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Vernon councillor rejects province's suggestion to override municipal housing approvals

As provincial politicians eye greater powers to push through housing without the approval of local government, one Vernon city councillor is pushing back.

Vernon Coun. Scott Anderson is proposing a notice of motion asking that municipalities retain permitting power over the construction of new housing.

The move comes in response to comments made by B.C. Housing Minister David Eby who said his government was looking at legislation that would allow the province to override municipalities if they did not approve affordable housing projects.

"Municipal councils are much better placed to make decisions on the ground, and frankly, they have a responsibility for a much wider scope than David Eby does," Coun. Anderson told "He doesn't know (or) understand that there are certain places that are appropriate and certain places that aren't appropriate it's not just a matter of getting (housing) it's a matter of having a city that actually works."

READ MORE: Housing supply in Central Okanagan growing faster than population

Eby has been criticized recently after a Union of B.C. Municipalities report released earlier this week said that enough homes were being built in B.C. to match population growth, but the number of affordable housing options was lacking.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities president Laurey-Anne Roodenburg said the report was in reaction to recent comments made by Eby, who had said that local governments were holding up housing developments in their communities.

Coun. Anderson said that as far as he's aware Vernon council has not refused any provincially funded housing from being built in the city.

"I recall us bending over backwards every time the province offers something," he said.

Coun. Anderson said the province is probably having issues in some cities but described the housing minister's strategy as "using a mallet to kill a mosquito."

And Eby has had issues with the City of Penticton.

In the spring of 2021, Eby got into a public spat with Penticton over the city's refusal to extend a permit to keep a homeless shelter open.

The City of Penticton later launched a legal challenge against the provincial government's move to override its zoning bylaws and earmarked $300,000 to be spent on the case.

Coun. Anderson sees Eby's response to override local government as a heavy-handed approach that misses the issue at hand.

"This leads to a bigger question how to solve the housing crisis?" the councillor said.

"There's no quick fix for this... but there are two methods by which we can expand housing, through provincially-funded (housing) that is appropriate for low income... but the larger and more fruitful method is... if we can encourage the way forward for private developers (to build housing), that will dwarf anything the province can do," Coun. Anderson said. "Furthermore, that is private money that is funding it, and private risk that is being taken."

He said council was trying to speed up the planning process by having a review of its planning department and employing more staff.

"The real problem seems to be that these things are held up when they go through... the planning department. The system itself seems to be not up to the task of moving these through," he said. "I've talked to developers and I've heard that places like Kelowna used to have that problem, and it's now being remedied."

Coun. Anderson said while Vernon was trying to speed up the planning process to make it easier for developers, it hadn't yet achieved that goal.

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