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Kamloops council split on new provincial housing regulations

Changes that pave the way for more density across Kamloops narrowly inched ahead this week as city councillors were split on the provincial requirements.

Council debated whether to abide by the new provincial housing laws or to deny them in hopes of using the decision as leverage for provincial funding. One councillor also said allowing the province to dictate zoning across the city would sacrifice the "uniqueness" of Kamloops.

Two of the major changes would allow for more density around transit hubs and allowing up to four homes on what normally be a lot for a single family home.

The changes narrowly passed in a 5-4 vote, but the sweeping zoning changes will first go to a public hearing before they may be adopted.

READ MORE: Is the province overstepping its authority by imposing four-plexes province-wide?

According to Coun. Mike O'Reilly, the change was a six-month process that overhauls the City's neighbourhood planning, which took four years and included consultation with residents, businesses and Tk'emlups.

"I think we lose the uniqueness of our community, of what Kamloops is," he said.

He went on to suggest the City might lose negotiating leverage to get provincial government funding once adopted. He said the province is offering a stick rather than a carrot in an effort to densify BC cities, while local governments will need to bolster infrastructure to match the denser communities.

Coun. Bill Sarai, who's announced interest in running as a BC NDP candidate this fall, disagreed with O'Reilly. He said it would be a "good gesture" to abide by the province's requirements."

"If we want some funding from the government, this isn't the time and place to say 'no, we aren't listening to your recommendations,'" he said. "It's a start to ask for more infrastructure money coming down."

Coun. Nancy Bepple voiced her support for densifying the city saying it's cheaper to do than adding new subdivisions and because the vast majority of Kamloops is taken up by single family homes.

READ MORE: B.C. introduces housing law to require small-scale and multi-unit zoning

"Currently three-quarters of the housing stock is single family residential," Bepple said. "Yet one-third of all people in Kamloops live by themselves and one-third live with just one other person."

O'Reilly took her comments as "vilifying" single family homes, going on to say it's "not a bad thing" if just two people want to live in large single family homes. Bepple retorted to say that she was not vilifying single family homes, but that Kamloops needs to diversify its housing stock to meet demands, especially as it gets harder to buy.

"We need those other types of housing for different types of folks," she said.

Although there was an acknowledgement the city will have to build up its infrastructure if certain neighbourhoods are densified, only one dollar figure was attached to those improvements.

City staff said around $70 million will be needed to bolster its water supply in what they called the "limited fire flow extension area." That includes areas throughout the city where it would be a public safety risk to densify without more water supply for firefighters.

A staff report didn't detail where those areas are, but it did say the City has around $11 million set aside for that work, leaving a $59 million shortfall.

Staff applied to the province to extend the zoning changes for those areas until 2030. That extension also included the Rayleigh neighbourhood, which has its own private water supply that also would not be able to handle the increased density.

The zoning changes moved ahead to public hearing with opposition from councillors O'Reilly, Dale Bass, Kelly Hall and Margot Middleton.

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