The B.C. government is taking its first steps to speed up municipal zoning approvals, identified by a review in 2019 and an expert panel earlier this year as a key obstacle to increasing housing supply.
Legislation introduced this week by Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne would remove the automatic requirement for public hearings when zoning bylaws are amended, as long as the changes are consistent with official community plans. It also allows local governments to delegate decisions on minor development variance permits to staff.
“To ensure transparency, the proposed amendment for public hearings requires local governments to provide public notice of the rezoning bylaw before the bylaw is considered at first reading by a municipal council or regional district board,” the ministry said in a statement Oct. 26.
Neil Moody, CEO of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of B.C. welcomed the first changes recommended in a development process review that was completed in 2019.
“Streamlining the development approval process and making it more efficient and meaningful to the public are critical changes that our association has been advocating for,” Moody said.
Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, urged municipalities to take advantage of the changes and “consider seriously whether public hearings are necessary for affordable housing projects that are consistent with community plans.”
A B.C. expert panel chaired by former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail had similar conclusions in a report released in June called Opening Doors: Unlocking Housing Supply for Affordability. It called for provincially-led planning to overcome a local public hearing process that “amplifies the voices of the few rather than the needs of the community at large.”
The B.C. government has yet to comment on its proposal for the province to impose land use rules around transit lines and other major projects funded by federal and provincial governments. Finance Minister Selina Robinson rejected a recommendation from MacPhail’s committee that the annual homeowner grant be discontinued, since it subsidizes people who already own their homes.