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Victoria finally finds the Missing Middle

Council eliminated single home zoning in Victoria with minimal debate

By Shannon Waters
January 27, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria finally finds the Missing Middle

Council eliminated single home zoning in Victoria with minimal debate

By Shannon Waters
Jan 27, 2023
Victoria Couns. Marg Gardiner, Matt Dell and Chris Coleman during final debate on the Missing Middle housing policy. Photo : Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
Victoria Couns. Marg Gardiner, Matt Dell and Chris Coleman during final debate on the Missing Middle housing policy. Photo : Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria finally finds the Missing Middle

Council eliminated single home zoning in Victoria with minimal debate

By Shannon Waters
January 27, 2023
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Victoria finally finds the Missing Middle
Victoria Couns. Marg Gardiner, Matt Dell and Chris Coleman during final debate on the Missing Middle housing policy. Photo : Shannon Waters / Capital Daily

The biggest residential zoning changes Victoria has ever seen were approved by council on Thursday as the Missing Middle policy finally crossed the finish line.

The suite of bylaw changes effectively eliminates single-family residential zoning in the city. It’s intended to make way for a variety of housing types, from houseplexes to townhomes and small apartment buildings.

It’s a sweeping change—previously, more than two-thirds of the city’s residential land was zoned for single-family homes—and one that has drawn passionate support and vociferous opposition from the community. A public hearing held last summer stretched over two nights and drew dozens of residents keen to give council their thoughts, in a roughly even split between supporters and detractors.

But even after pondering the policy for years, Victoria’s previous council did not reach a final decision and ultimately deferred deciding the fate of Missing Middle until after the municipal election.

With housing affordability in a continuing crisis, Missing Middle became a central part of the election campaign. Victoria elected three councillors who publicly supported Missing Middle and two who opposed it, along with Mayor Marianne Alto, who was disappointed in the previous council’s decision to kick the policy can down the road.

Alto was last to speak to Missing Middle during Thursday’s council meeting and noted a significant shift on the housing policy front since the fall: former housing minister David Eby’s acclamation as premier.

Eby has turned allusions about the possibility of provincial action on housing creation into actual “policies and proposals and announcements,” Alto said.

And she would know, having stood beside the lectern as Eby announced plans to set housing targets for municipalities, starting this year.

“It's very clear to me that the province will be moving to blanket the province of British Columbia with policies that will demand higher density across every municipality,” Alto said in council. “In that context, I believe that this is a direction which is not only appropriate and necessary, but it's actually one which does reflect the policy priorities of the current provincial government—with whom we are excellent partners, [and] on whom we rely for a variety of different supports, funding, guidance, and collaboration.”

What’s new

Despite the plan originating in the previous council, the new councillors put their own stamp on Missing Middle before passing the policy, including reducing the maximum height of houseplexes by half a metre (to 8 metres for flat roofs and 9m for other roof designs) and allowing lots as narrow as 18 metres to be eligible for multi-unit redevelopment.

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna put forward the amendments, which also included allowing basements and returning required payments from developers to $107 per square metre. An amendment from former councillor Ben Isitt had doubled the contribution, which goes toward the city’s affordable housing fund and community amenity fund.

“The amendments I am proposing are intended to satisfy the biggest concerns that some residents raised, while ensuring that policy is enticing enough to small-scale builders,” Caradonna said.

Coun. Susan Kim modified the contribution to make it $150 per square metre—“A marginal increase, but one that in the long term, it adds up,” she said.

Whether the cash contribution strikes the right balance—low enough to ensure Missing Middle housing types are economically viable and actually get built, high enough to help fund local amenities and affordable housing construction—remains to be seen, as Coun. Dave Thompson pointed out.

“It makes it less likely that this type of housing is going to be built,” he said of Kim’s amendment. “But we will have a chance to adjust the dials later if there are too few applications or too many applications, so I'm willing to support it.”

City staff will deliver a briefing on the early days of the policy within six months. Council will get a full review after 18 months, including an independent financial analysis and assessment of whether more affordability requirements are needed.

Missing Middle is not intended to address housing affordability directly (although it will likely help by replacing expensive single-family homes with other kinds of housing) because the profit margins on small-scale developments make including below-market housing extremely difficult. Victoria only requires below-market housing in developments with 60-units or more while the largest Missing Middle developments will have 12 units.

‘What the public elected me to do’

The Missing Middle policy may be about housing supply and affordability, but the issue of governance, good and bad, came up multiple times as council members debated.

Coun. Marg Gardiner argued the recommendations in the MNP governance report—including setting up an integrity commissioner—should be addressed before a decision on Missing Middle.

“Passing this motion before review and implementation of governance tools brings to question the credibility of this council through our term,” she said.

Stephen Hammond also opposed passing the policy but acknowledged the fall election sent a strong message about Missing Middle. “From all accounts, it appears the voters of Victoria voted for a council who wants this plan,” he said.

Hammond felt so strongly about defeating Missing Middle that he jokingly told his colleagues he considered glueing his hand to Alto’s door in a bid to change their minds—“But she has two doors, so that wouldn't work,” he said.

For Matt Dell, “the epitome of bad governance is the failure to make a decision.”

“We were elected to make challenging decisions,” Dell said. “There's no better time and no clearer public support than an election where people said yes or no [on Missing Middle]...I’ve said, ‘Yes, I'm going to support this’ because that's what the public elected me to do.”

The policy passed 6-3 with Hammond, Gardiner and Chris Coleman voting against.

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