KELOWNA - City manager Ron Mattiussi mostly agrees with the conclusions in the most recent Fraser Institue report which claims municipal land use regulations can impede development and contribute to higher real estate prices and rents in some Canadian cities.
But what the report leaves out, Mattiussi says, is recognition of the role those same regulations play in preserving intangible community values such as heritage and the environment.
“I’m not defending bad regulations and certainly sometimes a regulation has detrimental effects that weren’t considered,” he says. “But courts throughout North America have ruled that land use regulation is the ultimate role of city councils. That’s the basis of our democracy.”
The Impact of Land-Use Regulation on Housing Supply in Canada report was made public today, July 7, and concludes, amongst other things, that unnecessary regulations, neighbourhood opposition and lengthy and uncertain approval timelines for residential developments are particularly damaging to the supply side of the housing market.
But Mattiussi points out places like Vancouver and West Vancouver have some of the most stringent zoning regulations in the province with very vocal neigbhourhood groups, yet developers still clamour to build there.
“The market is the market is the market. These are some of the most difficult places to get something approved yet people still move there,” he says.
“I had a developer complain to me once that our developement cost charges were too high and he was going to build somewhere else. I told him they were the fair way to pay for new development infrastructure and that if he didn’t like them, he could go build in Rosetown, Sask. He said no one wants to move to Rosetown. I said precisely."
As well, the report says the lack of harmonized zoning and other regulations amongst neighbouring municipalities has caused developers to “leapfrog” over those with more stringent regulations, contributing to urban sprawl.
Mattiussi says planning staff regularly work with developers in an effort to streamline the process.
“What developers want more than anything else is certainty. They want to… figure out the timelines and if they can make a buck,” he says. “Uncertainty of process is my problem as city manager and we always look at regulations and processes. If things are unnecessary or don’t add value, they will be removed but at the end of the day, if done properly, regulations are there for a reason.”
Although similar in many places, zoning regulations in particular are hard to reconcile from one community to another, Mattiussi says, because slight changes in otherwise identical zones can impact people’s existing property rights.
“Zoning is what gives you property rights and when you start to change them you start impacting people’s right to do what they want with the property,” he adds.
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