why this proposal didn’t get rejected outright by City staff is that it meets so many of the OCP’s visions and policy goals, which the petitioners conveniently left out. They don’t want people to know what the proposal actually is, because whenever people find out that this is a non-profit run development to provide affordable housing to Indigenous and Swahili people, they’re overwhelmingly in support of the project.

That’s why this is a disinformation campaign, and a dangerous one that has tricked over a thousand people in New Westminster into opposing affordable housing that strongly aligns with the Official Community Plan that hundreds of New Westminster residents came together to craft.

It’s really a shame that a small group of comfortably housed people feel threatened by affordable homes coming to their neighbourhood, and that they would devote so much time and money towards stopping people from moving next door to them. Perhaps they forgot this crucial part of the Official Community Plan:

New Westminster citizens, community groups, and the City are socially minded. We support our neighbours and work together to create a caring and inclusive community.

As a socially minded community, we recognize the importance of a healthy and comfortable home. We work across sectors and professions to increase housing choices in our community. We strive to ensure there is housing available along the entire continuum, from emergency and transition housing to affordable and market rental. More choices allow families to meet their changing needs, enable empty nesters and seniors to downsize and stay in their neighbourhood, provide accessible and integrated homes for new immigrants and refugees, and retain and attract youth and young professionals that are just entering the housing market.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.29